David Stern

Why David Stern absolutely had to add Jeremy Lin to the Rising Stars Game

In the end, it was surprising it took this long. Jeremy Lin was added to the Rising Stars Challenge, a rookie/sophomore showcase during All-Star weekend that somehow features less defensive effort from the players involved than the All-Star Game.

The NBA needed to do something other than turn the game into an extension of TNT’s Inside the NBA by having Chuck and Shaq draft the teams. Absolutely nobody was talking about this game a week ago (except Warriors fans upset over the exclusion of Klay Thompson and, to a lesser extent, Ekpe Udoh), and with the addition of Lin this meaningless game moves up to the top of the All-Star weekend mandatory-DVR list for many.

Also, David Stern owes Lin one … for potentially saving his job.

For years Stern was miles ahead of every other commissioner in North American professional sports, but he started the 2011-12 season barely treading water. A marketing pioneer who helped ditch the NBA’s pre-1980s team-based focus in order to exploit society’s ever-increasing interest in sneaker endorsers, Stern became just another commissioner trying to charge too much for tickets amidst an iffy economy.

Stern’s personal brand suffered has taken quite the beating in recent years. Tim Donaghy didn’t help, but it took a contentious and season-shortening lockout to crush his once splendid Q-rating.

Then the season finally started, and let’s face it: before Linsanity, 2011-12 was a forgettable campaign that carried none of the momentum the NBA enjoyed after a highly watched Finals. The teams look tired, offense suffered. Hang out at Oracle and you’d think nothing changed in terms of fan engagement, but watch Warriors road games (like a week ago in Denver) and you’ll notice some half-full arenas … if that.

Stern was a weakened tyrant, but look what Lin has done that Stern will surely take credit for.

1. The team in the league’s biggest market, with perhaps the hungriest fans for anything resembling quality basketball, is suddenly the hottest squad in the NBA.

2. Lin enabled the NBA to take the media buzz baton from the NFL and sprint effortlessly (and pick up speed, arguably).

3. After pushing the global thing for years, the NBA fell into heaps of attention from the world’s most populous country by accident. Ethan Sherwood Strauss is getting interviewed by Beijing newspapers about Lin, for Yao’s sake.

If Stern can stick around another five years or so, he’s golden. Despite my prior mention of DVRs, all major professional sports are in a great position financially because they’ve found a loophole in our avoid-commercials-at-all-costs living room behavior. Basketball specifically is in a great position, because (unlike baseball and American football) the rest of the world already loves it and (unlike American football) the concussion risks aren’t there in the background, poised to shut the party down.

The TV money’s only going to get more insane, whether it comes from cable companies or web-based outlets. If Lin has truly arrived as a star (and the evidence mounts by the game that he’ll be around for quite a long time), don’t be surprised if Stern sits back in his throne in future years and adds Lin to his list of successful forays into international celebrity culture, along with guys like Magic, Bird, Michael, Dirk, Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, Yao and (going out on a limb here) Rubio.


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