SLAM ONLINE | » Going Global: Jeremy Lin and the NBA

Going Global: Jeremy Lin and the NBA

Linsanity has become a global phenomena, but the NBA’s popularity throughout Asia is nothing new.

by David J. Leonard / @DR_DJL

In 2010, I visited Taiwan, speaking to university students about Yao Ming and then-college player Jeremy Lin. Even though Lin is Taiwanese American, few students knew who he was—most knew about Yao, some just wanted to talk about Beyoncé and Jay-Z. In Taiwan today, it’s safe to think that—like Kobe Bryant—most know who Jeremy Lin is now.

Unsurprisingly, one of the emergent Linsanity narratives has been that he is providing a bridge to untapped markets, whether Asian-American communities or those throughout Asia. Constructing Asian-American fans and those from throughout Asia (with little differentiation across various countries) as otherwise disinterested in basketball, the narrative replicates stereotypes while simultaneously erasing the immense popularity of basketball within the Asian Diaspora.

Jeremy Lin has been credited with either cultivating or revitalizing interest in basketball throughout Asia. According to Matt Brooks, “But in the post-Yao Ming NBA, Lin just might be the player to further the League’s growth in Asia, while continuing to inspire athletes to break the mold.”

Similarly, an Associated Press story credits Lin with filling the void left by Yao Ming: “Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio aren’t just responsible for reviving their dormant franchises. They also are giving the NBA two fresh young faces to market internationally. As the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, Lin is re-opening doors in Asia that were feared to be closing in the wake of Yao Ming’s retirement. He’s led the New York Knicks to five straight victories and has become an instant fan favorite at Madison Square Garden.”

While clearly Lin has captured the national and international imagination, the narrative that there weren’t NBA fans throughout the Diaspora lacks any factual basis. And the argument that the NBA did not exist in Asia prior to Yao Ming or that fans in China or Japan, Thailand or the Philippines or Taiwan were fans of Yao and not the NBA reinforces stereotypes while erasing the history of the NBA globally. Lin’s own story, whose father became immensely passionate about the NBA after watching games while still living in Taiwan, is a testament to the globalization of basketball.

NBA Commissioner David Stern once described “the opportunity for basketball and the NBA in China” as “simply extraordinary.” The media narrative around Jeremy Lin has advanced this argument, yet reducing the NBA’s popularity in Taiwan, China, and throughout Asia to ethnic or national solidarity is simplistic. Basketball has been immensely popular throughout Asia for many years.

According to a 2007 study, 89 percent of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 54 were “aware of the NBA,” with 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 describing themselves as fans. With 1.4 billion viewers watching NBA games during the 2008 season (up through April 30) on one of the 51 broadcast outlets in China, and 25 million Chinese visiting each month, basketball and the NBA are cultural phenomena within China.

And while the immense fanfare directed at NBA stars is partially a result of the emergence of Yao Ming within the NBA, American NBA players have in recent years generated equal, if not more, popularity. For example, Yao Ming, whose jersey ranked as the sixth most popular in 2007, had dropped into 10th by 2008 even behind the likes of Gilbert Arenas. As of 2010, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James had the two most popular jerseys in China, with Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant also feeling the love. The allure of the NBA, and the immense excitement that the League generates did not begin and end with Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin.

The popularity of the NBA and its players was clearly on full display during the 2008 Summer Olympics. While attending a US Women’s basketball game, Bryant attempted to move through the crowd to his seat, only to find himself amid a sea of cheering fans. The presence of Bryant, who has experienced ample criticism and media derision during the course of his career within the United States, receiving star-studded adoration assumed to be reserved for Chinese athletes, was a testament to the popularity of the NBA and its (African) American basketball stars in China.

Continue reading @ SLAM ONLINE | » Going Global: Jeremy Lin and the NBA.

NewBlackMan: Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?

Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?

Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

In recent weeks, LeBron James decided to take his talents to a high school gym in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and a number of other NBA players decided to take their talents to the Philippines and Kevin Durant took his talents to Rucker Park. On, August 2, Kevin Durant dropped 66 during a Rucker Park game. For the footage I was able to watch, it wasn’t an average 66 but a performance that included several thrilling dunks, smooth drives to the basket, and a sick number of three pointers over at times three “defenders.” His performance wowed an excited crowd and has mesmerized fans on YouTube (almost 600,000 views for one video of his performance). Marc Berman describes the scene as a reminder of how “how much the hardcore fans still love this game, why it matters, why an NBA season can not be lost so billionaires can get a sweetheart deal.” Emphasizing the context of the lockout, Berman illustrates how this was not just another July game at the Rucker.

It was quite a basketball doubleheader on Monday – covering the lockout labor talks at a ritzy midtown hotel on 52nd Street and Park Avenue, then cabbing it 100 blocks uptown to Harlem for Kevin Durant.

More than 2,500 fans jammed into Rucker Park – standing room only on 155th street and 8th Avenue. The 6-11 OKC superstar played for free and the fans of the EBC Rucker League watched for free, but what they saw was priceless.

Going from the disillusioning labor talks and the dour David Stern bashing the Players Association to Monday night’s basketball bedlam in Harlem was a shot in the arm for this basketball scribe.

The game was living and breathing and still pure, with fans screaming their lungs out, jumping up and down in their metal bleacher seats, almost every time Durant brought the ball up court. Durant, wearing the orange of DC Power, dumped a near EBC Rucker record 66 points on the Sean Bell All-Stars . . ..

Durant was not done. For his encore, he scored a mere 41 in a pro-Am game at Baruch College once again reminding fans around the globe of the amazing talents of NBA stars. Yet, this performance was overshadowed by the efforts of John Lucas III, who netted 60 in that game.

Durant has not been the only one ballin’ this summer. LeBron James played at in the Drew Summer League dropping 33 points at the Leon H. Washington Park gym, which is located in the heart of Watts, California. Casper Ware described the situation as “a great experience.” Challenging the media demonization of LeBron, the senior guard from Long Beach State was immensely complementary of James: “He was still passing even though he was LeBron. He just wanted me to play my game. He told me, ‘Don’t stand around and just throw me the ball. Play your game. I can get mine. Play your game and don’t change for me.’ He was very cool and down to earth. You could talk to him like any other player.” From coast to coast, NBA basketball fans have been treated to the greatness of the league.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: Taking Their Talents to the Rucker, Watts and Manila: What Lockout?.

Yao Ming’s Exit: Globalization and All Its Possibilities



Yao Ming’s Exit: Globalization and All Its Possibilities  | Special to NewBlackMan
   Yao Ming is reportedly retiring from the NBA.  A player of immense talent and potential, his career for some will be a disappointment.  While debating his on-the-court successes, whether or not he is a hall-of-famer, and the large basketball significance are interesting, I think his retirement should elicit thought and reflection about the globalization of the NBA.  His importance to the game, in global sports marketing, and in terms of larger social forces transcend the game and that has always been the case.  In 2003, when Yao’s statistics were pedestrian at best, I wrote in Colorlines about the larger significance of his arrival to the NBA.
   The star power of Yao Ming is not the result of his extraordinary stats for the Houston Rockets. He averages a respectable 13 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The flurry of magazine covers, billboards, and television commercials featuring Yao reflect the desires of American and Chinese companies to cash in on Yao’s popularity. Beyond the efforts to sell basketball to more than 2 billion Chinese nationals, the NBA hopes to capitalize on the sudden explosion in ticket sales to the Asian American market. Asian Americans buying group packages for Rockets games represent 11 percent of the buying public, 10 percent more than last year. In cities across America, Yao attracts fans to the Rockets’ away games to such an extent that a number of stadiums, in places like Detroit, Boston, and Oakland, have offered special “Asian American nights.” When the Rockets played the Golden State Warriors this spring, the Oakland arena announced parts of the game in Mandarin. Rockets’ coach Rudy Tomjanovich frequently boasts of Yao ‘s importance in bridging cultural and political gaps. In other words, Yao is presumably schooling America about Chinese culture and history.
    Since 2003, Yao Ming’s economic, social, and cultural importance has increased tenfold.  According to a 2007 study, 89 percent of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 54 were “aware of the NBA,” with 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 describing themselves as fans.  More recent numbers show a game increasing in popularity, despite Yao’s diminished presence.  On average, NBA games (despite being aired early in the morning) deliver 558,100 viewers; generates roughly 12 million hits per day. A two billion dollar market, China has proven to be immensely important to the NBA’s global expansion and its overall financial success.