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Houston enters 'Linsanity' era

2012/07/20 20:11:02

Houston, July 19 (CNA) The Houston Rockets' grand welcome of Jeremy Lin at a press conference Thursday signaled the dawn of "Linsanity" in the city after its short but captivating run on Broadway and marked the end of Houston's "Ming Dynasty."

The Taiwanese-American point guard, a restricted free agent after a breakout season with the New York Knicks, signed a three-year US$25 million deal to play for the Rockets that the Knicks declined to match due to luxury tax concerns.

The Harvard graduate point guard played briefly for the Rockets in two pre-season outings in December 2011 before being cut.

"I don't really see myself as the conquering king, but it has been an unbelievable ride," Lin said. "I still have to kind of remind myself that this is all actually happening sometimes."

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said that when Lin hit a winning three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 14, 2012, Morey got a call from team owner Leslie Alexander asking why he was no longer on the team, according to an AP report.

"He was killing me," AP quoted Morey saying.

"We made an error by letting him go, and I think we've rectified it now," Alexander said at the press conference.

Alexander said the decision to pursue Lin was "all basketball," but he acknowledged that Lin had the potential to impact the Rockets' brand in the same way retired Chinese NBA basketball star Yao Ming did -- by expanding the team's presence in Asia.

The Rockets acquisition of Lin makes sense if the team wants to keep its popularity in the Chinese market, Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a sports consultancy based in Chicago, told the New York Times.

When Yao was on the roster, Rockets games had a Chinese audience as large as 30 million, according to Chinese sports channel CCTV5, the New York Times reported.

Thursday's press conference to welcome Lin was flooded with hundreds of media representatives, half of whom were Chinese. Alexander said it was the team's biggest press conference since the team traded for former Chicaco Bull Scottie Pippen in 1998.

Coincidently, Lin's press conference was held a day before the one-year anniversary of Yao Ming's official retirement from the team.

Yao's tenure with the Rockets was coined by the media as the "Ming Dynasty," and whether Lin can live up to Yao's example remains to be seen.

Yao became the first Asian basketball player to ever be selected in the NBA draft when he was taken by the Rockets with the first pick in the 2002 draft.

Though the Rockets made the playoffs five times during Yao's career, the club missed the postseason in his last two seasons (2009-2010 and 2010-2011) when he was limited to a total of five games due to injury.

During Yao's 10 years with the Rockets, he averaged about 20 points and 10 rebounds per game and was named to eight All-Star Games largely due to Chinese fans' online support.

In comparison, Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists in 35 games (25 starts) with the Knicks last season before a tear in his left meniscus cut his season short in April.

The two share much in common, and Lin admitted he has texted Yao since signing the deal with Houston.

Yao and Lin are both Asian and both trailblazers. Yao paved the way for Asian athletes in the NBA, and Lin broke the stereotype that Asian players cannot become point guards in the league.

Both are also known for their humble personalities and are favorites among the media.

While it will still take time for Lin to prove on court whether Houston's investment is worthwhile, he is just grateful for securing a deal and having "more job security," a CNN report quoted Lin as saying.

"This past year, it took me by surprise and it was just this huge storm," Lin commented on Linsanity. "It was kind of baptism by fire. You get thrown into it and you've just got to make adjustments and learn. That's a lot of what I had to do."

(By Oscar Wu, Leaf Chiang, and C.J. Lin)