“Linsanity” was a phenomenon unlike any New York City had seen. Where does Jeremy Lin fit into the Brooklyn Nets’ future as he fights to come back from injury?

Most revolutions start quietly. A signature here, a phone call there. For Jeremy Lin, It was a lay-up on a cold night in New Jersey of all places.

With three minutes and thirty-five seconds left in the first quarter, a man few in the basketball world were familiar with checked in at center court of Madison Square Garden. Waived by the Warriors in December (Mark Jackson, then in his first year as the Warriors head coach, would later admit he never watched Lin attempt so much as a lay-up), Lin was picked up by the Knicks two days after Christmas 2017. Lin had played sparingly to that point (just six minutes per contest). Expectations were low.

Jeremy Lin turned the corner early in the second quarter for his first bucket. A lob to Tyson Chandler for a crushing dunk closed the period. Lin had registered six points and three assists, but the raw numbers don’t adequately describe the impact his energy was having on both ends. Adrenaline had been mainlined into the Garden.

Lin checked out of the game with 25 points, 7 assists and, most importantly, a win. Most NBA analysts thought it was a flash-in-the-pan, but the big nights kept coming, including  38 points on Kobe Byrant and the Lakers and a walk-off game-winning three on the Toronto Raptors:

Lin racked up numbers in Mike D’Antoni‘s system, finishing the month with averages of 20.9 points, 8.4 assists and 4 rebounds per game. A combination of Lin’s exciting play, the New York spotlight, and the Knicks actually winning games (seven in a row, nine of eleven after Linsanity started) catapulted the unassuming point guard into the center of a media feeding-frenzy.

By the end of February 2012, the undrafted ivy-league graduate was one of the three or four most recognizable basketball players on the planet. “Linsanity” indeed.

You Had To Be There

On every corner of every developing country, there’s an insufferable expat telling complete strangers some version of the following: “it’s nice now, but it was so much better ten years ago.” I hate that person. Listen as my self-loathing hits a crescendo: Even though we’re only six years removed from Linsanity, you really had to be a basketball fan over a certain age to fully understand how incredible it was.

Jeremy Lin graced the front cover of Sports Illustrated, Time, and just about every publication in America. It was impossible to avoid him. Time magazine went as far as to include Lin in the publication’s annual “100 most influential people” list, claiming:

(Lin)…debunks and defangs so many of the prejudices and stereotypes that unfairly hold children back. He’s dispelled the idea that Asian-American guards somehow couldn’t hack it in the NBA — and that being a world-class athlete on the court is somehow at odds with being an excellent student off the court.”

While the writer is underselling how incredibly difficult it is to be both a world-class athlete AND an excellent student (let alone a Harvard-level student), the notion that Jeremy Lin debunked a lot of stereotypes is very real. Asian-Americans have long been under-represented in the major American sports leagues. Lin was tangible proof that it was more than possible.

New York’s newest superhero was adored across the city, by just about everyone except for the one man with the power to undo him: Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks had moved the sun, the moon and the stars to get Carmelo Anthony to MSG the previous season. Team brass has lavished a 100 million dollar contract on Amare Stoudemire the summer before that. Lin made 700k for the year and was reportedly living on his brother’s sofa during the entire stint. The contrast couldn’t have been more pronounced. Anthony had come to New York to be the center of attention. The superstar.

Anthony wasn’t a fan of Lin’s meteoric rise, nor of suggestions that the team might be better off with the ball in the point guard’s hands. Mike D’Antoni’s system was antithetical to Anthony’s wing-isolation style. An all-out war was declared in the Knicks’ locker room as Anthony repeatedly ignored play calls and demanded the ball where he was comfortable:

one player was asked why the team had returned to isolation plays for Anthony after D’Antoni’s up-tempo, less structured game had been so successful. A source who was privy to the conversation said the player responded by saying that the coach wasn’t calling those plays; Anthony was isolating himself and demanding the ball.”

The Knicks lost 8 of 10 games when Anthony returned to the line-up. Ugly spat after ugly spat boiled over into the public eye. Clearly, the situation was untenable. D’Antoni resigned on March 15th. That summer, the Knicks let Lin walk all the way to Houston, Texas.

Jeremy Lin’s Place in the Game Today

“Linsanity” might have ended, but Lin’s fanbase remains as passionate and loyal as any in the league. Being a cardholder in the Lin-hive hasn’t been easy in recent months. Lin ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee just twenty-five minutes into the season.

Lins’ reaction was heart-breaking. Panic washed over him as he looked to his coaches and simply said “I’m done.”

The injury has a fairly bleak record of derailing careers. Antonio McDyess was a 20/12 all-star before the injury cut him down at just 27. He never averaged more than ten points or seven rebounds per game again.

Negativity has never been a part of Lin’s emotional repertoire, though, and he remains steadfast in his belief that he will return good as new:

 

Lin’s exciting, downhill style is a big part of his popularity. It’s also, unfortunately, a big part of why the guard has missed a large chunk of the past two seasons. Lin is a mortal who makes a living throwing his body into superhumans. The night-to-night pounding takes its toll. Lin seemed confident he could walk-the-line between maintaining his identity as a basketball player and taking care of his body:

I am not going to change the bread and butter of who I am, which is downhill, attacking, dynamic playmaking… what we will see is probably a similar style but in a safer way. “

It’s been a joy to see Spencer Dinwiddie thrive in the absence of Lin and D’Angelo Russell. Dinwiddie has been similarly undervalued and discarded throughout his young career. Dinwiddie has done an admirable job, but the Nets need Lin back on the court. As wonderful and engaging as he is as a player, Lin might be even more important to the organization’s long and short-term health.

Strong leadership and culture are crucial aspects of a rebuilding team. Perpetual losers are usually lacking both. The Sacramento Kings have been mired in a “rebuilding” phase for the better part of two decades because they have been sorely lacking in both. Lin is a strong and identifiable leader. Devoid of ego and a tireless worker, Lin sets an example both on and off the court. While modern technology makes it’s easy to stay in contact with his teammates and the coaching staff while engaging in rehab, nothing beats the day-to-day contact of playing and practicing.

Lin opted into his contract (12.5 million for the 2018-19 season). Nets’ fans are giddy to have him back on the court once again. Nothing is ever certain in the NBA, but the hearts of basketball fans in New York will always have a sweet spot for Jeremy Lin.

 

 

 

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