Jeremy Lin: Has the New York Knicks PG Changed the Culture of Big Apple Sports?

Steven GoldsteinContributor IFebruary 15, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks drives for a shot attempt in the fourth quarter against Jason Kapono #28 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden on February 10, 2012 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Jeremy Lin caught lightning in a bottle. He's not letting it go anytime soon.

With Tuesday's heroics, the 23-year-old Harvard graduate destroyed any lingering doubts about his status as a legitimate NBA star. Sure, Lin committed eight turnovers in the victory over the Toronto Raptors, but his 11 assists and 27 points, three of which came on a game-winning shot from behind the arc, propelled the New York Knicks to their sixth straight W.

Bona fide studs Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire struggled to keep the team at a pedestrian .500 mark all season, yet Lin remains undefeated starting in the 1-spot.

A changing of the guard (well, point guard) has occurred at Madison Square Garden: An undrafted free agent has become the face of New York basketball. As such, the Knicks have altered their chances as a playoff contender in 2012, and perhaps just as significantly, they've altered their perception around the league.

Lin's game-winner on Tuesday evoked a thundering roar of cheers from the Air Canada Centre, merely a testament to how well Knicks fans travel.

But the subsequent roar of cheers that came from media outlets around the nation is a testament to how, for the first time in recent memory, a New York sports team is likable.

Since their inception, the New York Yankees have always been envied and despised by markets around the country. To this day, whenever the Bronx Bombers hit the road, attendance figures soar as locals are anxious to heckle New York's slew of stars.

The brashness of Rex Ryan and the New York Jets doesn't make them any more charismatic, and while the New York Giants were seen as 2007's "Cinderella story," fans from coast to coast seem to be perpetually rooting for Eli Manning and Company to fail.

Even the lowly New York Mets have never been very likable: Their 1986 World Series victory was accompanied by the headline, "The Bad Guys Won!"

Perhaps the Empire State hockey scene is slightly less polarizing to national audiences, but still, it's safe to conclude that New York, the biggest city in America, has drawn little to no sympathy in the world of professional sports.

Until now.

Lin's well-publicized story is remarkable, and his magnanimous attitude and humble nature makes him all the more enjoyable to watch, regardless of where your NBA allegiances lie. Lin is Tim Tebow with a toned-down sense of spirituality.

It's hard to recall the last time that mainstream media has portrayed the Knicks in a positive light. But one thing's for certain: It was effortless for non-Knicks fans to loathe the latest edition of the "Big Three" in Anthony, Stoudemire and center Tyson Chandler. But with Lin in the limelight and Stoudemire demonstrating the utmost maturity and self-effacing vulnerability in the wake of a family tragedy, the Knicks suddenly become a squad that's easy to root for.

The big "if" for the Knicks' marketability and charisma is whether or not 'Melo can seamlessly rejoin the starting five. If his return to the court doesn't elicit flashing lights and 25-shot nights, the Knicks will remain in the favor of fans for quite awhile.

With Lin leading the way, the Knicks are an intriguing underdog story with something to prove. Just how much will they prove? New York (and now, the rest of America) will be watching closely.