P. LEAGUE+ & T1 LEAGUE/Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin facing off in popularity battle Sunday

Former NBA stars Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin will be playing on different courts in Kaohsiung on Sunday afternoon, but they will still be competing against each other in a battle for fan interest.

Howard's Taoyuan Leopards will be visiting the Kaohsiung Aquas at the K-Arena (????) at 2 p.m. in the T1 LEAGUE and Lin's Kaohsiung Steelers will host the Formosa Taishin Dreamers at the Kaohsiung Fengshan Arena at 2:30 p.m. in the rival P. LEAGUE+.

Earlier in the week, before Lin confirmed in a press conference on Feb. 8 that he planned to play Feb. 12, local media compared ticket sales to the two players' games to conclude that Howard was the far bigger draw and that Lin's popularity was on the wane.

Ticket sales for Lin's unconfirmed debut on Feb. 12 at the 5,300 seat Fengshan Arena were tepid at best, while Howard's three home games in November and December at the Leopards' 15,000-seat arena in Taoyuan sold out in minutes once Howard's arrival was confirmed.

They also noted that only a few tickets were left for Howard's game in Kaohsiung on Sunday.

Fast forward a few days, however, and the situation has changed. Lin's game Sunday has sold out, the Steelers confirmed Friday, compared to sales of about 70 percent of the 13,000 seats for Howard's game at the K-Arena, according to the Aquas.

The last-place 2-16 Steelers have been a lousy draw at home, averaging only 2,382 fans per home game, so any sellout is a big deal.

But Howard's arrival definitely created far more buzz, helped not only by his status as an eight-time NBA all-star but also by the access to Howard the Leopards gave to fans and media compared to the subdued public relations approach used by the Steelers for Lin.

Howard, for example, was met with great fanfare everywhere he went even before he played a game, while the Steelers opted not to hold a public welcoming event for Lin when he arrived at Taoyuan International Airport.

Steelers General Manager Kenny Kao (???) on Wednesday admitted the team may have missed the mark, apologizing for making it hard for reporters to do their jobs ahead of Lin's arrival and during his first 10 days in Taiwan.

The Steelers may also have been reluctant to overdo the hype and announce the date of Lin's debut before he was ready, given the potential backlash if something went wrong, as the Leopards found out with Howard.

Leopards fans were outraged when Howard was held back from a home game on Dec. 18 due to injury less than an hour before the game began.

Home fans, who were under the impression Howard would play, booed the Leopards vociferously when it became evident they were not going to play Howard, and the team's general manager, Brett Su (???), actually had to step down to quell the anger.

Lin's reception may also have suffered because of a negative perception of the Steelers due to its ownership.

Steelers head coach Tony Cheng (???) said Feb. 5 that he felt there was bias toward the club because its major investor is from Hong Kong.

Ultimately, however, the somewhat lackluster reception of the player who was once revered in Taiwan could simply come down to fans being unhappy with Lin for playing in China in recent years and only coming to Taiwan as a last resort, a sentiment seen on social media sites.

Of course, Lin will have the chance to change public perception if he can somehow reverse, at least to some extent, the Steelers' fortunes and show he has something left.

He admitted at Wednesday's press conference that his passion for the game has taken a beating over the past few seasons in China and one in the NBA G League. Starting Sunday, local fans and the Steelers will see if that can change.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel