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Man of the People: Jalen Brunson Primed to Be Marketing Machine

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Jalen Brunson is a man of the people, but that hasn’t stopped loyal Knicks fans throughout the five boroughs from treating him like royalty.

The New York Knicks star guard hopes to lift his team to its first Eastern Conference Finals berth since 2000 with a win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the semifinals Sunday afternoon. Brunson has turned the most cynical Knicks fans into believers with the most 40-point performances (5) during the playoffs since the other “king,” LeBron James, did it in 2018 (8).

“He’s the king right now,” former Knicks star and Brooklyn native Stephon Marbury said in an interview. “Can you imagine if he wins a championship here? … It’s like watching LeBron, Kobe, Kareem, Magic and Michael Jordan. That’s different.”

Brunson’s pursuit to bring the Knicks their first NBA title since 1973 coincides with the elevation of his own marketing profile. Despite being known for his calm demeanor and relaxed personality, the 27-year-old guard has an opportunity to capitalize on being one of the biggest stars in the world’s biggest media market.

The impact is already being felt on the streets of New York. A short walk from his fiefdom, Madison Square Garden, on the corner of 34th Street and 7th Avenue, is a newly placed Nike billboard featuring Brunson with one arm raised in the air. It simply reads ‘Don’t sleep’.”

It’s symbolic of the overlooked and undersized All-Star who has become the franchise player that fans have been longing for since Carmelo Anthony departed in 2017.  With the city behind him and Nike, his footwear sponsor, providing the stamp of approval, Brunson is poised to become a marketing machine entering his prime playing years. 

Eric Smallwood, the president of Apex Marketing Group, has done multiple studies on the benefits of players starring in a big market as opposed to smaller ones. He mentioned that the proximity to Los Angeles has been helpful for James, the co-founder of entertainment studio SpringHill Company. Even All-Pro quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers has seen his exposure increase more than ever since leaving the Green Bay Packers to play for the perennially losing New York Jets 

“Eli [Manning] being in New York is more valuable to him than him being in New Orleans,” he said.   

Brunson may have his pick of the litter when it comes to marketing deals, but he wants to avoid being distracted from the tantalizing off-the-court opportunities that may come his way.

“I’m definitely open to doing more partnerships, but I always love to keep the main thing the main thing,” Brunson said during his appearance on Business Beyond the Game earlier this year. “As long as I’m working hard on the court and making sure I take care of everything first, I know I’ll be even better when it comes to helping brands and endorsement stuff.”

The New Jersey native continues to build out his sponsorship portfolio, which includes Catalina Crunch, Oura Ring, Bose, Delta and Dunkin’ Donuts. The former Villanova communications major will likely add more to the list, with other media opportunities down the road, but he emphasizes wanting to have the right mindset when he does so.

“Everyone dreams of having endorsements and things like that, but when it comes time to doing it, you have to think on your feet and understand what everything is about,” he said during the February interview. “It’s been a great way to expand my brain and my business off the court.”

The Knicks are in the midst of one of their best seasons in decades and their lead guard has earned the trust of fans across New York. “I have nothing but love and respect for them,” said Brunson, who remains grateful for the passionate Knicks fans and supporters who continue to give him the royal treatment. 

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