All About Lin

When a bench player became New York’s biggest sensation.

By Jackson Connor

What can I say about Jeremy Lin that hasn’t already been said by every ESPN analyst every day for the last two weeks? I could give you his stats, tell you that he majored in economics at Harvard, that he’s the first Taiwanese-American player in the NBA, that he went un-drafted, or even compile a comprehensive list of every Lin-based nickname to show up on Spike Lee’s Twitter account (Linderella, Super Lintendo, The Linstigator, are some of my favorites). All of this might prove to be pertinent information, but I don’t think I was asked to write this piece because of how much I know about the Linsanity that’s been going on, but rather because of how much I’ve had to suffer over the last decade of my life as a fan of the New York Knicks.

I first saw Jeremy Lin while watching a game on television with my dad over the holidays. My dad is sort of sentimental and likes to study the players on the bench and feel bad for them when they never get a chance to play. We both started to notice a guy riding some pine who we hadn’t seen before. He was the first man up at a time out, he was always cheering after a big shot or dunk… he was Asian. (I hate to say that’s the real reason why he stood out to us, but if you’re not 7’6” and named Yao Ming, people tend to take notice of an Asian guy around a basketball court.)

“It must be terrible to just sit on the bench night in and night out and never see a minute of playing time,” my dad always says in situations like these. To which I usually reply, “Well, I guess you sit there hoping for that dare-to-be-great situation, where someone gets hurt or sick and you can prove yourself.” Needless to say, as always, I was 100 percent correct.

Yes, Anthony had suffered a groin injury and Amar’e was taking time with his family to deal with the death of his older brother, but the point guard position had been a problem for the Knicks since their abysmal start to the season in December. With the Chris Paul pipedream officially off the table, and Baron Davis’ return date uncertain, no one expected Toney Douglas or the aging Mike Bibby to be the caliber playmaker needed to lead an incredibly offensive-minded team to a championship. The Knicks were stagnant, uninspired, and unable to score despite two super star players on the roster.  In retrospect why didn’t Coach Mike D’Antoni put Jeremy Lin in sooner just for the hell of it? Things couldn’t have gotten any worse.

The Knicks front office has made terrible personnel moves over the years – so many that I don’t care to recount them here. Through the Isiah Thomas era and into the years spent clearing cap space for the 2010 free agency chase, a good guard was a rare sight in Madison Square Garden. In the past year and a half some of the franchise’s best acquisitions have been complete surprises (i.e. taking Landry Fields 39th overall in 2010, Iman Shumpert 17th overall this year, and, of course, claiming Jeremy Lin off waivers on December 27th).  The only way the Knicks were going to get a good group of young guards was to have them sneak in under our noses.

On Feb. 4 Lin started at home against the New Jersey Nets, recording 25 points and 7 assists. Two nights later against the Utah Jazz it was 28 and 8. Two nights after that he earned his first double-double with 23 and 10 on the Washington Wizards. Each game was more exciting than the last, and each game meant a much-needed win for the Knickerbockers. Finally on Feb 10 he dazzled with 38 points and 7 assists in a nationally televised victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and Linsanity was an undeniable pop-culture phenomenon.

Even though the Knicks were beating the Lakers all game, I was almost certain we would find a way to lose. This is what being a Knicks fan does to you. It makes you pessimistic, it makes you believe that nothing good can ever happen, that every lead will be blown in the most dramatic and heartbreaking fashion. But we pulled out the win with two huge threes by Lin and I was able to let out a slightly bewildered sigh of relief, thinking, This kid might actually be the real deal.

In one of Lin’s most awe-inspiring performances he led the Knicks to a come-from-behind win over the Toronto Raptors on Valentines Day, finishing with his 6th straight 20-point game and nailing a beautiful three-point buzzer beater to seal it. The difference was that even though the Knicks were down the entire game (at times by double digits), I had this strange confidence that they would win, and that it would be Lin who’d lead them there. And that’s what Lin has done above all else so far – restored some faith, or at the very least some hope, in the New York Knicks.

With Stoudemire back Lin is playing more like a true point guard, getting his teammates involved first and looking for his own shot second. In his last game against the Sacramento Kings he had a career high 13 assists, heaving huge alley-oops to Tyson Chandler and Fields off the dribble. He would penetrate and then dish to Stoudemire under the basket or find someone in the corner for a wide open three. The Knicks finally looked like a team, not just a bunch of guys in similar uniforms going one-on-one with their men. We saw the old Amar’e Stoudemire, the big man who was so exciting to watch feed off of a point guard like Steve Nash or even Raymond Felton.

Carmelo Anthony is perhaps the best scorer in the NBA, but he will be the one who has to prove himself capable of adapting, simply because the old way of doing things didn’t work. It’s premature to say that he can’t co-exist alongside Lin, or that he’s not a team player, but his first few games back will be a test, and the fans are certain to be hypercritical. It’s just too damn early to ask the Knicks to trade a player who they gave up nearly their entire team to sign just barely a year ago.

Jeremy Lin has captivated the country not just because of how things might play out with Melo, or because of his stats, or his clutch shots, or even because the Knicks are winning – it’s that all of these facts and details are wound up in this incredibly human narrative about an underdog not only succeeding, but succeeding with humility. We love that Jeremy Lin went to an Ivy League school and that no NBA team wanted to draft him, that the Golden State Warriors – his home town team – dropped him, that the Houston Rockets dropped him, that the New York Knicks were about to drop him. We love that he was sleeping on his brother’s sofa in Manhattan, that people probably overlooked him because he was Asian, and that he doesn’t give a shit about any of this unless it helps his team win. We love Jeremy Lin because he was a guy who sat on the bench, and probably would have slept on the bench, if it meant he’d someday get a shot. It’s Linspirational. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

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