For nearly a decade, the NBA has been looking for the next Michael Jordan. And while it is much too early to compare the game's ultimate competitor — six championships, 10 scoring titles — to the New York Knicks' new guard Jeremy Lin, there is one similarity: He gets people to watch.
Lots of people. "In some ways, he's like a folk hero," says ESPN's senior director of NBA programming Doug White of Lin, who has helped the Knicks go 8-3, as of press time, since he joined the starting lineup in February. "He's attracting not only hard-core basketball fans but casual fans, as well as people who may not have watched the NBA before but who are now interested because it's become more than just a sports story."
Yes, this real-life tale of the Harvard-educated benchwarmer who has excelled beyond anyone's expectations — he averages 22.4 points per game along with 8.8 assists — has resulted in a Linsation. The February 19 Knicks/Mavericks match-up drew 5.9 million viewers, ABC's third highest-rated regular-season game (not played Christmas day) since the network acquired the NBA in 2002; TNT's Knicks/Heat contest on February 23, which New York lost, netted almost twice the audience of previous Knicks games on TNT this season. (On top of that, court-side seats were going for almost $10,000 on the secondary market, according to The Miami Herald).
On a local level, cable network MSG, the Knicks' home in the New York market, is enjoying a nearly 140 percent bump in its average household ratings compared to the season's previous 20 games. "It's theater every single night," says White. "I want to see the story continue. It's fun to watch."