The first-place New York Knicks, off to the franchise’s best start since 1972, have strengthened their team and brand since overnight sensation Jeremy Lin last played at Madison Square Garden, league analysts say.
Lin, 24, became a National Basketball Association phenomenon in February, taking over as a starter and leading the Knicks to seven straight wins while helping attract sponsorships from a pair of Taiwanese companies.
He was to return to New York last night for the first time since the Knicks declined to match a three-year, US$25 million contract offer from the Houston Rockets during the off-season, after which neither of those sponsorship deals was renewed.
Madison Square Garden Co, which owns the arena and the Knicks, meanwhile has expanded its sponsorship portfolio in the past few months, adding partnerships with Kia Motors Corp and Lexus, spokeswoman Stacey Escudero said in an e-mail. The Knicks are 18-5, two games ahead of LeBron James and the defending-champion Miami Heat atop the Eastern Conference standings.
While tickets rose to an average of US$491.65 per game during the height of “Linsanity,” there is less demand to see Lin for his only trip to the Garden this season, according to ticket-aggregator TiqIQ.
The average resale listing for tonight’s game is US$329.63, according to the Web site.
While losing Lin, New York added Jason Kidd, a 39-year-old guard; 38-year-old center Marcus Camby; 38-year-old forward Rasheed Wallace, and re-signed guard J.R. Smith, 27. The Knicks are scoring 103.2 points per game, best in the conference, while averaging a league-low 10.6 turnovers per contest.
Lin is averaging 10.8 points with a team-high 6.0 assists per game this season. He is third among Western Conference guards in All-Star voting, trailing Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Lin told reporters yesterday that he was excited to gain closure.
“If I were to be realistic, there will probably be some nostalgia and reminiscing and thankful for those times because those were some great times, but at the same time, it’s the next chapter,” he said after Houston’s 103-96 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Webber said he would not be surprised if Lin received a standing ovation from Knicks fans.
“The Knicks weren’t any fun watching last year — he was the bright spot,” Webber said.