Is The Big Apple About To Lose Its Love Of Linsanity?

In case you were living under a rock last winter, here’s a quick refresher on the phenomenon known as “Linsanity.”

In just a few weeks, Jeremy Lin — a lanky Asian-American point guard who played his college ball at Harvard — went from a benchwarmer to a star. He led an unlikely winning streak that made the long-downtrodden New York Knicks seem momentarily relevant in the NBA title hunt.

“This kid has single-handedly done the unthinkable: made people want to watch the New York Knicks” — that’s how Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert joined the media frenzy.

Lin T-shirts and jerseys flew off the shelves, until the sudden star had season-ending knee surgery and the Knicks made an early exit from the playoffs. Still, Lin won an ESPY award as Breakthrough Player of the Year last week, when he said this:

“I’m proud of the team, and the city of New York and how they embraced us during that time. It … really was magical.”

But as quickly as it started, Jeremy Lin’s magical run in New York may be ending. A few days ago, Lin signed an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets that would pay him $25 million over three years. Because Lin is a restricted free agent, the Knicks have the right to match that offer — or not.

Is Lin Worth The Price?

“Jeremy Lin is only going to be worth that money if he’s the point guard, and if he continues to perform as he’s performed,” says David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University. “Those are big ifs.”

Berri says the real problem for the Knicks comes in the third year of the contract, when Lin is slated to make almost $15 million.

“That [will] push the Knicks over the luxury-tax penalty, which makes Lin even more expensive,” he says.

Because of the NBA’s tax on big payrolls, it could cost the Knicks an additional $30 million to keep Lin for the third season of his contract. That’s why most observers, including Mitchell Modell, expect the team will let him go. Modell is CEO of the Modell’s Sporting Goods chain, a business that has a lot of money invested in Jeremy Lin T-shirts and jerseys.

“Would I love to see him re-sign with the Knicks? Absolutely,” Modell says. “It would save us a lot of money in markdowns. But at the end of the day, the Knicks have to make a financial decision.”

Outside Modell’s flagship store in midtown, basketball fans seemed divided about what the Knicks should do. Thomas Boddie of Teaneck, N.J., says the team should let Lin walk.

“He’s unproven … 26 games [and] you’re going to give him $25 million? Let him go,” Boddie says.

That’s the number of games Lin played in a featured role for the Knicks. Still, Juan Barretto of Queens would regret letting him go.

“He brought a lot of life to the city,” Barretto says. “I guess it’s all about money, but I would’ve kept him.”

If the 23 year-old Lin blossoms into an all-star in Houston, Barretto says, the Knicks will have only themselves to blame.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.