By CLIFF BRUNT
It’s been said by many experts and some players that the Houston Rockets overpaid for Jeremy Lin.
You won’t find that nonsense here. I’ve experienced Linsanity. Three years, $25 million? Pocket change.
I covered the Pacers-Knicks game on St. Patrick’s Day, and what I witnessed was special.
The doors to Bankers Life Fieldhouse open an hour before each game. Normally, Indiana’s crowd is slow-arriving (sometimes, non-arriving). This was much different.
Within minutes, hundreds of Asian people were watching the Knicks’ pregame warmups. Even with superstar Amar’e Stoudemire on the team, Lin, the NBA’s first American-born superstar of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, drew the attention, as evidenced by all the No. 17 jerseys in the crowd (Check out these Twitpics I took before the game. Pic 1 and Pic 2).
It was my seventh season covering the Pacers for The Associated Press and I hadn’t seen anything like it. I asked some of the older ushers when they had last seen a crowd like that with so much time left before tip-off.
Back when Michael Jordan was playing.
No, they didn’t pull the MJ card.
Yes, they did.
It was surreal. I don’t know where all the Asian people came from. If they were from Indianapolis, they’ve been hiding or I haven’t been looking.
Even Lin was taken aback by the support.
”I think it was a little crazier here than it normally is,” Lin told me after the game. ”That’s cool. I didn’t know I had any fans in Indiana.”
He was just being modest, as is his way. The truth is he has fans everywhere, and his fanbase is desperately seeking heroes. It should be noted that when the Knicks returned later in the season while Lin was injured, there was no big crowd for warmups.
Chinese and Chinese Americans stick to their sports heroes like glue. Both groups whole-heartedly embraced Yao Ming. His fanbase was another insanity I experienced first-hand.
While covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I was finishing up my field hockey coverage right as China was getting ready to the United States in basketball. I watched the first part of the game from the media room, one of the only Americans among a bunch of Chinese people. When Yao inexplicably opened the game by draining a 3-pointer, it seemed like all one billion Chinese people were in that room going completely nuts. It sent chills up my spine. I knew the U.S. was going to squash them and they knew it too. But they had their moment from their 7-foot-6 hero.
It is with similar pride that those groups embrace Lin. But Lin is Chinese-American or Taiwanese-American (depends on specifics about the person you ask), which makes him resonate in the states even more than Yao did. I talked to a few of the fans before the game, and they said they liked the idea of a Chinese guy being athletic enough to compete with the world’s best. He breaks stereotypes. That’s cool with me. I get pretty excited when I meet black doctors and lawyers. I get it.
So, what does this mean for the Houston Rockets?
It means they’ve got guaranteed sellouts all season, home and road, as long as Lin is healthy. The Asian population is the most affluent in the United States, so that part of Lin’s fanbase is more likely than any other group to be able to afford attending the games and buying merchandise.
Not to mention, he’s a good young player with great potential. I’m not quite sure where the criticism of his game comes from. As a starter, he averaged 18.2 points and 7.7 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field. In nine cases out of 10, that’s better than the guy who started for your team. He has exceptional court vision and a unique ability to contort his body to make difficult shots. He’s turnover prone, but he’s also a Harvard grad. He’s smart enough to fix his mistakes.
Plus, there is the Yao factor. Houston fans fell in love with the big Chinese center before his career was cut short due to injury. Lin is the next best thing.
So, from a business perspective, it was a great move. Jeremy Lin is worth far more than any contract the Rockets could sign him for. Houston already has a huge Asian following from the Yao days. Plus, Lin will likely enter his new contract motivated to prove himself worthy of the deal.
And what about those No. 7 Houston Rockets jerseys? Lin had the No. 2-selling jersey in the league last year behind Derrick Rose. I predict he’ll move to No. 1 this season.
Oh, it gets better. You read it here first – expect Lin to be the Western Conference’s starting point guard in the All-Star game. Sorry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Lin’s got more than a billion potential voters in his corner, and many of them are fanatics.
I see the money piling up already. It’s already a good business decision. If it ends up being a good on-court personnel move, the Rockets will win twice.