The New York Knicks’ best eight-game start in 19 seasons is building buzz at Madison Square Garden that may surpass last year’s Linsanity, according to league analysts and sports merchandisers.
Knicks tickets have the highest resale value in the National Basketball Association, and sporting goods stores are expanding their selection of team gear because of the squad’s success.
New York’s 7-1 record is its best since a similar start in 1993 and comes a season after fan excitement over the rise of Jeremy Lin, who moved to the Houston Rockets as a free agent. It also is less than a 10th of the way through the schedule, with the NBA’s oldest roster and uncertainty about the role of players such as All-Star forward Amar’e Stoudemire returning from injuries.
“Lin was a national story, and a great story, but I’ll bet if you ask Knicks fans what’s a better story, it’s 100 percent this season’s start,” former Phoenix Suns General Manager Steve Kerr said in a telephone interview. “Winning trumps everything.”
The Knicks, who chose not to match Houston’s three-year, $25 million contract offer to Lin, have been without Stoudemire so far this season after left knee surgery. Eight games into the 82-game regular season, New York has been winning by limiting its turnovers and playing solid defense in its first full season under coach Mike Woodson.
The Knicks committed nine turnovers in an 88-76 home victory yesterday against the Indiana Pacers, lowering their NBA-best average to 10.4. Last year, they committed 16 turnovers per game, next-to-worst in the 30-team league. New York, which next plays tomorrow night at New Orleans, is holding opponents to 90 points per game.
“We’re shutting teams down, we’re doing what we have to do, we’re trusting one another and helping one another,” Carmelo Anthony said in a televised interview after scoring 26 points against Indiana. “When you get everybody to buy in, it’s fun out there.”
Heading into this past weekend, Knicks’ ticket listings on the secondary market had grown an NBA-high 9 percent since the start of the season, according to ticket-aggregator TiqIQ.com. Five of the site’s 10 most expensive games involved New York.
The Knicks’ $306.56 average listing on TiqIQ.com, while tops in the NBA, was still 8.5 percent behind its peak during Linsanity, according to the website.
Lin, 24, a graduate of Harvard University and the first Taiwanese- or Chinese-American to play in the NBA, became a global sensation in February after taking over as the starting point guard for the Knicks and leading them to seven straight wins.
He earned praise from President Barack Obama; a new flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; and became a marketing force in Asia, where broadcasters added more Knicks games to their schedules. Coca-Cola Co. (KO) posted advertisements in Chinese to its courtside signs at Madison Square Garden. The attention was even credited with helping to settle a price dispute between Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC)
Modell’s Sporting Goods Inc. was getting daily shipments of gear to satisfy demand for Lin merchandise in February. This season, the company is expanding its Knicks collection and adding the jerseys of Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Tyson Chandler to New York-area stores.
Company president Mitchell Modell said that from a business perspective, he is more excited about this year’s buzz than Linsanity because it has potential to last the entire season.
“We used to just carry one or two marquee players,” Modell, a Knicks season-ticket holder, said in a telephone interview. “This year it’s the whole team. We’re seeing great enthusiasm, and we’re opening up our selection as we speak.”
While losing Lin, New York added Kidd, a 39-year-old guard; Marcus Camby; a 38-year-old center; Rasheed Wallace, a 38-year- old forward; and Kurt Thomas, a 40-year-old forward.
The team opened the season with six straight wins that included victories over the defending-champion Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. NBA analysts stressed that the Knicks’ age -- their roster is the league’s oldest at an average of more than 32 years -- may cause a late-season fade.
Charles Barkley said on a conference call that he would pick New York to win the NBA title -- if it were the year 2000.
There also are concerns about how the team will deal with the return of Stoudemire, 30, who was the Knicks’ second-leading scorer last season with 17.5 points per game.
Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the Knicks from 1996 to 2001 and now works as an analyst for ABC/ESPN, said in a telephone interview that Stoudemire, a six-time Al-Star, must be prepared to come off the bench if Woodson asks because that would keep Anthony in his “proper role.” Both Stoudemire and Anthony are forwards.
“I think that’s their best lineup,” Van Gundy said.
-- Editors: Rob Gloster, Larry Siddons.
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