South Florida gets its first glimpse at basketball sensation Jeremy Lin on Thursday when his New York Knicks visit the Miami Heat. But the Linsanity has been building for days.
The mass fervor for New York Knicks point guard has spiked ticket prices, caused a run on Lin jerseys and flooded Miami Heat offices with ticket and credential requests.
Thursday's matchup between the NBA rivals will be telecast nationally on TNT (7 p.m.) and could be the highest ever for an NBA regular-season game on cable.
"This game has as much interest as the Finals, believe it or not, as far as media and fans alike," Heat spokesman Tim Donovan said. "We're out of seats for media."
The local Lindemonium mirrors the national craze over Lin, an unheralded Asian-American from Harvard who has gone from bench warmer to world-wide sensation within a couple of weeks.
Lids team sports apparel store at Town Center in Boca Raton sold their first allotment of two dozen Lin T-shirts within a few days last week, and his fans have been clamoring for more. Lids employee Sumner Rofelson said Linsanity T-shirts and Lin jerseys are on the way and will be on the racks soon.
"I guess it's a good story," Rofelson said. "Everybody hypes it up. But nobody looks at his turnovers. I think the Heat will take them. I think LeBron James will take advantage of those turnovers."
There is considerable curiosity about what will happen when the hottest story in sports meets the hottest team in the NBA. The Heat has won their past seven games by double-digit margins, and it was LeBron, not Lin, named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
But for the first time since LeBron announced he was taking his talents to South Beach, the Heat will be overshadowed at AmericanAirlines Arena by hype for an opponent.
Meanwhile, Lin-flation has ticket prices approaching playoff level on the resale market.
"It's not quite in that same realm because there's less implications, there's less at stake," said Joellen Ferrer, a spokesperson for ticket reseller StubHub.com, but "it bucks the trend as far as the regular season is concerned. Fans are interested they're curious, they're excited."
Prices on StubHub.com this week were running from about $125 for tickets in the upper level to $1,000 for seats close to the floor. Ferrer said that is about double the norm for a Heat-Knicks game in Miami, which usually has appeal due to numerous transplanted New Yorkers.
The Heat's Donovan, who used to work for the Knicks, said he is getting more requests for tickets from former colleagues and friends in New York than he can accommodate. About 30 Asian reporters are coming to document Lin's every move.
The upcoming All-Star Weekend in Orlando may have spurred some media members to make an early detour to Miami, he said. They are also curious to see if the Linsation, that has produced eight wins in 10 games for a team that was on the verge of firing its coach, can hold up against the Heat's Big Three stars.
But Lin has become much more than a sports story, much like the fascination with Tim Tebow, but it dwarfs Tebow-mania on a global scale.
Although Lin was born in the United States, his Taiwanese and Chinese heritage has sparked a fervent tug-of-war with each of those countries trying to claim him as their own. His relatives in Taiwan have been drawn into the crossfire to the point that he had to ask the media there to back off.
Meanwhile, China's official news agency has editorialized that Lin should denounce his U.S. citizenship and play for the Chinese national team in the Olympics later this year in London. All of that is a bonanza for the NBA with China being its biggest foreign market. Lin's emergence fills the void left by Yao Ming's retirement for a star to excite the Asian audience.
The Heat has cultivated ties to Asia by signing Tsingtao beer as a sponsor this year and appearances by the famous Tsingtao Dancers at AmericanAirlines Arena. Last month the Heat participated in the NBA's Chinese New Year celebration and had courtside advertising in Mandarin for a game that was televised in China.
The Heat isn't doing any special promotion for Linsanity, perhaps mindful of the flak the Dolphins received when they honored the University of Florida in the game against former Gator Tebow.
In this case, no marketing effort is needed. The Lin Dynasty is a bonanza for business everywhere —traffic and sales on the Knicks' online store has spiked 4,000 percent and Knicks TV ratings in New York are up 70 percent. Others are attempting to grab a piece of the action, such as Fort Lauderdale-based Spirit Airlines advertising "Linsanely low fares."
This is the only Miami stop on the itinerary left in this lockout-shortened regular season. Who knows if the Linomenon will still have wings by the playoffs. There are doubters. For now, it really is quite Linsane.
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