He won’t be dunking, exactly, but New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin has been invited to take part in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Orlando.
Sources with knowledge of the league’s plans told ESPN.com that Knicks rookie Iman Shumpert — one of four dunk-contest entrants alongside Houston Rockets forward Chase Budinger, Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George and Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Derrick Williams — will be enlisting Lin to “assist” him in a manner similar to the help 2011 champion Blake Griffin got from then-Los Angeles Clippers teammate Baron Davis.
Lin, a second-year point guard, has started six games and led the Knicks to seven straight wins. His strong performance the past two weeks has drawn international attention, including from President Barack Obama, and led to debate about whether he would be invited to participate in All-Star Weekend.
A league source on Thursday confirmed a New York Daily News report that the NBA will make Lin part of the field for the Haier Shooting Stars competition during All-Star Saturday night. That would enable Lin to join Shumpert’s dunk routine as well. NBA commissioner David Stern told USA Today earlier this week that Lin will not be a special late addition to the annual Rising Stars game featuring rookies and second-year players at All-Star Weekend.
The entire sports world has been captivated by the Lin phenomenon. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks — who visit the Knicks Sunday — said that the story is good for the league because it comes in the nation’s biggest media market.
“If it was happening in Charlotte, no one would know,” Cuban said, exaggerating for effect.
“New York is still kind of the mecca of the media for basketball,” Cuban added. “It’s great for the league, so you’ve got to love it. And Jeremy Lin is a great kid, so I’m happy for him.”
The fact that Lin is the first Asian-American starter in NBA history adds intrigue to his fascinating underdog tale, Cuban said.
“Oh, absolutely,” Cuban said. “I don’t know about cultural impact. It’s just because it’s a question of the odds. Just statistically speaking, not culturally speaking, it’s an aberration for the same reason that Yao (Ming) and Yi (Jianlian) and some of the other Asian players were.
“Whenever an underdog comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit a particular profile … Everybody profiles athletes, right? So to have him come in and be counter to everybody’s profile or expectations — right or wrong — draws attention and that’s good. Hopefully, that will encourage other kids and even more diversity with kids who play basketball.”
Lin started his NBA career with the Mavericks’ Las Vegas summer league team in 2010, when he was the best guard on a roster that included recent Dallas first-round picks Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones. Lin’s stock rose significantly when he outplayed Washington’s John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, in a Las Vegas summer league game.
The Mavericks, who wanted Lin to develop for a season with their D-League affiliate Texas Legends, offered him a one-year guaranteed contract. However, Lin opted to return to his native Bay Area when the Warriors offered him a two-year deal.
The Warriors let Lin go while clearing salary cap space after the lockout was lifted in an unsuccessful attempt to sign center DeAndre Jordan. The Rockets picked Lin up and waived him a couple of weeks later on Christmas Eve, creating a roster spot to sign center Samuel Dalembert. And the Knicks had planned to part with Lin before his contract became guaranteed until he suddenly started producing like an elite point guard.
There is no longer any question about whether Lin, who didn’t get a single Division I scholarship offer, is good enough to play in the NBA. The question is whether he will be a great NBA point guard.
“We’ll see,” Cuban said. “The question with every rookie isn’t, where are you at? It’s, what’s your makeup to get better?
“(There are) a lot of comparisons to Steve Nash. Everybody was booing Nash [early in his tenure in Dallas]. Everybody thought he was a mistake because he just showed flashes and wasn’t consistent. But Nashie worked his ass off and we see where he is today, 90 years later. Jeremy has that kind of makeup, too, but you never know.”
Cuban, like many others, is rooting for Lin from afar. Cuban just won’t root for Lin from courtside seats.
“For obvious reasons,” Cuban said, “I hope Linsanity comes to an abrupt and screeching end when we play them on Sunday.”
The game will be in Madison Square Garden, which has also seen a boost from Lin. Madison Square Garden Inc., the company that owns the Knicks, the Garden and the namesake sports network has seen its stock surge 9 percent since Lin began his heroics Feb. 4, reaching an all-time high of $33.18 earlier this week before retreating slightly to close at $31.91 Wednesday.
“Rangers and Knicks fans do tend to buy the stock when the teams are doing well,” Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce said.
His impact doesn’t stop there. Stories about Lin have appeared in newspapers around the world, including the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times in London, France’s L’Equipe, Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport and the Spanish newspapers Marca and AS.
“In a world of cynicism, bluster and manufactured superstars, the search for genuine sporting magic has never been more real,” Ben Smith wrote in The Times. “Lin’s supernova explosion is just that, the stuff of fairytales.”
So it’s a no-brainer that the NBA would want their newest star taking part in All-Star Weekend. As for Lin and Shumpert in the dunk contest, it will have a new format which will consist of only one round and in which the winner will be solely determined by fan vote.
The four competitors in the 2012 dunk field, who are all first-timers, will get three dunks, with fan voting to open after the foursome completes their first dunks.
When Griffin won on his home court at Staples Center last season — most notably leaping over the hood of a car and slamming home a lob from Davis as the former Clipper peered out of the sun roof — dunkers had to complete two rounds, with the first scored by a panel of courtside judges which determined the two finalists.
Only fan voting will be utilized in the new format, via Twitter for the first time, in addition to online and text voting.
Photo Credit: Getty Images.