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With Lin back next year and a new Taiwanese owner, Nets lead way to Asia

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

How big is the NBA in China? Last season, more than half of the country’s roughly 1.4 billion people watched NBA programming on television in China, according to the league.

How big is the Chinese population in New York, both from mainland China and Taiwan? According to the NYC Department of City Planning, the Big Apple has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia.

Those two facts alone, provided by NBCNews.com, would tend to push the Nets into the forefront of the NBA’s big push in China and Taiwan. And that doesn’t take into account, two other more Nets-centric facts: The game’s only Taiwanese-American player, Jeremy Lin, is on the Nets roster, even if injured, and Joe Tsai, the Alibaba billionaire, is about to close on his purchase of 49 percent of the Nets ... at a cool $1.13 billion. Tsai (who calls Lin his favorite player) will have the right to buy control of the Nets in 2022.

As NBCNews’ Chris Fuchs writes Friday, Chinese New Year, the stars are aligning for Brooklyn to take advantage of its connections to China, Taiwan and Asia in general. The Nets marketing to China plus Chinese- and Taiwanese-Americans may be subtle and not well known to its non-Chinese fans, but it’s big in the Nets overall plan and in Asia.

“The Nets are a global team, and we are always looking for creative ways to expand our fan base, such as through heritage nights,” Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, told NBC News in a statement. “We have seen significant brand affinity from the Asian community, and it remains a focus of ours to continue to nurture growth in such a critical market.”

The Nets manage an account on Weibo, a popular Chinese-language microblogging platform that now boasts close to 2.2 million users. The team’s website is also translated into simplified Chinese. This season, there were both Taiwanese Heritage and Chinese Heritage nights. At the first Taiwanese Heritage Night on January 8, Jeremy Lin bobbleheads were handed out to the first 10,000 fans.

On Chinese Heritage Night on February 6, player introductions were in Mandarin and a Chinese-American Nets dancer sang the National Anthem. Fuchs also talked extensively with Borcheng Hsu, who’s helping the Nets sell tickets through his Taiwanese American Council of Greater New York, which works to boost Taiwanese-American culture.

The Nets last year produced short videos of its players and head coach Kenny Atkinson wishing fans a happy Chinese new year in Mandarin and this year, Lin and Caris LeVert who accompanied Lin to Taiwan last summer, are seen in the league’s Chinese New Year’s greeting.

Even with Lin out for the year, there remains big interest in the Nets from Taipei to Beijing to Chinatown, which is only likely to get bigger next season with Lin back on the court and Tsai sharing the owners’ suite.