Can Jeremy Lin Save the Number 17?
History is almost completely bereft of top-tier players who donned No. 17. Considering that it's a viable option for all four major sports, it's almost unbelievable.
The only baseball player to have it retired is Dizzy Dean, a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher in the 1930s who was as known for his crazy antics as his dominance on the mound. (You probably remember his name from the secret all-star squad on Baseball Stars for Nintendo.)
John Havlicek wore the number for the Boston Celtics during his Hall of Fame career while sharp-shooting Chris Mullin popularized it for the Golden State Warriors in the 1990s. It's not a desirable digit for basketball players because it makes it harder on officials making foul calls because there's only five fingers on each hand.
Hockey star Jari Kurri wore the number for the Edmonton Oilers en route to five Stanley Cups and Brett Hull sported the sweater for the Detroit Red Wings.
In football, Doug Williams was wearing 17 when he piloted the Washington Redskins to victory in the 1983 Super Bowl.
Empirically, the list of transcendent athletes is short. Anecdotally, it's not a jersey number that's going to start any in-fighting when Little League shirts are handed out. Sure, it's somewhat of a trivial issue, but it's more important to the league and companies than you might believe.
Decisions by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to switch numbers has resulted in a boon of sales. It's important to the players as well. There are countless stories of teammates buying desired jersey numbers.
The question is if Lin can do for 17 what Jordan did for 23. That is, make it a stand-alone figure, synonymous with the athlete without further explanation. It seems incredibly premature to say, but it's reasonable to think he can, provided he keeps producing.
His popularity has already buoyed interest in Taiwan, where networks have picked up Knicks games for broadcast to a proud public.
Then there's the unavoidable fact that everyone who can make a buck off the phenomenon will push hard to do so. There's already a battle over copyrighting the term “Linsanity” between three interested profit-seekers.
Fans and trend-followers alike have been snatching up his jersey in droves. Before Feb. 10 there was no Lin presence at all in Madison Square Garden's stores. Now they can't keep the shelves stocked. Knicks merchandise has been the most popular among all teams, ticket prices have increased 27 percent, and MSG's stock has risen 6.2 percent since Lin's coming-out party.
Modell's Sporting Goods stores has 168,000 jerseys on order just to keep up with the rapid influx in demand.
Of course, this could all fade as quickly as it came. Sports and fans are fickle, their temperaments changing all the time.
But what Lin has going for him is that he's fiercely unique — different from any player that's ever come before. And that number 17 has few existing ties to sports memory. It's his for the taking.
Time will tell if he does. Should be very linteresting.