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Associated Press/Photo by Bill Kostroun

Rocket man

Sports | Linsanity departs the Big Apple and gives Houston another Asian sensation

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

Jeremy Lin on the Houston Rockets wasn't big news last December. He spent less than two weeks with the team, playing limited minutes in two preseason games before being waived. Seven months later, his return to Houston carries a bit more fanfare-and a boatload more in salary. Lin signed a three-year, $25 million deal to play for the organization that formerly dumped him.

The contract has raised eyebrows from some basketball analysts, who question whether a 26-game eruption in New York provides an adequate track record to warrant that kind of money. Lin averaged 18.5 points, 7.7 assists, and 3.7 rebounds for the Knicks during "Linsanity" before missing the final 17 regular season games and playoffs with a knee injury. Does seven weeks of strong play justify a three-year commitment?

The Rockets believe so, and their decision stems from more than mere on-court production. As well as Lin was playing basketball last season, he was even better at selling clothes. Sales of jerseys with his name stenciled across the back were second only to those of Chicago's Derrick Rose, the then-reigning MVP. The reason: Lin's Taiwanese-American heritage endears him to the 1.3 billion people of China. The Rockets know all about capitalizing on merchandise sales to the world's second-largest economy. For eight years, they reaped the rewards of NBA all-star Yao Ming donning a Houston jersey. The Rockets became China's team, a phenomenon that Lin could well duplicate if he continues playing at a high level.

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What's more, Lin's Harvard pedigree draws fans from a population that might otherwise overlook the NBA. And his public Christian faith completes a picture that has marketers scrambling to employ the Lin brand. Yao made tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals with Reebok and other companies during his time in Houston. And the Rockets benefitted substantially from that kind of broad appeal. Lin may not lend his name so widely given his focus on Christian mission. Already, he has launched basketball camps in China more bent on improving the lives of youth than turning a profit. But however much Lin chooses to dip his hand into the golden coin jar that is his name, the Rockets figure to make back their $25 million investment several times over.

Pad fad

Handout photo

Rob Vito has a plan to reduce concussions significantly in contact sports like football and hockey. The CEO of Unequal Technologies wants to make players bulletproof. He claims that Kevlar, the material long used by military and law enforcement agencies in protective vests, can lessen the force of athletic collisions by 25 percent: "If Kevlar can stop a bullet, it can ... sure stop a blitz."

That logic has convinced more than 20 NFL and NHL teams and thousands of youth sport leagues to purchase the "Exo Skeleton CRT," which stands for concussion reduction technology. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo recently used the pads for extra protection around his midsection while recovering from cracked ribs. And Steelers linebacker James Harrison, well-known for his high-impact style of play, endorses the product's effectiveness in his helmet.

But as yet, no fully controlled scientific studies have demonstrated that Kevlar can reduce concussions. And no one knows what the effect of the material may be on the player delivering a blow. Kevlar works to diffuse impact, not remove it. Critics worry that the promise of Kevlar could give players a false sense of security that leads to more reckless play and greater danger. In that spirit, a growing chorus of voices now views protective helmets as the problem, not the solution. As Forbes columnist John Tammy says, "To put it plainly, the 'safer' the padding and helmets become in football, the more dangerous the game becomes." -Mark Bergin

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