"I have got a raging case of Linsanity. I've been declared legally Linsane," squawked Stephen Colbert recently on The Colbert Report, talking about overnight sensation Jeremy Lin, the unknown Harvard grad-turned-NBA starter.
Since Lin led the Knicks on a seven-game winning streak in mid-February -- including a victory over the Lakers when Lin scorched Kobe Bryant for 38 points -- he's become an obsession of the New York entertainment and media worlds and been spoofed by everyone from Jimmy Fallon to David Letterman (who showed a fan with a sign reading "Truly a Lin-derella Story.")
Most important, Lin has made catching the Knicks at Madison Square Garden the most exclusive VIP list in Manhattan right now. For the first time in years, the 20,000-seat arena (the team's home on 7th Avenue since 1968) is consistently selling out, with the price of a ticket on the secondary market jumping an average of 49 percent.
Among the big names spotted in "The World's Most Famous Arena" in recent weeks: Jay-Z, Showtime's Matt Blank, Univision's Randy Falco, Seth Meyers and Paul McCartney, along with decades-long loyalists Woody Allen and Spike Lee. Former Laker Magic Johnson has traveled east to see the phenom in action, as has Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who attended Harvard a few years before Lin.
New York-based The Kids Are All Right producer Celine Rattray admits she's returned to the Garden after losing interest in recent years (the team has made the playoffs just once in the past eight seasons): "Not since the Patrick Ewing era have the Knicks made a difference in the NBA as a whole. The Garden feels like the center of the world," she says.
Knicks games are also back on the air in Manhattan since Time Warner Cable, in the heat of Linsanity, made a deal to renew carriage of MSG's channels. And the building is undergoing an $850 million transformation, which will be completed in 2013. It includes floor-level suites with access to VIP lounge 1879 (where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg often can be spotted). Even pre-Linsanity, floor seats had been sold out since December, and now ticket resellers like StubHub are hawking those seats, which generally run $3,600, for as much as $7,500. Of course, folks like filmmaker Ed Burns can snag gratis courtside spots through the arena's VIP relations office.
"I've never felt anything like the excitement around the Knicks this year," says Nurse Jackie's Edie Falco. "The Garden has been jam-packed, not an empty seat."