It began on Saturday night. I was watching the Lakers-Jazz game with my buddies and suddenly stats from the Nets-Knicks game scrolled across the ticker.
“Knicks defeat Nets 99-92 … Jeremy Lin: 25 Pts, 5 Rebs, 7 Ast.”
My initial reaction was, “Holy shit. J-Lin got minutes.” And then I thought, “The Knicks don’t have a point guard. I should pick him up in Fantasy.”
As of today (Feb. 11), a week later, 81% of Yahoo! NBA Fantasy owners also picked up Jeremy Lin for their squads.
Then it really sunk in. “Jeremy Lin is making it in the NBA. This is unbelievable.”
Jeremy Lin has become the biggest story in the NBA right now.
Bigger than LeBron. Bigger than Chris Paul. Even bigger than Kobe. Last night, to the delight of fans at Madison Square Garden, Lin—a 23-year-old, second-year NBA player and undrafted Harvard grad—torched the Lakers for a career-high 38 points. And he did it in style: draining clutch threes down the stretch, finding his teammates for open looks and driving fearlessly to the basket against one of the most imposing frontcourts in the league.
Jeremy Lin is the real deal. All the NBA analysts are singing his praises and the stats don’t lie. Since his breakout performance last Saturday, the Knicks have won four in a row. Jeremy has averaged 28.5 points per game in those four wins. On his first start, in Monday’s win over the Jazz, Lin scored 25 with 7 assists and 5 rebounds. On Thursday, he dropped 23, 10 and 4 in a win over the Wizards, who are led by John Wall, one of the most talented young point guards in the NBA. And then last night, he owned the Lakers at MSG, the biggest sporting stage in the world.
“Linsanity” is sweeping the basketball universe. I wanted to say Linsanity is sweeping the nation (as in the U.S.), but Lin is just as big of a star in Canada as he is in the States. And of course, basketball fans in Asia are going bananas about him too. Howard Beck of the New York Times reported (Feb. 8) that the Wizards had to issue 15 extra press passes to Wednesday’s game, “for Chinese and Taiwanese reporters who came to see Lin, whose parents are from Taiwan.”
He’s been blowing up Twitter and Facebook. A steady stream of #Linsanity and #Linning tweets are pouring through the web. Likewise, Jeremy Lin merchandise is selling like hotcakes. Everyone is excited, and none more than Asian Americans (and Asian Canadians).
A big reason I believe Asian Americans and Asian Canadians like him is because he reflects a local Asian identity rooted in North America.
I loved Yao Ming, for sure. And even though Yi Jianlian is unforgivably soft, I wanted him to be successful in the NBA. I root for Asian ballers. But I’ll confess that I didn’t identify with Yao or Yi as much as I identify with Lin. The kid was born and raised on this side of the Pacific by first-generation immigrant parents. So was I. I dig that.
For some Asian basketball fans, and especially those living in the Bay Area, the Linsanity began even earlier. In July 2010, he got his first chance to play in the NBA, when the Golden State Warriors signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Many dismissed his Warriors’ signing as a publicity stunt. After all, he was a local boy (he grew up in Palo Alto), in a metropolitan area with a large Asian-American population and—as Beck of the NY Times reported (Dec. 28)—he is only the fourth player of Asian American descent to make the NBA.
We now know—Asians and non-Asian alike—he’s a whole lot more than a publicity stunt.
For all these reasons, Asians like him. He’s one of us. It’s the same reason why many Canadians, even if they’re not hard-core basketball fans, cheer for Steve Nash.
One of my best friends, a white Canadian guy married to a Chinese Canadian girl, texted me last night: “I’m buying a Jeremy Lin poster for my son.” We have a hero to cheer for.
Here’s why everybody else is caught up in the Linsanity:
- Everyone likes an underdog story. Call it divine intervention; call it a fluke; call it karma. I don’t care. The stars aligned for this kid to get a shot.
This season, he went from riding pine on one of the most crowded and talented young backcourts in the league (Golden State has Monta Ellis, Steph Curry and Nate Robinson, which is why they cut Lin in December), to being picked up and subsequently cut by the Houston Rockets, and finally being signed by the Knicks on a temporary contract on Dec. 27.
That one-year contract, worth $778,000, wasn’t fully guaranteed until Tuesday (Feb. 7). It actually wasn’t supposed to be guaranteed until Feb. 10, but in light of his mercurial play on Feb. 4th and 6th, the Knicks pushed it though.
And beyond getting a shot with the Knicks (who were devoid of a true point guard until Lin arrived and 8-15 before this 4-game win streak), their franchise players have been absent of late, which set the stage for Linsanity Week. Carmelo Anthony has been out with a strained groin (he left last Saturday’s game versus the Jazz after playing less than 6 minutes) and Amar’e Stoudamire hasn’t played since Feb. 4 (he’s been in Florida mourning the tragic death of his brother).
Lin was a relative nobody up until this week. Prior to his contract being guaranteed, he was (now-famously) sleeping on his brother’s couch.
And now he’s everywhere. His on-court success watches like a movie. Better, actually
- He’s damn good at basketball. The Steve Nash comparisons are warranted. As it was for Nash, there weren’t high expectations for Lin coming into college. Lin received no scholarship offers, “despite leading his Palo Alto High School 32-1 record and the California championship,” Beck wrote (Feb. 7).
On the court, the parallels between his game and Nash’s are evident, something that is not lost on Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached Nash in Phoenix in the prime of his two-time-MVP career.
Like Nash, Lin is laterally quick and shifty and although he’s listed at 6’3″ (so is Nash), he is crafty around the rim—using the backboard and basket to obstruct would-be shot blockers—weaving in for acrobatic reverse layups.
He also is exceptionally good at keeping his dribble alive. He probes the defense and is patient upon entering the key. If a shot isn’t available, he’ll dribble right through and fire a pass to a shooter spotting up on the short corner for an open three. This is classic Nash-in-his-prime ball rotation, something that made mediocre players into three-point threats. Steve Novak of the Knicks (he’s hit 12 threes in the last three games) is the new Raja Bell (when he was on the Suns).
Again, like Nash, his excellent court vision makes him deadly in pick-and-roll situations. Tyson Chandler hasn’t had so many easy dunks since playing with Jason Kidd (one of the greatest point guards of all time) last season. And if his defender backs off him, Lin makes them pay. Like Nash, he will hit the open jumper. Lin is shooting a torrid 58% from the field during his 4-game hot streak.
- He’s humble and a team player. In his postgame interviews, Lin deflects praise onto his teammates and thanks God for the opportunity. The Knicks are winning. And they’re winning playing a style of basketball that is a clear departure from what it was when Carmelo and Amar’e were in the lineup. Madison Square Garden fans have been chanting “M-V-P” for Jeremy at the past two home games.
Even D’Antoni has made his excitement known after Monday’s win over the Jazz:
“It’s fun,” he said (of having Lin run the point), reported Marc Berman of the New York Post (Feb.7). “You can actually draw a play up and think, ‘this might work.’ He’s a playmaker. He has a nice gait and burst of speed. He kind of settles everything. He sets up guys for easy shots and plays the way we like to play. He has the innate ability to see guys. You can’t explain the game all the time and he doesn’t need explaining.”
“D’Antoni wasn’t talking about Steve Nash, it just seemed that way,” Berman added.
I’m not talking about Steve Nash either. I’m talking about my favourite player in the NBA. I’m talking about my boy, J-Lin.
Allan is Schema’s J-Lin correspondent and a lifelong basketball fan. He lives in Vancouver and is incessantly taking photos of his food. And his sneakers. You can follow him on Twitter @poonisms.