MILAN -- When the Knicks arrived here Thursday morning, they were their fame actually decreased in comparable status. There are no basketball players on cereal boxes in supermarkets here. That kind of thing is reserved to the soccer stars of the city's two beloved teams, AC Milan and Intermilan.
"Not a lot of people here care about basketball," said Danilo Gallinari, a homegrown product and, clearly, a realist.
Those that do, of course, are just as rabid as their futbol counterparts, with chanting and singing that can sweep you up in its devoted partisanship. And it is important to note that tickets for Sunday's exhibition game between the Knicks and AJ Milan, Gallinari's former team, sold out in just a few hours. And Gallinari says he was told there was over 85,000 ticket requests for the 12,000-seat Mediolanum Forum.
But while walking the congested streets of this bustling northern Italian city, you're more likely to see an oversized, gas-guzzling SUV than you will a Gallinari jersey.
"It's in a couple of stores here in Milan," he said with a shrug.
And it is, at least, among the top 15 in sales in Europe, according to data released by the NBA. The information was gathered from retail locations across Europe during the 2009-10 season. Gallinari, who ranked No. 11, was the only Knicks jersey on the list. Kobe Bryant topped the list for the third straight season -- he owns the triple crown as far as jersey sales go, with the top spot in North America, Europe and China -- and was followed by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Pau Gasol, who ranked fourth, was the most popular jersey among European-born NBA players. Gallinari was the lowest of the six, which includes his countryman and friend, Andrea Bargnani (sixth), Jose Calderon (seventh), Dirk Nowitzki (ninth) and Tony Parker (10th).
Players don't directly make money off the sale of their own jerseys, but the list is important to them in other ways. "That stat," Amar'e Stoudemire noted, "helps you negotiate marketing deals."
Stoudemire, a five-time all-star whose popularity in Phoenix always came after two-time MVP Steve Nash, is nowhere to be found on the European list. He's also not on the top 15 for China or even in North America. But that expects to change now that he's become the face of the Knicks, one of the NBA's most popular franchises worldwide. And that's what makes this trip, which includes a stop in Paris next week, as important to Stoudemire as it is to players making hometown visits such as Gallinari and Ronny Turiaf. Stoudemire is not at the level of Kobe, LeBron and Wade, but his dynamic mix of power and athleticism is easily appreciated among fans.
"That's your goal as a star in the league, to expand your brand as much as possible," Stoudemire said after the Knicks practiced here on Thursday.
"It's not a priority for me, however," he later added. "My priority is to better my team and my teammates. That's the goal for myself. As I've said, everybody's popularity stats will rise, even in jersey sales, if we win."
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* - During practice today at the aging Palalido -- the arena where D'Antoni made his name as a player here and AJ Milano now uses as a practice facility -- Ronny Turiaf was concerned about how much the basket stanchion would bounce and rattle after every ferocious dunk Amar'e Stoudemire threw down during one drill. Amar'e then offered his perspective on it: "If it breaks," he said, "we won't have practice tomorrow."
* - D'Antoni gave a look to an interesting five-man group that included Anthony Randolph in place of Turiaf at the five and then put Randolph at the top -- yes, the top -- of the full-court press along with Raymond Felton. With his long wingspan and athleticism at 6-11, Randolph could cause a lot of trouble for opposing guards who try to pass out of the trap.
* - With a six hour time difference, the medical staff gave some tips to the players to suppress the effects of jet lag after the overnight flight from New York. Those of you Fixers who are world travelers may want to take notes: 1. take no longer than a two-hour nap once you get in. 2. be sure to go for a walk and get morning sun to help your body adjust to the time change. 3. Don't go to bed before 10 p.m. Coincidentally, as I write this, it's 3 a.m. local time. I don't think they meant 10 p.m. Eastern.
* - Reports out of Minnesota say Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is trying to get Ricky Rubio's parents to meet him in Paris, where the Wolves play the Knicks on Wednesday, for dinner so they can discuss their son's plans for the NBA. Apparently, The Rubios aren't interested in having dinner with Taylor and the T-Wolves. If Taylor were to invite the Knicks to the table, perhaps they'd reconsider?
* - You know how most of the time, second round picks generally stand out in training camp looking like the guys who don't belong? Well Landry Fields is no typcial second-round pick. He blends in well with the talent and carries himself with the confidence of a returning player. Assistant coach Dan D'Antoni tried to rattle the rookie while he was taking shots in a post-practice competition among the young players. D'Antoni tossed a $20 Euro on the floor. Fields rose up and drilled the three and let out a Whooooo! "Give me my money!" he yelled. D'Antoni handed him the bill, which Fields promptly stuffed into his sock and then returned to the competition.
* - For everyone asking, the game here on Sunday will be televised back in the States on MSG Network and NBAtv. Wednesday's game in Paris against the Timberwovles will also be televised.