But Lin proved more than just a one-hit wonder _ he had 28 and 23 points in his first two NBA starts, and then scored a career-high 38 in a 92-85 victory over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The stock price for Madison Square Garden Inc. surged on the production and popularity of the team’s international star. Lin, the NBA’s first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent, also made the Sports Illustrated cover in consecutive weeks, only the 12th athlete to hold that distinction since 1990. On Tuesday, Lin had more than 829,000 followers on Twitter.
The more opponents saw Lin, though, the more they seemed to figure him out as the season wore on. He went 1 for 11 with eight turnovers in a humbling, nationally televised loss in Miami and the Knicks dropped their first six games in March.
The Knicks made the playoffs behind surging Carmelo Anthony, but bowed out to Miami in the first round. The Rockets, meanwhile, missed the postseason for the third straight year and have spent the offseason completely rebuilding their roster.
Houston has been trying to put together a package of assets and draft picks to offer Orlando in exchange for disgruntled All-Star center Dwight Howard. In the process, the Rockets lost the unrestricted free agent Dragic to Phoenix, then traded Lowry to Toronto in exchange for a future first-round pick with lottery protection.
With no true point guard left on the roster, the Rockets turned back to Lin. The Knicks showed their hand when they brought back Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland _ after signing Jason Kidd as a free agent.
Houston, meanwhile, jumped at the chance to rekindle their popularity in China, where Yao Ming became a larger-than-life figure. Many Rockets landed lucrative shoe contracts with Chinese companies on Yao’s coattails and Rockets’ games drew massive television ratings there.
David Schwab, who specializes in matching brands with celebrities as managing director at Octagon First Call, said that while Lin is an American success story, he’ll reopen marketing in-roads for Houston during Yao’s eight seasons (2002-11).
`’Teams base their decisions on wins and losses, because wins and losses ultimately affect ticket sales, sponsorships,” Schwab said. “I still think it’s a win-loss decision, but I think, in their case, it’s weighed more as a marketing decision. They’ve got more to gain right now, with a decade of Yao and companies they’ve done business with. They’ve got kind of the next frontier there.”
By John Solomon
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