NEW YORK – New York Knicks fans awoke Wednesday to the headlines none wanted to see: “End of the Lin,” “Lin is Gone” — for many the loss of star point guard Jeremy Lin felt like a betrayal.
The Knicks confirmed late Tuesday that they wouldn’t match the Houston Rockets’ three-year, $25 million offer for the emblematic 23-year-old.
“We’re losing more than one player. He was a symbol of the city,” Jason Gutierrez, a 29-year-old musician, told AFP outside the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Just six months ago, no one apart from diehard basketball fans had heard of Jeremy Lin and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was even considering releasing him before his contract became guaranteed.
An injury to recently-signed guard Baron Davis gave Lin his chance in February and what followed became know as “Linsanity” as the player sparked a seven-game winning streak for a team that had lost 11 of its last 13 games.
Thrilling New York fans with his clutch shooting and passing skills, he quickly became a global sensation, especially in Asia as his parents are from Taiwan and he has a grandmother from China.
He became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and pass for seven assists in his first five starts.
He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People as even casual basketball fans found themselves charmed by a Cinderella story that included a spell sleeping on Knicks team-mate Landry Fields’s couch.
Now his sparkling Broadway run is over, but the point guard who took New York by storm says he is excited to launch the next phase of his NBA career with the Houston Rockets.
“Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!!” Lin said on Twitter shortly after his departure to Houston was confirmed.
The Knicks announced their decision less than two hours before a midnight deadline, sparking dismay among fans who couldn’t believe the “Linsane” dream was over.
The Knicks’ Facebook page was littered with criticism.
“Bye bye Knicks… am not Knicks fan anymore,” Jen-Jung Fan wrote.
The Rockets were one of two teams to cut then-unknown Lin last season.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said that wouldn’t happen again as he welcomed Lin to Houston via Twitter.
“Welcome to Houston @JLin7!” Morey tweeted, adding: “We plan to hang on this time. You will love #RedNation.”
Lin’s fate had been the subject of intense speculation since he became a restricted free agent this month.
He inked an initial offer sheet from Houston, but the Knicks still had the option of keeping him and were widely expected to match the reported three-year, $19.5 million tab from the Rockets.
However, Lin eventually signed a higher offer sheet, which included a $14.9 million scheduled payment for the third year.
That would have cost the Knicks millions in luxury-tax penalties levied on excessive salaries.
Knicks star Carmelo Anthony called the offer “ridiculous,” but still said on Monday he hoped Lin would return.
Team-mate J.R. Smith told Sports Illustrated’s website that if Lin — who has played only 64 games in his NBA career — came back on those terms, it could have led to tension in the Knicks locker room.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander made it clear he thinks Lin is worth it.
“We are thrilled to have Jeremy back as part of the Rockets family,” Alexander said. “In his limited opportunity last season, Jeremy showed that he has all the skills to be a great player in this league for many years to come.
“In addition to being a great passer, he is also exceptional at driving to the rim and finishing plays. He also showed a poise well beyond his years by making winning plays at the end of numerous games last season,” the team owner added.
“Jeremy is a winner on and off the court and we view him as an important part of our plan to build a championship contender.”
Over the weekend, the Knicks acquired Raymond Felton to join veteran Jason Kidd — recently obtained from Dallas — as two new point guards on the team’s roster.
Lin played what proved to be his last game for the Knicks in their win over Detroit on March 24.
He suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee and opted to have surgery, missing the rest of the regular season.
Lin looked close to returning in the playoffs, but didn’t make it back before the Knicks were eliminated by Miami in the first round.
“Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year… easily the best year of my life #ForeverGrateful,” Lin wrote on Twitter.