‘Linsanity’ a boon for NBA in China

The excitement surrounding New York Knicks point guard Jeremy

Lin is providing a fresh impetus to the NBA’s lucrative China

business in the wake of Yao Ming’s retirement.

The Harvard graduate’s stunning rise this month is spurring

further growth in viewership and merchandise sales that soared

during the years Yao played with the Houston Rockets, NBA China CEO

David Shoemaker said in an interview Friday.

The league’s Beijing office is working hard to nurture the

frenzy surrounding Lin, whose parents were born in Taiwan. That

includes ensuring Knicks games are as accessible as possible,

providing online content, and using social media to stir the

discussion, Shoemaker said.

Yao was quoted Friday as praising Lin’s performance and

dismissing any notion of him having been a mentor or

inspiration.

Noting the differences between them – Yao was born in Shanghai

and raised to play basketball, while Lin hails from Northern

California and attended Harvard – Yao said the two were friends and

sometimes exchanged text messages.

”The environments in which we were raised were very different,

but I’m really happy that a guard like him could appear out of

nowhere and have such a huge impact on the NBA,” Yao was quoted as

saying by the official China News Service.

Yao, who is owner of the Chinese Basketball Association’s

Shanghai Sharks, also noted that Lin, at 6-foot-3, is much closer

to average height than any of the four Chinese players who have

gone to the NBA, all of them 7 feet or taller.

Lin and Yao never played against each other, although Lin took

part in a charity game in Taiwan last year organized by Yao. Lin

also has visited China as part of the NBA’s outreach program and to

visit his grandmother’s hometown in the eastern province of

Zhejiang.

”What we’ve seen, the huge enthusiasm and the frenzy around

Jeremy is just serving to act as a further catalyst to grow the

sport of basketball and to grow the NBA in China in a very short

period,” Shoemaker said.

The league plans to bring Lin to China this summer, as soon as

his schedule permits, Shoemaker said.

China’s enthusiasm for basketball and the NBA has held strong

despite Yao’s retirement and China remains the league’s biggest

market outside North America, according to NBA China, which doesn’t

provide revenue figures.

Even the country’s vice president and designated future leader,

Xi Jinping, recently said he enjoys watching NBA games in his spare

time.

Twenty-five years after the league partnered with state

broadcaster CCTV, the audience for NBA games on television and

online has risen 39 percent this year over the last season, the NBA

says. The league also claims 41 million followers on Weibo, China’s

Twitter-like microblogging service, including many who pay for its

premium service, along with 25,000 points of sale in shops and

online.

Despite that, the league is struggling to get jerseys into

stores to satisfy demand for all things Lin, whose followers on

Weibo have soared this week from 150,000 to 1.4 million by

Friday.

Lin, who was ignored by every Division I college team except

Harvard and was cut by two teams before joining the Knicks, wasn’t

on many fans’ radar before this month, but Shoemaker said the NBA

in China had been keeping an eye on him for a while. Still, the

”Linsanity” phenomenon has been as breathtaking to him as to

anyone.

”We’re caught up witnessing what we see globally as a passion

for sport, really a love of the underdog story and the global

appeal for the NBA and that’s all come through in spades in a short

period of time, in about 10 days,” he said.

Lin’s exploits also have riveted Taiwan, with reporters staking

out the apartment where his grandmother and an uncle live.

Lin’s success in both sports and academics again raises

questions about China’s state-run system of sports academies that

has produced scores of Olympic gold medal winners by relentlessly

training athletes from an early age, while offering them little

chance of a normal childhood or proper education, said Jin Can, an

expert at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences Sports Culture

Research Institute.

”Lin’s case tells us that the regular education system can

produce an excellent athlete, and a first-rate player can come out

from a world-class university. I think our sport authorities should

pay more attention on this question,” Jin said.