If you told new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that he could have the world’s 11th most marketable athlete, Yao Ming, return to the hardwood even if it was just to hold Dwight Howard’s towel on the Houston Rockets bench, he would probably giddily accept that proposition.
That’s essentially what the Olympics are being given should Michael Phelps and his mind-boggling 18 gold medals return in 2016.
It is unclear whether the extended time out of the pool has sapped Phelps of some of his swimming prowess, but his retirement was brief enough that he could still be a dominant force upon returning. After all, he still has two full years to train for the Olympics in 2016.
Regardless of whether Phelps ends up making another trip to the medal stand, the 2016 Olympics and television networks win if he’s involved. Phelps was eighth on the same list that regarded Yao as the 11th most marketable athlete in the world, and he instantly becomes arguably the most interesting story of the 2016 Olympics, sure to drag in additional viewers and attention to a sport that has no other franchise athletes. Phelps will be sure to draw more eyeballs to the pool than the likes of Ranomi Krowidjojo, Evgeny Korotyshkin, and Borov Khrustve, especially in a U.S. market that often shows great apathy towards international competitions, even Olympic games (I made up one of those names and you have no idea which one, furthering my point).
Phelps should be applauded for returning to the pool, if only because he doesn’t have anything else left to prove. Afterall, he left the sport as a demigod, and continued to be highly marketable in retirement.