‘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
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
”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
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
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
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
”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
”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.