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Could Jeremy Lin Become the Most Marketable NBA Athlete?

By Mike Silva ~ February 10th, 2012. Filed under: New York Knicks.

Three games.

Three games don’t make a career, season, or even a week. Three games are the smallest of sample sizes in the NBA. Numerous players in the 8 through 12 spots of a rotation had themselves a stretch where they played like an All Star; some even scored big contracts because of a small sample. Saying that Jeremy Lin could become one of the more marketable athletes in New York is more than premature; it’s like pronouncing your baby will be President of the United States before your wife’s water breaks. Saying he could become one of the most marketable athletes in all of sports is insane, right? Forget small sample size, the early returns make you wonder how high Lin can rise if he can even just become an average player in the Knicks rotation.

You need to look no further than Yao Ming for proof of what athletes of Chinese-descent can do in this country. Ming, by all accounts, had a disappointing NBA career. The first pick of the 2002 draft played just 8 seasons due to injuries. He average 61 games per season and his team, the Houston Rockets, made it past the first round only once. I think of him as Bill Walton without the college resume.

Despite that, Yao was one of the most popular players in the league during his career.  He was an 8-time NBA All Star and in 2005, broke the record previously held by Michael Jordan for most votes, with 2,558,278 total. Because of his popularity, the league began offering ballots in three languages.  His sponsorships included Apple, Garmin, McDonald’s, Reebok, Visa and Yanjing. The July 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated listed Yao annual US earnings at a little over $34 million.

The groups that are experiencing the highest growth in this country are Hispanics and Asian Americans. It’s no secret the NBA would love to expand to China. The Chinese Basketball Association saw former Nuggets Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith play there this season. The TV numbers in the country have increased 39% over last season, according to a report from Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick that was confirmed by the league. Merchandise revenue in China has also quadrupled over the past three seasons, per the report, though no specific numbers were released. Although politics have derailed talks of an 8-team NBA league in China, there is no doubt this will continue to be a focus of Commissioner David Stern. This is the perfect time for Lin to emerge as it creates a potential perfect storm for interest in the Far East.

Lin is the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He is a Harvard grad, humble, and deeply religious. In a league where we see institutional racism against anyone not of African-American descent, Lin had to overcome the obstacles of being part of a minority group that comprises less than 1% of Division I college basketball players. It’s hard for fans to identify with the athleticism and Page Six life of a Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or Dwayne Wade. They can, however, relate to the story of a first-generation American who overcame adversity to achieve his goals. Furthermore, he is a Harvard grad; a student-athlete in the truest sense of the word. It’s as American as apple pie and it doesn’t take a marketing guru to recognize that. Add in the international component and you have a player that identifies on a larger scale than the best player of all-time, Michael Jordan.

The NBA announced yesterday its Asian TV partners have added Knicks games to their broadcast schedules following the emergence of Lin. ESPN is hosting a viewing party in Taiwan tonight for the Knicks game against the Lakers. Remember, this is only after 3 games! Imagine what could be if he establishes himself as a starter? Imagine if he follows another former Mike D’Antoni point guard and becomes a star? This system is built for Lin’s game. Forget Steve Nash, the Blazers Raymond Felton was having a career year last season for the Knicks before he was traded to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal.

We love to hype our athletes in this country. Columns, like this one, pop up all over in all the major sports. Often, they look foolish once the athlete returns to normal. I am not suggesting that Jeremy Lin is going to average 25 points and 8 assists for his career. I do think he has the ability to be a very solid starting NBA point guard. That will lead him to be a marketing dream, and perhaps help grow the NBA in a market they so desperately appear to want to be a part of.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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