This week, the legend of Jeremy Lin will swell slightly larger. After scoring 136 points in his first 5 starts, the most of any player since the ABA-NBA merger, he became the first New York athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated for two consecutive weeks. How did an undrafted, unheralded player who had previously been demoted to D-league basketball three separate times and was sleeping on his brother’s couch just weeks earlier earn this honor before Derek Jeter or Eli Manning?
The secret is that Lin’s meteoric rise to fame has been fueled by a social media movement unlike any the world has ever seen. Following in real time with the 6’3” guard’s capture of national attention is a wave of conversation on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The hashtag #Linsanity has been widely proliferated throughout the internet, with interest growing during each Knicks game. Mentions of this and other clever puns on Lin’s name even spike specifically after each point scored by the phenom.
No other figure in sports has enjoyed the power of the internet as they make their debut, but it’s not strictly because Lin is just the first star to show up at just the right time. His Taiwanese heritage has mobilized millions of Asian-Americans, one of the most active demographics in social media, to become supporters. Lin is a graduate of Harvard, appealing to fans with a personality that differentiates him from many other professional athletes. He also happens to embody the underdog story of a player who has battled against adversity to achieve greatness. Lin’s broad appeal is a combination of a unique character and the unparalleled ease with which social media can propagate the story.
Still just in its first month, the storied spectacle of Lin’s emergence into the spotlight has had major impact thanks to the buzz. His #17 jersey is now the top seller on the NBA store’s online website, the average price for Knicks tickets has risen nearly 20%, and even the most cynical basketball fans are tuning in again, boosting TV ratings in both the local markets and nationally. After the lockout marred the league’s reputation, Lin has done more to leave a positive impression on not only the NBA, but the entire sporting world.
Lin’s emergence has set a new standard for how news of the next big thing in the sporting world breaks, but the power of social networking extends beyond the realm of sports. Hitting the right points, anyone’s message can now be amplified and carried further than ever before. So, who will be the next cause of Linsanity?