February 13th, 2012
11:03 PM GMT
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New York (CNN) - Harvard economists might not be able to fix the financial crisis but one might be about to fix the U.S.'s National Basketball Association.

Or at least, that’s what they’re saying about Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks point guard and freshly appointed savior of basketball.

Having struggled to find a professional team after finishing his economics degree at Harvard, Lin found himself sleeping on couches, bouncing around the Developmental Leagues hoping for a break.

The hapless Knicks finally gave him one a few weeks ago. Five games and five wins later and we have another sporting sensation on our hands.

From the very beginning, the comparisons with America’s other cult superstar, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, came in thick and fast.

Both defy the typical profiles enough to assume underdog status. Both have hit improbable hot streaks at opportune times. And both have re-energized two struggling franchises. Raise your hand if you predicted the Knicks and the Broncos being the two most talked-about teams in sports this season.

Why Jeremy Lin's race matters

Unlike Tebow, Lin’s professional numbers speak for themselves. He’s scored more points in his first four games than any other NBA player in history. Tebow won despite his numbers, Lin wins because of them.

As anyone with an economics degree from Harvard will warn you though, regression to the mean is always a risk with such a minute sample size.

It may already be happening in fact – see Saturday’s game against the Timberwolves, where Lin’s game-winning free throw served only to distract from his six turnovers in a distinctly less than immortal performance.

Lin struggled to get a break in the big leagues for a reason, and we’ll presumably see evidence of it soon. And once the wins stop coming, it will get harder and harder to justify the hype.

That’s not to say Lin needs to be an All-Star to become a superstar. Thanks to his Taiwanese heritage, he’s able to harness Asia’s insatiable appetite for sports, the commercial and cultural power of which can never be underestimated.

Retired center Yao Ming was propelled to iconic status despite a career where injuries were sadly more of a feature than championships.

If Lin can keep up the momentum for long enough, there’s no reason why he can’t do the same.

Even though Lin never built up celebrity status in the Chinese leagues like Ming did (Lin is American and grew up in California), the Chinese interest is already there – 900,000 followers on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, can’t be wrong.

And of course, it’s not just Ming’s sneakers that need filling.

With the PR damage from this year’s lockout and the gradual decline of old superpowers like the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics, the NBA badly needs new personalities.

With the Ivy League background and the couch-surfing, Lin has that in spades. Doing it all in New York, one of the world’s biggest sports markets, would only make a push for global domination easier.

For now the Knicks can enjoy the short-term publicity boost - the double digit percentage gains for its parent company over the past week are no coincidence.

But these kinds of gains will look like small fry if Lin can reach his full commercial potential. Tim Tebow had a shot at being an American superstar, Lin has a shot at being a global one. It’s his shot to take.

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Filed under: China

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Roger Ikeda

    If you examine the game against the T-Wolves, Lin had an outstanding 1st half. The struggles in the second half were due to exhaustion. That is obvious. None-the-less, the fine play of the newly energized Knicks led to a come from behind victory. When Lin got a lot of minutes in D-League last year and this, he filled up the score sheet (player of the week last year and a triple-double this year.) He merely continues to do the same in the NBA. I'm not sure what mean he's about to regress to. 5 games with extended minutes, 5 games with at least 20 pts and 7 assists. The number of players with that kind of streak this year? One. Lebron comes closest with a streak of 4. Look at the list of playes with his type of stats in their first four starts. They are mostly all-star type players. Is that the mean you are talking about?

    February 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  2. BillRubin

    "Unlike Tebow, Lin’s professional numbers speak for themselves." There's your answer.

    February 14, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  3. AthenaSaints

    It is too early to tell if Lin will be successful in NBA, but the comparison to Tebow is too far fetched. NFL is a pass happy league; the running game is no longer part of the central paradigm, quarterback is now the answer to whether a team will be dead or alive. Over the years, I learned basketball is a deep game; a point guard does not need to be the scoring champ of the team in order to gain success. I am more concerned about if Lin will glue the team together instead of how he will become a super star.

    February 14, 2012 at 4:27 am |
  4. BrianKimball

    He visits chewstroke.com as part of his routine, always leaving kind comments.

    February 14, 2012 at 5:41 am |
  5. sameh

    You will not believe what is happening in the stadium during the match

    February 14, 2012 at 6:07 am |
  6. Mark

    Sorry, but I have to correct something. You said; "He's scored more points in his first four games than any other NBA player in history." Actually, he scored more points in his first four STARTS than any other NBA player SCINCE 1976.
    He played very few minutes and scored little in his first four games with the Golden State Warriors last season.
    Records kept during the NBA's first 30 years may reflect players who totalled more points in thier first four starts.

    February 15, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  7. Rob

    Don't forget that both Tebow and Lin are (seriously) religious (Christian) men, even though Tebow is more public about this.

    February 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  8. Darwin

    @Rob: They probably both own bicycles, too. It is certainly those BICYCLES that have secretly shot them to success ;-)

    February 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  9. Luke

    This is exactly related to this story, but I thought the whole racist headline thing yesterday, was totally blown out of proportion, I really don't think the guy meant it, at least not the way it was portrayed on the Philip De Franco Show.

    Well that's just my 2 cents anyway.


    February 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

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