For Likely No. 1, Star-Maker Machinery Already in High Gear

greg oden - nba draft
In the past month, Greg Oden has signed deals with Nike and Topps trading cards, with more currently being negotiated, all part of the process of creating the Greg Oden brand. (Kevin P. Casey - AP)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NEW YORK, June 25 -- Greg Oden's corner suite on the 12th floor of a swank midtown hotel has many of the trappings one would expect for a player likely to be the No. 1 selection of Thursday's NBA draft: large space, a sprawling view of Times Square, room-service carts along the walls. His favorite part, however, is the big window: Peering through it, he can't see Central Park or the Hudson River, but he's got a nice sightline to a movie theater.

"Look at that," he said, pointing down to the flickering marquee. Then he laughs to himself, and wonders if he might get a special screening of the soon-to-be-released "Transformers."

At 19, Oden is very much a brand-in-progress.

Oden arrived here earlier Monday to complete what has been an endless stream of flights, meetings, negotiations and interviews for the 7-foot center, ever since he declared for the draft after his freshman year at Ohio State. He visited Portland, which holds the first pick, and Seattle last week and is slated to make appearances on MTV's "Total Request Live" and ABC's "Good Morning America" while in New York.

It will all culminate when he shakes hands with Commissioner David Stern and officially joins the NBA. "I just have to get through this week," Oden said, "then I can go back to being myself."

It might seem like too much for Oden, but it is all part of the process of creating the Greg Oden Brand. In the past month, Oden has signed deals with Nike and Topps trading cards, with more currently being negotiated, according to Bill Sanders, vice president of marketing for BDA Sports, the second-largest agency working with NBA players. Sanders said the key was ensuring that Oden isn't overexposed before he puts on an NBA uniform. "The worst thing you can do is have a guy pitching every product under the sun because you greatly diminish his value as a spokesperson. You've got to protect that value and be very, very respectful."

Sanders said the agency pushed for Oden to become one of the "most active digital athletes of the 21st century" and start a popular blog,, so that he can deliver a message directly to his fans.

Oden regularly responds to readers who ask questions and said blogging is so addictive that he has often ignored his friends while writing it. "It's a lot of fun," Oden said.

Paul Swangard, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said former Texas star Kevin Durant is the most marketable player in this draft, but that Oden is a "strong second. His only challenge is he plays a position that tends to work against those who play it. Kids do not go to the playground and pretend to be 7-foot centers. Shoe and apparel manufacturers don't tend to covet the big man as much as they do the playmaker. That won't make [Oden] go hungry. The reports are that the deal he signed with Nike was for $1 million a year. LeBron [James] got $90 million."

Oden's agent, Mike Conley Sr., said he chose to join BDA Sports Management partly because of how the agency had been able to market its clients, including Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony and especially Yao Ming, a big man who has had no trouble pushing products. Sanders said they are using a model similar to Yao's in marketing Oden. "The argument that big men aren't marketable is a complete urban legend," Sanders said. "Shaquille O'Neal has had a very successful marketing career. So has Yao Ming. How many other big men are there that fit that description? Kevin Garnett. Tim Duncan, less so. I think he's the exception. I'm not worried about [Oden] at all. I'm totally confident in him. When you're a winner and super-talented and also you're a person with integrity and charisma, you're a marketer's dream."

Conley Sr. said Oden's height shouldn't be a hindrance because of his personality. "If Greg was 5-foot-2 and couldn't shoot a jump shot, he would be a remarkable young man," Conley Sr. said. "He's got a sense of humor and he has always done the right thing and he prides himself on doing that. He's a joy to be around and that's going to captivate his audience, his fan-base and say, 'Hey, we can connect with this guy.' He's 7-foot tall but, boy, he's normal."

Oden said he has avoided much of the hoopla surrounding the debate over who the No. 1 pick will be by watching "SpongeBob" on Nickelodeon instead of round-the-clock ESPN. "I'm a regular guy. I just got out of college. I'm 19 years old. I don't live any kind of celebrity life," Oden said. "I watch 'CSI.' I like to walk to Cold Stone in the middle of the night, Taco Bell. That's what I do."

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