Behind the Jeremy Lin madness, a hidden opportunity

Jeremy Lin may be tearing up the court right now for the New York Knicks, but his heritage may make him even more attractive to marketing than human resources.

WASHINGTON, February 14, 2012 – How long must a feel-good story go on for it to become real? That’s the question that everyone from ecstatic Knicks fans, to downtrodden Wizards fans, to surprised Lakers fans will keep asking until Jeremy Lin slows down.

By now, the whole sports world knows about Lin’s play over the past week, culminating in a 38-point showing in New York on Friday night, leading the hometown Knicks to a 92-85 victory over the visiting Lakers.  Everyone also knows his back-story: his degree in economics from Harvard, his going undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft, and the fact that two teams had already bailed on him before the desperate Knicks signed him.

Hence, there’s no need to write yet another summary of how the stars aligned, how the Mayans predicted Lin’s ascendancy, or how Carmelo Anthony’s groin injury was fated to occur in order for Lin to reach the starting lineup.

Conversely, there’s also no cause to rain on the parade with the obligatory (not to mention wrong) statement that Lin’s performance won’t last. What can be done, and should be done, however, is a consideration of where Lin’s exploits may ultimately most affect the New York Knicks. 

That could conceivably be on the court, where Lin has averaged 28 points and eight assists over his past four games. But even if he keeps up that level of play—which he well could based on the way he ran roughshod over the sizeable Lakers’ defense Friday night—he may produce even more value off the court. In quick succession, this is due to three attributes: his Chinese-American and Taiwanese-American heritage, his demeanor on a team that has a reputation for being a mass of inflated egos, and yes, the fact that he finally can play.

When the Golden State Warriors, Lin’s hometown team, signed him to a two-year contract prior to the 2010-11 season maybe they were trying to bring in some of the approximately 980,000 Asian-Americans living in their territory.

If that was the case, then it bodes well for the Knicks, with New York now boasting an Asian-American population greater than those of San Francisco and Los Angeles combined, according to the most recent census data.

And now that Lin’s playing like a star even with a spotlight on his back, there’s a historical precedent in Yao Ming. There’s a difference between signing a player as an undrafted free agent and building a tailored media campaign around him, like Golden State did with Lin, and taking a star and pitching him as a shining star to the target demographic.

Yao came into the NBA with the weight of an entire country on his back. Lin will have a lighter burden, but the effects should be the same.

Perhaps it was fitting that Yao finally retired due to injury right before Lin’s ascendance, allowing the 23-year-old to step into the void that the Houston Rockets’ star left behind, even if he can’t quite measure up physically to the man who was once the tallest player in the NBA.

But the final trend could be the best of all. Who would have thought that anyone could be called the second coming of Tim Tebow before Tebow even took the field again? The man whose injury opened up a door for Lin is renowned mainly for, frankly, being a world-class ball-hog.

There’s a shocking contrast when a man making $18.5 million while perpetually stealing the headlines for not being a team player takes a seat, and the guy who steps in not only plays to perfection, but also fits in and makes a team start working together. In some ways, Lin’s string of breakout performances has been less about him suddenly discovering his inner talent, and more about playing as a point guard who bears the brunt of his team’s workload without keeping the 22-oz orb in his own hands for the entire 48 minutes. 

So where will Lin have more value for the Knicks? Obviously, they would prefer the best of both worlds. There are still plenty of questions about his play, his future performance, and how he’ll mesh with ‘Melo. But no matter how those answers play out, one thing’s for sure: Jeremy Lin will keep generating buzz about the New York Knicks.

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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

Contact Arjuna Subramanian


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