A long line formed at a Madison Square Gardensouvenir kiosk a half-hour before a New York Knicksgame. Plenty of T-shirts with the numbers of Knicks was available, but the customers appeared to be interested only in Jeremy Lin merchandise.
The 23-year-old Linis the Asian-American, Harvard-educated point guard who, quite unexpectedly, has scored points in bunches and led the underachieving Knicks on a seven-game winning streak. Suddenly, fans want a piece of “Linsanity.”
On Wednesday night, New York residents Michael and Monica Tai purchased two blue T-shirts for $28 each with Lin’s name and number, 17. Michael Tai said he had not been to a Knicks game in about three years, and Monica said she probably would not have come at all.
“I haven’t bought any Knicks merchandise in a while,” Michael Tai said.
Lin has been in the starting lineup for less than two weeks, and the economic impact of Linsanity has only just begun to be measured. Sales and traffic to the Knicks’ online storehas risen 4,000 percent since Lin made his first splash with the Knicks, according to Delivery Agent, the operators of the e-commerce site.
A spokesman for the company said Thursday there are 27 Lin-related items for sale on the site. That's 27 more than there were in January. Some sizes of Lin replica No. 17 jerseys have sold out, but Delivery Agent is restocking as fast as possible to meet demand. (There are plenty of $10 Linsanity foam fingers available at souvenir stands in the meantime.)
The MSG Network said Wednesday that ratings for telecasts of Lin’s first five games as a starter were 87 percent higher than the previous 20 telecasts — despite the fact that nearly 2 million Time Warner cable subscribers in New York have been blacked out in a rate dispute.
A share of MSG stock rose 3.8 percent Monday to a record $32.32, with three times the average number of shares traded. Wednesday’s game against the lowly Sacramento Kings was sold out, and tickets to Friday’s home game against New Orleans, another team with a losing record, are selling on www.stubhub.com for nearly twice face value.
And all of this could be just the start — provided, of course, that Lin keeps playing well.
“For me, Jeremy Lin is the American dream, a marketer’s dream,” said Ronn Torossian, a sports marketing expert and president and CEO of 5W Public Relations.
Torossian said unabashedly that Lin could become as big an athletic sensation as Michael Jordan or David Beckham, simply because he plays in New York, the media capital. Lin is receiving more attention than the New York Giants got after winning the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.
“Who’s talking about the Giants now?” Torossian said.
Besides his ethnicity and his college background — Harvard is not a pipeline to the National Basketball Association— Lin is appealing because he stands 6 feet, 3 inches, no colossus, and is a devout Christian who wants to be a minister when he is done playing ball. Fans wave signs at Knicks games with “Linderella” and “Marry me, Jeremy.”
Lin also has had to battle to get here. In December, he was cut by two other teams, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets before the Knicks picked him up. As recently as last month, he played a game for the Erie BayHawks, the Knicks’ minor-league affiliate.
“How many professional athletes talk about sleeping on their brother’s couch?” Torossian said.
Although he has proven quite capable of dribbling, passing and shooting a basketball, Lin has been low-key and humble as Linsanity has erupted around him. After the Knicks beat the Kings, Lin said he might see a new barber or, perhaps, buy sunglasses.
At a 10-minute news conference at Madison Square Garden attended by at about 100 journalists Wednesday, Lin smiled when he said, “I want to be the same person before and after. That’s where I want to be. I don’t want to let anything affect me or this team.”
He said of being an Asian-American in a league whose rosters are predominantly African-American, “There are stereotypes. Obviously. There are a lot of them. The more we can do to break those down every day, the better we become. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll see a lot more Asians and Asian-Americans in basketball and the NBA.”
Still, his sudden emergence has caught the attention of Asian-Americans like Chloe and Nelson Lee, New Jersey residents who were wearing $54 Lin replica jerseys they had bought at Madison Square Garden as they stood near the court and watched warm-ups Wednesday night.
The Lees were part of a group that brought a Taiwanese flag to the game. They had decided to buy tickets (then at close to face value, Chloe said) after Lin had one of his first big games as a Knick only about a week ago.
Asked if she thought she would be there if Lin had not become such a sensation, Chloe said, “We would not have come — maybe one time, just for visiting.”
For now, they say they plan to enjoy the madcap ride as long as it lasts and maybe come to another game. Lin has scored a lot of points, in part, because Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks’ star forward, has been injured, and Lin will soon be needed to pass the ball more than shoot it.
But he can do that, too. One night after sinking a last-second three-point shot to beat the Toronto Raptorson the road, Lin played only 26 minutes and scored 10 points Wednesday night. But he had 13 assists, a career high, and delighted the sellout crowd with pinpoint passes that led to dunks. Whoopi Goldberg, Mary J. Blige, Mike Tyson and former vice president Al Gore cheered him on.
“Whatever we need to win, I think he’ll do it,” Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Lin.
And if the Knicks keep winning, the delightful ping of cash registers will continue to resound through the main corridor at Madison Square Garden and ripple around the globe.