The latest chapter of the Jeremy Lin story turned into such a New York Knicks-based story that we forgot to ask the most fundamental question of all: Was this development good for Jeremy Lin? The answer, of course, is yes. It's very good for Jeremy Lin.
Lin is with a team that is willing to pay him $25.1 million over three years. The fact it's the same Houston Rockets team that cut him before the start of last season makes it even better. He played on a contract worth less than $800,000 last season. He'll play for more than six times that amount in each of the next two years, and then you can take that new number and triple it for the third year. Jeremy Lin came up.
New Yorkers would have you believe his marketing prowess will vanish now that he's no longer playing at Madison Square Garden. It's an old perspective that these days is as antiquated as the outright sexism and racism displayed on "Mad Men." Playing in New York helped ignite the Linsanity phenomenon, no doubt. In 2003, when Ronald "Flip" Murray went from 27 points in his NBA career to scoring 20 or more in 10 of the first 11 games of the season, he received nowhere near as much attention as Lin, in part because Murray was playing in Seattle. Playing in New York made Lin so big that the speculation about his next move even interrupted DwightWatch, like a local TV affiliate breaking into prime-time shows to deliver news of severe weather. The 38 points Lin dropped on the Lakers in the Garden were enhanced because, as Kobe Bryant noted, "It's the last historical building" in the league. All of that was good.
But playing in New York doesn't automatically elevate you to the top of the endorsement pyramid. If that were the case, Peyton Manning wouldn't make more commercial money while playing in Indianapolis than his brother Eli makes in New York (while winning more Super Bowls). What do the world's 25 highest-paid athlete endorsers (according to Forbes) have in common? None of them plays in New York.
At this stage, New York needs Lin more than Lin needs New York. Fans can still find Lin in Houston, just as they found Yao Ming enough to vote him into the All-Star starting lineup year after year. Speaking of Yao, his time in Houston helped the Rockets establish brand awareness and business relationships in China that Lin can now capitalize on.
New Yorkers think it's a place that's almost impossible to depart, like the island on "Lost." They can't accept the possibility that people can actually thrive after leaving their beloved city. They probably haven't acknowledged that Pat Riley just oversaw the Heat's second championship since he ditched New York to go to Miami. At least Riley followed a typical New York migration pattern, heading to Florida. Houston? What right-minded New Yorker would go to Houston?
Houston doesn't stack up to New York as a city. I got the direct comparison while shuttling between the two towns during the 1994 NBA Finals, and it wasn't even close. New York had fine dining with celebrities at every table. I left one party that was going strong at 6 a.m. -- with a couple of Knicks players still inside the spot. In Houston, the highlight was a game of Pop-A-Shot in the media hospitality lounge.
But better franchise? It's the Rockets. Let's make the comps to the Knicks in the 40 years since the Rockets got to Houston. The Rockets get the advantage in championships (2-1), NBA Finals appearances (4-2) and Most Valuable Player awards (3-0). When it comes to luck, the Rockets have the edge there, too. The Knicks won the first NBA draft lottery in 1985, but the Rockets won the last coin toss, which gave them the top pick in the richest draft in NBA history, the 1984 class. Hakeem Olajuwon turned out to be a better pro center than Patrick Ewing. And the greatest testament to Hakeem is you never hear the Rockets bashed for not drafting Michael Jordan (unlike poor Portland).
At the moment -- and barring a Houston acquisition of a certain indecisive center -- the Knicks' roster is better than the Rockets'. That actually plays into Lin's hands. The Knicks had a losing record and their two stars were injured when Lin took over. They had nothing to lose and no one to pull the ball away from him. In Houston there's Kevin Martin ... other than that it's a bunch of rookies. There's much more room for Lin to do his thing than if he were playing with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and J.R. Smith. When Lin had the show primarily to himself in February, he averaged 20.9 points per game and shot 47 percent. When Anthony and Stoudemire were back full time in March, Lin's numbers dropped to 14.6 points per game and 41 percent shooting.
The opportunity is there for Lin in Houston. So is 40 years' worth of franchise history. And a lifetime's worth of financial security to go with it. Jeremy Lin is in the right place.