Some men are great, others have greatness thrust upon them. Or if you are Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey you are able to afford projected greatness. Lucky or shrewd or a combination of both, the Houston braintrust found themselves with not just one, but two marketing opportunities and potential stars they might not have ever predicted in Jeremy Lin and James Harden, and now have been thrust from also-rans to must-sees in the talent-laden world of the NBA’s Western Conference. They appeal to a racially diverse audience, they are of a physical size that most fans can relate to, they are amazingly fan and brand friendly and they have the potential of long-time stardom (albeit at a high price salarywise) that those pitching the Rockets brand will love.
Already the marketing machine has gone into overdrive, with beard promotions and billboards for Harden to augment the Linsanity that has already arrived in Houston. While Lin can play both to the mainstream and to the fast-growing Asian population in the city, Harden can pull in a minority community, and together they unite a basketball fan base that loves hard play and strong fundamentals, and pulls in a casual fan who will want to come to see what all the hype is about.
Now Houston at its best was a very good basketball town enveloped in football. Yao Ming helped bring the casual fans back for a while, but since his injury plagued career was cut short, the team has looked for a way to fill distressed seats without a huge amount of star power. In Lin they found one punch, albeit one whose jury is still out. In harden they delivered an Olympian and a potential All-Star who helped ignite a similar fan base in Oklahoma City. He brings a pedigree and the ability to take some of the pressure off the Lin marketing machine, and even provides some much-needed brand insurance should Lin’s star not shine as bright on the court as it will off the court. Smart promotions can now be spread amongst several players not just Lin, and the Rockets sales team can now have a reason to go back hard after subscribers who may have been on the fence, but now can have another reason to get on board with the team. They are also doing this brand building in a market where there will be scrutiny, but not the immense media pressure that can be delivered in New York or Los Angeles. It is a market where the pair and their teammates will probably given a little slack to develop, and that slack will also be invaluable to a brand on the rebound like the Rockets are.
Most importantly, the moves by Morey sent a clear message to fans and brands that ownership is willing to roll the dice for a winner, even as tough as the Western Conference is. yes some fans will show up to see the visiting stars, but now the team has two marketable names to call their own every night, and that combo means that Houston could be one of the surprise stories in the NBA not just from a results, but from a market draw this season. Harden and Lin will help re-ignite the core fans and bring in some new faces, which in a diverse city like Houston, where basketball is not always top of mind in the winter, is essential for the Rockets to be a success. Lucky and good is still the best combo, similar to what Harden and Lin can mean for hoops in Texas.