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Knicks' Jeremy Lin a slam dunk for Volvo

Swedish automaker ... er, make that Chinese-owned carmaker ... Volvo is hoping to score a slam dunk by signing a marketing agreement with the NBA’s new Asian-American superstar Jeremy Lin.

Details of the deal -- which Volvo describes as a “dynamic marketing partnership” -- will be announced later today, but a Volvo announcement describes the agreement as an opportunity to leverage “the Swedish carmaker’s sport heritage.”

A seeming bench-warmer in the NBA, he has rocketed to stardom faster than a game-winning three-pointer as the point guard for the New York Knicks. 

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The 23-year-old is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and is filling a spot left vacant by the retirement of mainland China’s Yao Ming, who starred with the Houston Rockets.  But his appeal extends far beyond just the Asian community.

And that’s leading marketers to line up with lucrative endorsement deals, including not only Volvo but Nike, which brought out a new shoe honoring Lin just in time for the NBA all-star game.

The tie-in with Volvo might seem odd, initially.  The automaker is best known for its emphasis on safety -- though it has put an increasing emphasis on performance.  That includes the new R-Design models designed to give Volvo a run at more traditional Euro-performance marques, such as Mercedes-Benz’s AMG offerings and BMW models like the new M6.

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Volvo has its own China connection, having been bought from Ford two years ago, by Chinese automotive upstart Geely.

Tying up with Li could give Volvo a way to undercut Korean carmaker Kia. That maker having inked an extensive alliance with the NBA and young star Blake Griffin -- who won the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Competition by putting the ball away while leaping over an Optima.

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Automakers have traditionally invested heavily in sports marketing, from basketball to motor sport, hoping to reach the broadest audience possible while being associated with winners.

Nissan has proven especially creative in its sports marketing lately.  In auto racing it signed up as a sponsor -- rather than team owner -- in Formula One, putting its logo on the car of the Red Bull team for a fraction of what it might cost to actually start a team from scratch.

Then there’s the pitch to Peyton Manning.  It publicly released a letter to the long-time Indianapolis Colts quarterback, suggesting, “You’ve been like one of the family to sports fans, especially Tennesseans, since your record-setting college days at the University of Tennessee.” 

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While Nissan acknowledged it couldn’t actually close the deal it did offer a sweetener.  “We at Nissan North America want to make you a Titan — a 2012 Nissan Titan — as a gesture of gratitude recognizing your great accomplishments and philanthropic contributions to our national community.”

Sadly for fans of the Titans, it appears Manning is heading for Denver -- and who knows what sort of future endorsement package.