NEW YORK — Bigger than Shaq? Larger than LeBron? The Knicks as NBA champions?
(Don’t laugh too hard at that last one. The odds are getting better, according to one online sports book.)
Nothing seems too Lin-possible now after Jeremy Lin’s incredible first week as an NBA starter, and the story keeps getting better.
The undrafted player from Harvard made a 3-pointer with five-tenths of a second left Tuesday night to give the Knicks a 90-87 victory at Toronto. The Knicks returned home Wednesday to host Sacramento, looking for a seventh straight victory that would get them back to .500 after an 8-15 start.
Lin joined the rotation only then, starting the last five games, so hold off on making him a Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James just yet. But the Knicks have seen enough to believe this ride may last a while.
“I don’t know when there’s an ending, maybe there won’t,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Lin’s story has blown straight past the New York sports pages and all their cute headlines such as “Va-Lin-tine’s Day,” all the way to a basketball-crazed continent on the other side of the world, where he’s been “kind of like the great Asian hope,” said Orin Starn, professor and chair of Cultural Anthropology at Duke.
Lin has done wonders for shares of Madison Square Garden Inc., the company that owns the Knicks, the Garden and the namesake sports network. The stock has surged 9 percent since Lin began his heroics Feb. 4, reaching an all-time high of $33.18 earlier this week before retreating slightly to close at $31.91 Wednesday.
“Rangers and Knicks fans do tend to buy the stock when the teams are doing well,” Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce said.
And Linsanity has reached America’s most powerful basketball fan, with President Barack Obama talking about Lin’s winner Wednesday.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called Lin “just a great story, and the president was saying as much this morning.”
Lin arrived in New York in December with no guarantee he’d last more than a few weeks. Already cut by Golden State and Houston this season, he was so hesitant to get comfortable in his new home that he refused to even get his own.
Instead, he slept at his brother’s place in the city, and had crashed on teammate Landry Fields’ couch the night before his breakout game against New Jersey on Feb. 4.
Even an Ivy League education couldn’t help Lin explain what’s happened since — the most points in any player’s first five games as a starter since the NBA merged with the ABA in 1976, and a contract that’s guaranteed for the rest of the season.
“No, but I believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God who does miracles,” Lin said.
If that sounds familiar, yes, Lin has been frequently compared to Denver quarterback Tim Tebow. Both relied on their faith as much as their previously overlooked skills to guide them through hot streaks that made them sensations even beyond their sports.
Tebow carried the Broncos right into the playoffs, and now there are some who believe Lin can do the same with the Knicks.
The Knicks were 40-1 odds to win the NBA championship on Bovada.lv before Lin’s run began. Now, they’re down to an 18-1 shot and conjuring up memories of another New York team.
“A guy like this is great for the game and has drawn a lot of interest from bettors on the Knicks games also,” Kevin Bradley, the sports book’s manager, said in a statement. “I am having visions of how the public was treating the Giants going into the Super Bowl being the hottest team in the NFL and costing us a mint, and right now the Knicks are by far the biggest loser for the book.”
Not everybody is convinced. Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. played down Lin mania on Twitter, saying that Lin is just doing what plenty of black players do but is getting more attention because of his Asian heritage.
And Lin is certain to cool off. It’s one thing to beat teams such as the Nets and Wizards when they’ve barely had time to learn your name. It’s another when NBA defenses are prepared to stop you.
“He’s a marked man now, he’s not going to sneak up on anybody, and every night’s going to be tough,” D’Antoni said.
Then again, Kobe Bryant had said he wasn’t familiar with Lin’s game and would have to study up on him. The next night, Lin burned the Lakers for a career-high 38 points in a nationally televised victory.
That was a huge moment in Taiwan, which Lin’s parents left in the 1970s. Asia lost its biggest basketball star when Yao Ming retired last summer, but ratings are up in China, and TV stations around the continent have rushed to add Knicks games to their broadcasts.
“I like Jeremy Lin (more than Yao Ming) because Yao Ming was already famous (when he started playing in NBA). For Lin, it’s like nobody had heard of him before. Kobe gave an interview saying he did not know who Lin was. So this is truly a rising star,” Taiwanese university student Zhang Gan-yu said.
Lin has been gaining followers on social media and had the NBA’s top-selling jersey online in the first week it was available. With Knicks games blacked out to many New Yorkers because of a local cable dispute, the Knicks held their first viewing party in Chinatown on Wednesday night.
Their hero had a relatively quiet game, scoring only 10 points with a career-high 13 assists in a 100-84 victory at home against Sacramento. Still, when it was over, the adoring Garden fans chanted “M-V-P” as he was doing a postgame interview on the court.
Lin is the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. Starn called his emergence sort of a “coming-out party for Asian-Americans,” who he said haven’t had a significant presence in entertainment despite their growing population. And certainly not on the basketball court.
“I think it is appealing to a lot of Americans when somebody comes along that seems to break out of this set of stereotypes — and in this case, an Asian-American from the heart of the Silicon Valley,” Starn said. “I think Jeremy Lin has this special kind of attraction because he seems to capture this visibility of Asian-Americans.”
But Lin will have to have lasting success to be just a short-term phenomenon, even to Asians. Yao was beloved because he proved to be an All-Star. Yi Jianlian, drafted in 2007 and now with his fourth NBA team, has seen his popularity wane because he is a journeyman.
Not to worry, D’Antoni says. Lin’s the real thing.
“He’s going to be a good player,” D’Antoni said.