Lin, a 23-year-old Harvard University graduate, sparked the phenomenon that became known as Linsanity after he took over as the Knicks’ starting point guard last month. His play helped get the Knicks back into playoff contention while boosting the team’s television ratings, ticket prices and shares.
“He has become a global cultural phenomenon,” John Maloney, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars of North America LLC, said at a news conference yesterday in New York.
Lin, the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American to play in the National Basketball Association, will appear in his first television commercials for Volvo after the NBA season ends. He’ll be used in promotional materials immediately, company officials said.
“Growing up, I never had the super luxurious cars or watches or whatever it may be,” said Lin, who added that he doesn’t currently own a car while living in New York. “Being able to find a car company that has high quality but is also affordable and relatable was very important to me.”
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. (GEELZ)’s Volvo is betting Lin’s popularity will help the company double sales to 800,000 vehicles by 2020 in China, the carmaker’s fastest-growing market.
The 6-foot-3 guard, who was cut by two NBA teams before joining the Knicks, has helped draw Chinese interest in the NBA similar to former Houston Rockets All-Star center Yao Ming.
The 7-foot-6-inch Yao, a Shanghai resident, signed sponsorship deals with companies including Apple Inc. (AAPL) and McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) before he retired in July. Sports Illustrated in June ranked Yao the fifth-highest paid non-U.S. athlete in the world, with an estimated annual income of $36 million.
A group led by Zhejiang Geely bought Volvo from Ford Motor Co. (F) for $1.8 billion in August 2010, completing the biggest overseas acquisition by a Chinese carmaker. Volvo makes the S40 sedan and XC90 sport-utility vehicle and sold 449,255 cars last year. The company plans to open two carmaking factories and an engine plant in China.
The Knicks won seven straight games after Lin began running the offense Feb. 4. It then lost nine of 12 games, including six in a row, which led to the March 14 resignation of coach Mike D’Antoni. Since assistant Mike Woodson took over on an interim basis, the team has won three straight games.
New York occupies the eighth and final playoff place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks.
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