Yi, Basketball, And Asian Influence

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I was reading this article down at the NY Times on Yi Jianlin who was traded out from the Bucks to the Nets and about how his presence is already connecting with people in the Asian community in the area:

"It’s like having another neighbor," Niu, 26, said through an interpreter, between bites of spicy beef tripe. "There’s one Yao Ming. Now there’s a Yi."

Yi’s name recognition runs high, and people in Chinatown said they would go watch him, if time and funds allow it, but would not necessarily go out of their way to cross the Hudson River.

"In China, along with Yao, he is very famous," Lei Li Henan, 43, said through an interpreter. "If I’m visiting New Jersey and have the opportunity to see him, I would because we are both Chinese."
At the same time while I know Yi isn't Asian American, he's still an Asian face - and at least in the NBA (which a lot of organizations could take a few lessons from) they don't hide it or put it in the background, but rather they understand there's a market to be tapped both here and in other countries. They understand that a whole marketing campaign can revolve around an Asian face, and I can't help but think "When will more companies see this as well"?

And while I definitely understand that there's a line that can be crossed in exploiting someone's race and ethnicity (on both sides - in this case audience and player) - it seems like everyone involved (including the media) realizes this as well:
Of course, Yao entered the league with a refined game, already a bankable star and a top overall draft pick. Yi, a 20-year-old lanky forward who was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks, has not played a single game as a Net.

"He has to build a relationship with the community," said Sunny Moy, president of the Asian American Youth Center. "Right now, everybody is more into Yao because Yi is still nearly a rookie. Yi is a good player, I’ve seen him play, but he has to donate tickets, connect with the kids in order to have an effect." [...]

"You can’t simply go in and market him to an ethnic audience just because he looks like they do," Carter said. "The only way he has credibility is if he performs and carries himself well." [...]

"We think we have a story to tell to the Chinese-American community, which we didn’t have before, but it’s not one that we want to go out there and exploit," Yormark said. "We don’t think that’s the appropriate way. We’ve got to earn it."
Yi could turn out to be a bust in the long run (although 8ppg and 5rpg is still respectable) - but if he can succeed on the court (and not make a fool of himself off of it) - he does have the chance to help change the game on more than the hardwood, even if just a little.