The Verizon Center in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, February 8, saw a surge of Asian-American fans in the stands. They were there cheering every move, every pass, and every point scored by the New York Knicks rising phenomenon, Jeremy Lin. Lin had this third stellar game in a row, which resulted in the Knicks third win in a row, dropping 23 points and a career high 10 assists in New York’s 107-93 route of the Washington Wizards. Jeremy Lin, the Knicks brand new point guard, has carried them while their two super stars, Carmelo Anthony (groin injury) and Amar’e Stoudamire (family leave) have been absent. In the process, Lin just might have saved their season, course correcting the Knicks from a treacherous free fall (they had lost 11 of their last 13 games before he was inserted into the lineup) towards a winning streak.
Lin is proving that to destroy stereotypes, one need only believe in themselves and work tirelessly, two things he has always done. There have been only a handful of other Asian Americans who have played in the league, and only one Asian, period, with any serious name recognition (Yao Ming), so Lin is doing more than just lifting up the hopes of Knicks fans; he’s carrying millions of people, be they of Asian heritage or any other that are routinely stereotyped, on a tour of what happens when you never give up. “Maybe I can help break the stereotype, Lin said to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. Two years later, he’s doing just that.
In just three games, Lin has become the toast of the NBA, a 6-foot-3 David amongst Goliaths, and an inspiration to millions of Asian fans both here and abroad. Lin has, single-handedly, given the NBA access to millions of eyeballs it has longed coveted—those in the Asian market. According to Sports Illustrated, the NBA said that its Asian TV partners have added Knicks games to their broadcast schedules thanks to the stunning emergence of Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. SI reports that Sina in China is showing tonight’s game against the Lakers, with stations in Taiwan televising upcoming Knicks games against Toronto, Sacramento, New Orleans, New Jersey and Atlanta. ESPN Philippines has also added a Knicks game, the February 17 matchup New Orleans.
A great irony in all of this is that many of his games have been missed by New Yorkers. A lingering dispute over carrier fees between Time Warner Cable and MSG Network is keeping Knicks games off that system. This corporate détente has resulted in a majority of Manhattan cable subscribers losing access to Knicks games since January 1. Meanwhile, MSG Network reported that their ratings have jumped by 36% since Lin was inserted into the lineup.
In this age of social media saturation, Lin is the perfect star for the perfect time, an unsung, humble young man undrafted out of college, waived by smaller market teams, sent down to the D-League on numerous occasions (by the Knicks themselves, as recently as last month) who has seen his name as one of the top trending topics on Twitter. According to the New York Times, Lin picked up nearly 10,000 twitter followers this past Sunday, and was a top trending topic in New York and San Francisco. This past Tuesday, a Lin-themed rap song appeared on YouTube. It has been viewed almost 120,000 times.
The Washington Post reported that Lin-sanity has swept his parents home country, Taiwan. Post reporter Gene Wang writes, “Lin’s sway certainly has made an impact in Taiwan, from where his parents (and my mother, incidentally) emigrated in the mid-1970s. ESPN, for instance, is hosting a viewing party in Taiwan on Friday night for New York’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Meantime, Lin’s followers on Sina, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, rose from 190,000 to a quarter of a million in one week.”
The New York Daily News is wondering whether Lin can actually not only save the Knicks season, but also the Time Warner/MSG dispute. According to the News, analysts say that there’s a chance that, due to Lin boosting ratings and pride in the team, with pressure mounting from Twitter, Facebook, and customer feedback being sent to the two companies, there could be some movement towards a resolution.
Brad Adgate, the senior vice president of research at Horizon Media, told the News that if Lin can continue his meteoric rise, and fans continue to clamor to be able to see him play, the pressure could become unbearable for the corporations. “I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure from the two sides to come to an agreement.”
And tonight, the spotlight widens and increases in intensity—the Knicks play Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in a nationally televised game on ESPN. It might be the first game in years that Bryant isn’t the focus of the lion’s share of media ttention. Lin’s incredible journey from undrafted, oft-waived D-leaguer to the unexpected heart, and hope, of the world’s highest profile basketball team is nothing short of astounding.
Lin’s incredible journey through the NBA started with the Golden State Warriors, where he was immediately a fan favorite, thanks to the Bay Area’s large Asian-American population. The Warriors eventually demoted Lin to the D-League affiliate three different times last season, finally cutting him. He was picked up by the Houston Rockets, then waived by them as well. Then this past December 27, Lin was claimed off waivers by the Knicks after one of their backup point guards, Iman Shumpert, was injured.
Lin’s role was to be the backup to the backup point guard. As recently as this past January 17, Lin was once again sent down to the D-League.
Finally, on February 4, due to the Knicks myriad injuries and their season collapsing before their eyes, Lin was put into the game against Nets. He exploded for 25 points and dished seven assists in a Knicks win. The Knicks continued their experiment the following game, against the Utah Jazz. Another insane game for Lin, who netted 28 points with eight assists. Another Knicks win. This led to the aforementioned Wizards game, in which the Asian-American fans in the crowd were clearly pulling for Lin and the visiting team. Lin didn’t disappoint. Another stellar performance, another big win.
Which brings us back to tonight’s marquee matchup against arguably the NBA’s best player, Kobe Bryant, and his Los Angeles Lakers. As the New York Times reported, Lin-sanity has taken hold of the country, and the world, so fast that Madison Square Garden hasn’t even had time to get any official Lin merchandise ready for sale. Even the reliably on-point New York black market in counterfeit goods is lacking Lin-wear. That’ll change. The whole world is now interested in Jeremy Lin, and of the many magic tricks he’s already pulled off on the court, the pin-point passes, the high flying dunks, the most amazing trick is that when Lin’s jersey is ready for the mass market, it won’t just be people with Asian heritage proudly wearing his number 17—it’ll be any fan of great basketball, and of a young man who made us believe but always believing in himself.