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Chiwas
10-31-2004, 10:49 AM
Najera embraces stardom in native Mexico

By Marcus Thompson II, CONTRA COSTA TIMES

OAKLAND - There's probably no better way to gauge the popularity of Warriors forward Eduardo Najera in his home country of Mexico than this: "I would say he's up there with some of the soccer players in the country," said Agustin Pineyrua, public relations coordinator for Miami-based NBA Latin America, a branch of the NBA International Public Relations Department. "There are a few soccer players from Mexico who play over in Spain and Italy ... Rafael Marquez, Cuatemoc Blanco ... he's just as popular as those guys."

In a country where soccer is so coveted, a basketball player -- a reserve, no less -- is among the most beloved.
That would be like U.S. soccer star Landon Donovan becoming as popular in the United States as LeBron James. "This summer, we did two activities with him in Mexico at a Wal-Mart store," Pineyrua said. "There were at least 500 people in line at Wal-Mart. We had to cut the line off."

When the Warriors traded Erick Dampier to Dallas on Aug. 24, they got a hustling forward, an avid defender, a genuine team guy. Even more, the Bay Area's Hispanic community may have gotten a star to get behind, a powerful presence for their community.

Najera, 28, has been such a figure in Mexico.

He has the support of the country and the business connections to make things happen. He has worldwide endorsement deals with Gatorade, adidas, the Stanford Financial Group and Anheuser-Busch. He also has deals with four companies in Mexico, including Corona, Wonder Bread and Telcel, the largest cell phone company in the country.

That's an impressive lineup for a player who has 34 starts in four years.

Najera, a native of Meoqui, Chihuahua, created the Eduardo Najera Foundation for Latin Achievement, which offers financial assistance for Latin American college students. Both Pineyrua and Najera said it is the first foundation formed by an individual celebrity in Mexico.

Najera also made his mark in Dallas, where he was embraced by a dense Latin population. "His official jersey sales were right behind Dirk Nowitzki (the team's star)," said Roberto Gonzalez, Najera's business manager. "Wherever he goes in Dallas, people really look up to him, praise him. He had a good run for four years here." Najera was actively involved in the Dallas area. Between February and September, he held eight one-day clinics at predominantly Hispanic schools, using his influence to secure sponsors such as Spalding and Gatorade for the series. At each clinic, he shared basketball tips and lectured about the importance of education. "He doesn't just put his name on it. He comes and does it," Gonzalez said. "He's more of a hands-on guy. He hangs out with them, talks to them, sign autographs."

The Warriors already are trying to take advantage of Najera's appeal and establish a relationship with the Bay Area's Hispanic community. They are negotiating to play an exhibition game in Mexico. Team president Robert Rowell said the details are not yet worked out -- he said the game would be next October, possibly in Monterey or Mexico City -- but he thinks it's going to happen. "It's important to us to bring Eduardo home and allow him to enjoy the fruits of being the only Mexican-born player in the NBA," Rowell said. The Warriors already have a welcome rally planned for Najera -- and point guard Luis Flores, a Dominican Republic native -- at the Arena in Oakland after their Nov. 6 game against the Los Angeles Clippers. It will be Najera's first chance to meet some of the members of the Hispanic community, including Oakland City Council president Ignacio de la Fuente.

Rowell said there are visions and preliminary plans for school visits, clinics and other appearances. He also said there will be some discounted ticket plans designed for Hispanic fans, including one planned for next Saturday. The Warriors even had their 2004-05 pocket schedules printed in Spanish. One sign of the excitement surrounding Najera is the number of media outlets that have shown interest in the Warriors. Telemundo and Univision, the two major Hispanic television outlets in the Bay Area, and La Oferta Review and El Mensajero, the two largest Hispanic newspapers in the Bay Area, have plans to cover the Warriors this season. Warriors officials said this is the first time the Hispanic media has requested season credentials. The team has started producing news releases in Spanish. "We now are going to do more coverage of the Warriors," Telemundo sports anchor Ramon Diaz said. "Even if we don't go to the game, we will talk about Najera. It will be one of those things where we say, 'Jason Richardson scored 20 points. Eduardo Najera scored four.' People will want to know what he's doing. "The Hispanic community here in the Bay Area has somebody to look after. It makes a difference to kids. He's a good player. And he represents not only Mexico, but the Latin community."

Najera said after he gets settled, he plans to begin showing his face. He said he wants to make connections with the fans; to establish relationships with businesses, politicians and others who care about social progress. "I know how important it is for the community, for the Warriors, the NBA and myself, so I'm going to do the all the work that I need to do off the court," Najera said.

Of course, he also has a full-time job playing for the Warriors. Najera will back up both forward positions for the Warriors. "Obviously, I've got to take care of business on the court first," he said. "Eventually, we can have some more free time and start doing some events for the community and kind of get out there and (let them know) that I'm here and I'm going to be around for a while."

Najera file
* NAME: Eduardo Alonso Najera
* BIRTH DATE: July 11, 1976
* POSITION: Forward
* HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-foot-8, 235 pounds
* NBA EXPERIENCE: Fifth season; drafted in 2000 out of Oklahoma in the second round (No. 38) by the Houston Rockets, then had draft rights traded to Dallas.
* CAREER AVERAGES: 4.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 50.9 field goal percentage, 17.4 minutes

Updated on Saturday, Oct 30, 2004 6:39 am EDT



Commentary:

Somebody asked why it was so significant that Parada was going to play in the NBA. I can't tell, but it's intriguing how a single regular o bad player in the NBA, Najera, raises such admiration in a nation -and a subnation in the US- that has more than 20 players in the MLB, several around the world playing soccer, the second best in the world female golf player at her sophomore year, that its main sports are soccer and baseball, etc., etc.

I think it's just the fact of having a representant in the bewitching NBA.



Edit: Packed some paragraphs.