Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When you wish upon a star – Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin completed a remarkable week as an NBA player on Monday when the league named Lin the East Division Player of the Week. Lin led the New York Knicks to a 4-0 week, averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals. His 109 points over his first four career starts are the most by any player since 1976-77, and he became the first player in NBA history to tally at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first four starts. Lin scored a career-high 38 points on Feb. 10, in a 92-85 win over the Lakers.

NBA player of the week, one week does not make an NBA career – whether Jeremy Lin is for real remains to be seen but he is the flavor of the day.

“If Jeremy Lin is the real deal on the court, expect him to be the most popular athlete marketer off the court for many years to come,” gushed sports marketing expert and branding strategist Ronn Torossian, CEO and president of 5W Public Relations, a firm based in New York in a New York Daily News report. “This young man will be the face of the NBA — and surely the face of many mainstream, major brands.

“Linsanity has just begun,” Torossian continued, “and this 2010 Harvard graduate is destined for marketing greatness if he can deliver on the court. Jeremy Lin is a marketer’s dream — and to top it all off he is playing in the biggest media market in the world. He can be bigger than David Beckham, bigger than Michael Jordan — he’s Tiger Woods prescandal. Jeremy Lin is the American dream — for people, marketers and the world.”

After receiving no athletic scholarship offers out of high school and being undrafted out of college, the Harvard University graduate reached a partially guaranteed contract deal with his hometown Golden State Warriors last year. Lin is one of the few Asian Americans in NBA history, and the first American player in the league to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.

How Lin made it to the Knicks has a fairy tale quality to the story. Born in Los Angeles, raised in Palo Alto, California, Lin was one of the best California High School Basketball players in 2005-06 during his senior year in high school. He was named first-team California All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year. Only 6’3” – Lin didn’t receive one Division I scholarship offer.

Lin wanted to go to either UCLA or Stanford. Neither school offered him a scholarship, just a chance to “tryout” for their teams. Lin put together a DVD of his playing highlights and sent the DVD to all the Ivy League schools. Harvard and Brown both guaranteed Lin a spot on their respective teams but Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships. Lin had a 4.2 grade point average in high school, which fit Harvard's academic requirements.

Rex Walters, University of San Francisco men's basketball coach and a retired NBA player, believed NCAA limits on coaches’ recruiting visits impacted Lin. Lin played Division II high school basketball.

“Most colleges start recruiting a guy in the first five minutes they see him because he runs really fast, jumps really high, does the quick, easy thing to evaluate," Walters said.

Throughout his four years at Harvard, Lin demonstrated tremendous drive and determination. His senior year was special. In his senior year (2009–10), Lin averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, and was again a unanimous selection for All-Ivy League First Team. He was one of 30 midseason candidates for the John R. Wooden Award and one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN picked Lin among the 12 most versatile players in college basketball.

He gained national attention for his performance against the 12th ranked Connecticut Huskies, against whom he scored a career-high, tying 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds on the road.

After the game, Hall of Fame Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun said, "I've seen a lot of teams come through here, and he could play for any of them. He's got great, great composure on the court. He knows how to play."

But Harvard is in the Ivy League and there have been very few Ivy League basketball players selected in the NBA draft. The NBA draft is a two round draft; eight teams had invited Lin to pre-draft workouts but Lin wasn’t selected in the 2010 NBA draft.

On July 21, 2010, Lin signed a two-year deal with his hometown Golden State Warriors, his favorite team growing up. Lin's deal was partially guaranteed for 2010–11, and the Warriors held a team option for the second season. The reports noted that the deal would include a first-year salary of close to $500,000 with more than half of it guaranteed.

Nike saw something that most of the NBA had missed – the brand they could build around Lin – and how the Asian-American market would react to Lin. As the first American player in the NBA to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, Nike believed if they placed some of their marketing machine behind Lin, they would see a return on their investment. Nike signed Lin to a three-year contract (he had what amounted to a one-year NBA contract), and put his NBA jersey on sale before he had even played one NBA game.

Lin made the Warriors 2010 opening night roster but didn’t dress until the teams’ second game of the year – Asian Heritage Night. Lin managed to get into the game with 2:32 left in game and received a standing ovation.

At Toronto on November 8, 2010, the Toronto Raptors held Asian Heritage Night to coincide with Lin's visit with the Warriors. More than 20 members of Toronto's Chinese media covered the game.

Tuesday night the Knicks visited Toronto. The Raptors again held Asian Heritage Night, and sold out only their second game of their season. Unprecedented media demand forced the Raptors to turn away many requested media credentials for the game.

Three times during his 2010-11 rookie season, Lin was assigned to the Warriors' D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorn. The D-League was created for players like Lin, players who needed a chance to prove themselves and receive playing time in basketball’s minor league.

The Warriors walked away from Lin’s contract on December 9, 2011, the first day of the team’s training camp. On December 12, 2011, Lin was claimed off waivers by the Houston Rockets. On December 24, before the start of the season, the Rockets waived Lin to clear payroll to sign center Samuel Dalembert. The New York Knicks claimed Lin off waivers on December 27 to be a backup behind Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby after an injury to guard Iman Shumpert.

The Knicks sent Lin back to the D-League on January 17, 2012. Six days late fate and maybe a touch of Jeremy Lin’s destiny intervened. The Knicks recalled Lin to the NBA.

On February 4, 2012 (the game before the four games that led to his selection as NBA Player of the Week) Lin came off the team’s bench to score 25 points, collect five rebounds, and hand out seven assists—all career-highs—in a 99–92 Knicks victory over the New Jersey Nets. Teammate Carmelo Anthony suggested to Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni at halftime that Lin should play more in the second half. After the game, D'Antoni said Lin has a point-guard mentality and "a rhyme and a reason for what he is doing out there."

During Lin’s remarkable run, both Anthony and the Knicks other NBA all-Star, Amare Stoudemire, haven’t played for the Knicks. Anthony has been injured. Stoudemire missed the Knicks last five games following the death of his brother. Stoudemire returned to the Knicks line-up on Tuesday night.

"The only positive for us during that whole week was we were watching the ball games and we were watching Linsanity," Stoudemire said, following practice on Monday. "My family was getting a kick out of it. That's the only smiles they really had all week. It was great to see that. It's been a tough week."

Jeremy Lin’s arrival as an NBA start couldn’t have come at a better time for the NBA. The NBA is playing a truncated 66 game schedule. Many believed sports fans didn’t care anymore. The remainder of Jeremy Lin’s 2011-12 NBA contract ($800,000) became guaranteed on Friday, when Lin hit 38 points last Friday – a “tour de force” performance against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The game was televised nationally by ESPN.

"Players playing that well don't usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed," Bryant said, after Lin scored 38 points.

The Associated Press has called Lin "the most surprising story in the NBA." Bloomberg News wrote that Lin "has already become the most famous [Asian American NBA player]." ran an article titled, "It's Official: Linsanity is for Real".

Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson said, "The excitement [Lin] has caused in [Madison Square] Garden, man, I hadn't seen that in a long time."

Lin credited his success to playing without pressure. "I've surrendered that to God. I'm not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore," said Lin.

What Tim Tebow was to the National Football League, Jeremy Lin is to the NBA – a deeply religious athlete with courage and deep conviction and a commitment to excellence. He is a true athlete from the sports bygone era. Five or six games do not make an NBA career and it remains to be seen if Lin is for real. Regardless, Jeremy Lin is the breath of fresh air the NBA needed.

Sources used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom

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