EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 8 -- Six years ago, when he was a novice in the NFL, New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks got some sound advice that he has never forgotten. It came from tennis star Billie Jean King, when the two had a chance meeting during an airplane flight.

"She told me that as a tennis player, she was very visible," Banks recalled. "Then she told me: 'As a football player, nobody knows who you are outside of your uniform. So if you have talent and you want to be noticed, then you have to express yourself and let people know there's more to you than a helmet and a number.' It's something I've taken to heart and it's really helped me."

It has helped Banks become one of the busiest Giants off the field as well as on. Although he won't come close to making the $4 million Bo Jackson receives from endorsements and promotional ventures, Banks has used King's advice to build an impressive portfolio of his own.

Now in his seventh season with the Giants, Banks boasts a list of endeavors that ranges from national promotions to local appearances, from lucrative deals to charity work. He has become the Giants' man about town while building a promising life after football in the process.

"I'm developing options so I can have more than one way to go once this game is over," he said. "The biggest step I could have made was to graduate from college {Michigan State}. That in itself opens some doors for me, and by making these strong associations and exposing myself in the right environment, that helps also. It doesn't do any good to be an intelligent person and have some qualities and not expose them to the right people. So I'm all about meeting the right people."

Among the deals Banks has going: He is a national spokesman for Diet Coke and is involved in some business aspects of the company. He has a five-year commitment with WNEW-AM radio, the Giants' flagship station, to provide daily reports on the team and co-host the postgame show after home games. He is the president of Banks Enterprises, Inc., which coordinates and sponsors his off-the-field activities through Pro Asset Management, a Manhattan-based firm. He serves as host to Christo's Gridiron Luncheon Club, which meets eight times a season at Christo's Steak House in Manhattan.

"I'm not a whore and I'm not a social butterfly," Banks said. "But I do have some strong associations and I pick and choose wisely."

Banks, 28, who will earn $900,000 in base salary from the Giants this year, will make roughly half that in his off-the-field endeavors. That is enough to put him among the top 20 football players in off-the-field earnings, according to his business manager, Steve Rosner -- maybe even the top 10.

"He's a unique athlete because he knows that football is going to end," Rosner said. "Right now, he's preparing himself for the future better than any athlete I've been involved with."

Speaking to fans or an audience of business people is what Banks enjoys most. A communications major who earned his degree in 1985, Banks wants to shatter some of the sterotypes that plague athletes.

"You don't have to be a Harvard graduate to speak and communicate with people," he said. "I've always taken a great deal of pride in being able to speak well and articulate with just about anyone on any level. A lot of people are afraid to come near athletes when it comes to speaking jobs, because they've heard so much about how unintelligent we are. I think me being in this position, I can carry the torch for a lot of athletes young and old. Hopefully, I can be an inspiration for some young kids that are coming up."

In addition to his established commitments, Banks will make about 20 personal appearances this season. Saturday, he signed autographs at a video store in Bayonne, N.J., around noon, then later spent two hours shaking hands at a department store on Staten Island. Sunday, he was a special guest on CNN's NFL Preview.

Although his schedule is hectic, Banks says it does not detract from his preparation for football.

"It's not difficult because football is number one. It comes first and foremost," Banks said. "The rest is incorporated within. But that doesn't mean I'm a tunnel-vision football player. I do realize it will be over one day. Hopefully, I'll play a little longer, but I do know it's going to end. So I take football and use it as a vehicle to get into the door. As long as I can maintain a clean lifestyle and do the right things, I think I'll be presentable to a lot of people."