A year ago, Jeremy Lin was an unknown basketball player, struggling to stay on an NBA roster and hoping for a chance to make a name for himself.
Now, after a surprising run with the New York Knicks this past season, Lin has become one of the most recognizable names in the NBA, both on and off the court.
For about a month back in February, “Linsanity” swept the country. It was in part due to the surprising play of Lin, who led the Knicks to a seven-game winning streak; and also in part due to the fact that he is Asian-American, a rarity in the NBA. Lin attracted worldwide attention to the Knicks and to the NBA as a whole.
Fans couldn’t get enough of Lin and his story. From appearing on the cover of Time to sparking record-breaking Web traffic, Lin became a household name. According to ESPN New York.com, Lin filed an application on Feb. 13 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to the agency’s Web site, to take control of the "Linsanity" catchphrase.
Clearly, the Knicks organization hit a PR jackpot with Lin—someone who had global reach who could represent their brand in a positive light.
Knowing that, there was no way, after a successful few months, they could let Lin walk away and not give him a new contract, right?
But that appears to be the case.
According to reports, the Knicks will not match the three-year, $25 million contract that’s on the table for Lin. If that happens, Lin will be heading south to play for the Houston Rockets.
Actual basketball X and O reasons aside, Lin was a perfect fit for New York, and the branding opportunities the Knicks had through him were limitless. From a diversity standpoint, Lin’s minority status opened up an expanded consumer base for the organization, which would’ve been even larger for the Knicks and Lin. He was projected to having a starting spot on the team.
What public hit will the organization take now that it has apparently decided to part ways with the most popular player on the team? Without the excitement Lin generated, will the fan’s displeasure with the organization’s decision backfire through ticket and product sales?
And with Jason Kidd—a player thought to have been brought in to mentor the squeaky-clean Lin—having been arrested for DWI before even suiting up for the team, how does that help the organization’s image?
From a branding perspective, the old saying applies here: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And if a campaign is paying dividends and consumers are excited about your organization, stick with it.
The Knicks may save money by letting Lin go, but from a PR standpoint, not having him around is a losing strategy.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson