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Can Jeremy Lin Be a Franchise Star for the Houston Rockets?

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Can Jeremy Lin Be a Franchise Star for the Houston Rockets?
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NEWSFLASH: the Houston Rockets' signing of Jeremy Lin this summer wasn't just about basketball.

To be sure, GM Daryl Morey's decision to bring Linsanity to H-Town using one of his patented "poison pill" contracts—three years, $25.1 million—was mostly about basketball. Goran Dragic joined the Phoenix Suns on a more lucrative pact and Kyle Lowry, who'd clashed with head coach Kevin McHale, was traded to the Toronto Raptors in a deal that was—presumably—designed to deliver the Rockets assets with which to acquire Dwight Howard.

That left a void at point guard, into which Lin now comfortably slips. The Rockets won't win much with him this season, not with the amorphous amalgamation of assets that McHale might call a supporting cast.

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On the bright side, Lin will have every opportunity to prove that his two-month breakout with the New York Knicks was no fluke. As ESPN's John Hollinger pointed out in a recent profile of the Rockets' roster, Lin showed himself to be the sort of player who makes things happen, for better or worse, when he's on the floor. Among point guards, Lin ranked seventh in steals, fifth in blocks, first in fouls drawn and first in free throw attempts per field goal attempt.

Granted, these numbers were derived from a small sample, in which Lin was beyond reluctant to use his left hand, and were accompanied by a high turnover rate—eighth-worst among point guards—and 32 percent three-point accuracy—16th-worst. 

Still, the 24-year-old Lin showed enough promise as a scorer and floor leader during his time at Madison Square Garden to suggest that he could be a star in Space City.

What makes Lin's star potential even more enticing, though, is his Asian-American heritage and the Rockets' pre-existing connection to the global communities in which Lin's cultural cachet is greatest.

Lin is hardly the first player of Asian descent to star in the NBA. Yao Ming was elected to the NBA All-Star Game eight times and to All-NBA teams on five occasions during his days in Houston.

But Yao was born and raised in Asia and spoke very little—if any—English when he first set foot on American soil. He was an established entity in his home country of China, an icon and a symbol of national pride.

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Lin, on the other hand, was born in Los Angeles to and raised in Palo Alto by parents who were Taiwanese immigrants. Asian-Americans have set foot in the NBA before—Wat Misaka, Raymond Townsend and Rex Walters—but never has anyone with an ethnic makeup similar to Lin's achieved such stardom and success at the highest level of professional basketball.

Much less as instantly as Lin achieved it. He can thank the frenzied nature of the New York sports' talk machine and the ubiquity of the internet and social media for that.

At least some of the credit for Lin's meteoric rise belongs to the hoops-happy portion of the Asian-American community of which he is a product. According to the most recent US Census, there were approximately 17.3 million residents of Asian descent living in the US as of 2010, representing a growth in population size of 46 percent since 2000. That makes Asians and Asian-Americans the fastest-growing racial demographic in America.

Intentionally or not, Lin tapped into a sector of this particular demographic in a more direct way than any NBA player had before. He was a classic example of the American dream—the son of immigrants who worked hard, stayed prepared and made the most of his lucky break when it came—as told from an Asian-American perspective.

The Rockets are uniquely positioned to make the most of this connection. No, not because Asians and Pacific Islanders are particularly prevalent in Houston—6.1 percent, slightly higher than the national average. Nor is the Asian and Pacific Islander community all that large in the state of Texas as a whole—3.9 percent, which measures out to a shade over a million people.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Rather, it's the Rockets' prior employment of Yao that may allow Lin to blossom into a franchise star in Houston. Whatever inroads the Rockets made into the Asian-American community with Yao as their face only figure to widen now that Lin is at the forefront.

Likewise, the residual superhighway that Yao opened up between Houston and East Asia—to which Lin's Taiwanese ancestry has since added—could very well catapult Jeremy into a stratum of global sports popularity per capita that few athletes enjoy. The Rockets are already a familiar brand in that region of the world, though much of their popularity had lain fallow since Yao's untimely retirement in the summer of 2011.

Predictably enough, interest in the Rockets has picked up considerably since Lin signed on this past summer. According to Collin Eaton of The Houston Business Journal, there could be more than 50 Chinese cable TV networks carrying Rockets games this season because of Lin.

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The additional exposure has already attracted more sponsors to team up with the Rockets. MetroBank, a Chinese-based bank with branches in Houston, and East West Bank, which is headquartered in Pasadena, California, were among the first businesses to newly tether themselves to the Rockets during the Linsanity era.  

As valuable as Lin is to the Rockets in this regard, the opportunities in store for him as the face of the franchise have less to do with ad sales and much more to do with the merchandising and viewership (and, to some extent, actual on-court performance) that Lin brings to the table, domestically as well as internationally. His marketability is already off the charts, and only figures to grow along with his playing time and his overall game in Houston.

Don't be surprised if his selection to the 2013 All-Star Game in Houston—a virtual lock—is just the beginning of a lucrative and successful partnership between Lin and the Rockets.

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