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Linsanity the Latest Sign Secular Bear Market Is Over

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The Knicks aren't the only 'franchise' that has waited 12 long years for something to cheer.

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The nation and the economy had been mired in a decade-long slump when the unlikeliest of heroes came along, galvanizing a team and a city for one of the sport's premier franchises. Nobody had ever seen anything quite like what the ethnic star was doing, and it represented a rare moment in American history when the performance of an athlete was altering cultural stereotypes.

The year was 1981, and the player was Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers. "El Toro," as he was nicknamed (the bull!), was responsible for a wave of what became known as "Fernandomania," as his colorful personality and unorthodox style combined with his brilliance on the pitching mound led the Dodgers to a World Series championship.

Socionomics is an incredible field of study. It claims that when social mood is negative and deteriorating, society becomes risk-averse, short-term focused, cynical, and xenophobic. During these times we like to tear down heroes, whether it be for performance-enhancing drugs, sex scandals, or recruiting violations. When social mood is improving, the opposite. What we have witnessed over the past few months, first in a somewhat polarizing fashion with Tim Tebow, and now with Jeremy Lin, is the most euphoric embrace of pro athletes, not just as players but as people, in a generation.

Branch Rickey introduced Jackie Robinson to the world not during the teeth of the Great Depression, but in 1947, as post-World War II America was entering its golden age. Fernandomania coincided with the early '80s boom, not the inflationary funk of the 1970s. Yao Ming, the first highly touted Asian player in the NBA, made his debut in late 2002, after the dot-com bubble had burst and Worldcom and Enron had filed for bankruptcy.

But there was something about Yao that Americans never quite embraced. Like much of our economy, he was an import from China, and at 7'6" he was the McMansion of athletes, something gaudy and borrowed from overseas that deep down we knew we didn't own. He performed well from 2003 until about 2008 and then quickly collapsed, exiting the scene along with subprime mortgages and easy credit.

Jeremy Lin is different. While at 6'3" and 200 pounds he's anything but undersized for an ordinary man, he's physically, culturally, and emotionally someone Americans can relate to. After what we've gone through as a country over the past decade, who among us can't understand feeling too small, overlooked, and seeking job stability, just hoping anyone will give us a chance?

Mike Vaccaro in Saturday's New York Post wrote:
Yes. It is 12 years of frustration blossoming at the Garden these last seven days, a basketball constituency that has endured so many false prophets through the years embracing this remarkable basketball gift they've been given.

Americans can relate. It has been 12 years of frustration for many of us, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) and S&P 500 (SPY) both nearly unchanged since February 2000, wondering when "the turn" would finally come. Knicks fans and management looked to megastars like Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Chris Paul as the answer, but it's been an undrafted scrawny Asian-American kid from Harvard who has them ebullient. Similarly, Americans have looked to high-profile interests like Washington, the housing market, manufacturing jobs, and credit markets for answers and have yet to find salvation.

Maybe it's time we place our bets on another scrawny kid from Harvard, and the ecosystem he's creating, as our reason for optimism. In the decade following the debut of Jackie Robinson and Fernando Valenzuela, equity indices, including the Dow, more than doubled, and I suspect this time will be no different.

Twitter: @conorsen
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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