By Terry Lefton via Sports Business Journal

Staring into the teeth of a lockout a year ago, NBA licensing executives were anticipating that their business would drop by more than 25 percent.

Fast forward to today. In the NBA fiscal year that ended in September, licensing revenue was up in a season that was contracted by 16 games.

Top-selling NBA teams (July 1-Oct. 23, 2012)
1. Miami Heat
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
NBA teams with highest increase in merchandise sales
(July 1-Oct. 23, 2012 vs. same dates last year)
1. Brooklyn Nets 3,034%
2. Los Angeles Clippers 367%
3. Miami Heat 317%
4. Houston Rockets 250%
5. Oklahoma City Thunder 248%Source:

Even the bellwether apparel category was up, said Sal LaRocca, the NBA’s executive vice president of global merchandising, who had earlier predicted a double-digit drop in sales. “We were using 1999 [the date of the prior NBA lockout] as a benchmark for re-entry,” LaRocca said, “but I’m happy to say it was not an accurate benchmark.”

LaRocca offered a number of reasons for the unexpectedly positive results, including:

â–  A condensed schedule of games that produced a seemingly continuous run of compelling NBA matchups;

â–  Continued demand across the basketball category (Spalding had its best year in 29 years as an NBA licensee);

â–  The seven-week Jeremy Lin phenomenon; and

â–  Improvement by big-market teams such as Chicago and New York, the emergence of Oklahoma City, and the championship run of the Miami Heat and LeBron James, who normally is at or near the top in player-specific jersey sales.

The Jay-Z-inspired makeover of the Brooklyn Nets has the team’s merchandise sales soaring.

“Last year exceeded everyone’s expectations, with the reality of the lockout,” said Chris Grancio, head of global basketball sports marketing at NBA master licensee Adidas. “It was all about exciting young players and a great and popular team wining. Early on this season, it’s Brooklyn that is exceeding expectations. By itself, Brooklyn is one of the biggest cities in the U.S., solaunching a team there is a rare opportunity for us.’’

Since the new black-and-white jerseys for Brooklyn’s Nets did not debut until late September, LaRocca said the team’s new duds and location won’t have a “material effect” on overall league licensing until the current fiscal year ends. However, it’s clear that what was one of the league’s worst-selling teams is becoming one of its best. The Nets as a team and the Nets’ jersey are top-sellers on, and statistics from online retailer show the club’s year-to-year sales increase during the offseason (July 1-Oct. 23) was an astounding 3,034 percent.

In addition to the buzz for the Nets, the new uniforms for the Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats and the new alternate uniforms for San Antonio, Denver and Portland are combining with early sales results for the “NBA 2K13” video game to have LaRocca forecasting high-single-digit growth for the fiscal year that includes the coming NBA season.