You know things are getting out of hand when "Lin" is a more popular search on the Internet than Romney, Santorum or Adele. Yet such is life the last seven days. But the saga of Jeremy Lin -- the single greatest player to ever lace up sneakers on an NBA floor in the history of the game (not really, but I'm a Knicks fan, so you honk it up when you can) -- tells us about the power and continued growth of ... the NFL?
Not a typo. Lin illustrates the success of the greatest league on the planet (really): The National Football League.
But first things first. Comparisons of Lin to Tim Tebow are completely inaccurate. I know, it was easy. "Hey, Lin talks about faith, Tebow is all about faith, and they're overnight sensations -- they're the same! I'm a smart guy for being the first to say it." Let's deconstruct that. First of all, Lin has a stronger arm than Tebow. Secondly, Tebow's instant popularity had as much to do with his winning games as it did the large faction of people who were on the opposite side of that argument and still wouldn't give him credit for being good. That was the real appeal of Tebow. You put two people in a room and after five minutes of Tebow Talk they're at each other's throats about whether or not he's a great player. (And you know that room once saw Fox v. Elway.) Great debate makes great theater.
But there's no one of the opinion that Lin isn't good. I haven't heard a single analyst say, "You know, this guy's really terrible. His mechanics are bad, his footwork is questionable, his windup to shoot is way too long. He's just not an NBA point guard. I don't know how he wins." Sure, he'll cool down at some point, but he has all the tools to dominate in the NBA. Talent, speed and the ability to handle pressure. Sound familiar? That's because Lin is more Cam Newton than Tim Tebow. First chance he got, it was instant domination, with the posterization of Jose Calderon Tuesday night being his latest trophy. (Isn't "The Posterization of Jose Calderon" actually a movie about a Spanish war with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz?)
But this is how Lin shows us why the NFL is the NFL, and the NBA continues on its quest to do things like try to tap untold European markets while hoping to avoid franchises folding stateside. Why are we so caught up in Jeremy Lin? Because he plays in New York. A media capital. The NBA is only about the media capitals. They would get rid of every team in the league and make super teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Dallas if they could. If you play on a non-big market team in the NBA, you may as well not exist. If Lin is doing what he's currently doing in Memphis or Minnesota or Toronto? Forget it. He gets 1/10th the attention, because NBA fans don't care about the small markets. They're insignificant because they can never win titles and rarely do they make playoff noise. They can win a round here and there, but a title? Not happening. So interest wanes, and fans stop going to games because what's the point?
In the NFL, if you're a star, we'll find you no matter where you play. Green Bay? Not a Discount Double Check problem. Jacksonville? Not only can you be a star, but get a swell nickname like "Pocket Hercules." This is because any market can win a championship. It's how the league is set up. You can go from 5-11 to the Super Bowl. Teams can keep their free agents. If you're a bad team, one good draft can get you to the playoffs. ("Wow! You mean we got LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees in the first two rounds?") Try that in the NBA, where lottery picks are waived after a season sometimes. And that is NOT a cheap shot at Isiah Thomas. It's completely warranted. And don't forget, fantasy owners know who everyone is. The largest growing aspect of the NFL makes sure that offensive producers are on the tips of everyone's tongues.
The other reason why Lin's notoriety makes the NFL look great is because of just that: his notoriety. How many NBA players do we see become white hot like this out of nowhere? Hardly any, which is why Lin is so special. This is because the NBA promotes the individual player over the game. They want you to tune in every Sunday to see Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Durant or Griffin. "Come watch the stars play!" The strategy works only to a degree, because there's only so many players you can promote like that. There are only so many "special" guys. It's why you don't see the Hawks and Pacers on national TV. ("And there'll be blood on the floor Sunday when Joe Johnson leads Atlanta into Indiana to face Paul George and the Pacers!")
But the NFL? The stars come organically, because the league promotes the game first. Four or five new studs show up every season -- either from the draft or someone's bench -- and they crop up just like Lin. They're guys drafted No. 1 overall, and guys taken in the fifth round. And they're huge. Just this season, we saw Newton, Tebow, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Andy Dalton, DeMarco Murray, and Patrick Peterson become household names. In 2010? We said hello to Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Ryan Mathews, Jason Pierre-Paul, Peyton Hillis, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, among others. And it's like that on and on through the years. Even if you're not great (Mark Sanchez) or win enough for the fans (Jay Cutler), or play just a little bit better than you have previously (Alex Smith) your popularity can soar.
Now look, I'm happy Lin's doing as well as he is. I'm not trying to play Susan Powter and Stop the Linsanity. The NBA needs it, and him. Lin seems like a great kid with a good head on his shoulders. He's a fun story and his accomplishments so far defy logic. If he were a football player, though? He'd fit in nicely amongst everyone else like him.