The Jeremy Lin Phenomenon: What’s Next

I have been seriously caught up in the Jeremy Lin story. If you’ve been living under a rock, he is a basketball player for the New York Knicks and he is a phenomenon.

For the last two years, however, Lin was little more than a journeyman in the NBA. He’s been pawned off from one team to another. Then, suddenly something clicked and he became better than everybody. This sort of thing had never happened before, not in basketball, not in any sport. It defied explanation, at least until, after his fifth consecutive triumphant game, against the Raptors on February 14, Lin explained it himself. His few outings the year before had been mediocre. He expected any day now to be dropped from the team. Lin’s contract did not become guaranteed until February 10. But then, suddenly, due to the injury of some of the players, he was asked to come off the bench and temporarily be the starting point guard. [expand]

“I figured this would be my final shot,” Lin said in an interview I watched after the game. “I figured I’d just go for it. With all the other tryouts, I was told to try to blend in as a team player, and so I did. Now, I’d just go straight for the basket.”

This was quite a decision. Lin is 6’3” tall and perhaps 200 pounds. He’d have to get around people who were 7’1” and 300 pounds. And boy did he. He not only became a scoring phenomenon, he also became a handing off phenomenon. He began to head in, then out of the corner of his eye, find a teammate and make an impossible handoff to him and he’d get the basket. Lin began to amass a total number of assists that, if he kept on pace, would break all NBA records.

But would his phenomenal trickery and accuracy last? As the games continued on, I’d watch him with my fingers crossed. Maybe they’d figure him out. Maybe he’d lose whatever this was. Maybe, in the not too distant future, the coach would say—“we’ve got to take him out, he’s not what he was.” But his streak continued.

I became emotionally invested in Jeremy Lin. I tried to watch every game he played in. For a few that were not televised outside of Cablevision (James Dolan, the president and CEO of Cablevision, also serves as executive chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company, who own the Knicks), I’d bar hop in East Hampton to find a place to watch it. (I have DirecTV, which doesn’t carry the games, at least at that time.)

I think I began rooting for him so much because of who he is, where he’s from, and that he was passed over by everybody. He’s a Chinese-American, a member of a minority that has up until now, almost never gotten involved in this sport. His parents were from Taiwan and moved to California after they got married. Lin, born here (and thus an American citizen), went to Palo Alto High School where he was the star of the basketball team, but then was not recruited by Stanford, which, being right there in Palo Alto, would have been the natural choice for him, and for them. As a result, he went to Harvard (he is a brilliant student), starred on that basketball team, and then failed to get taken in the draft into the pros. You know the rest. He was just a walk-on.

Lin is making roughly $613,000 this season. At the time, I thought he was worth a $100 million to Cablevision and the Knicks. This was such a remarkable story for them.

But then, after leading New York to a seven game winning streak, the Knicks started losing and Lin started making mistakes. The mistakes ballooned into throwing the ball to the other team on occasion, missing easy layups and not being able to read the court as he had done before. He remains today as the starting guard for the team, with the coach hoping against hope he will get it back together.

I almost wrote that the coach hopes Lin gets his courage back. What seems to me to have happened is that his alarming and brilliant drives to the basket have too often for his taste during the most recent games resulted in his getting knocked to the floor and on several occasions even smacked in the face by these big guys determined to stop him, and do it just short of getting themselves thrown out of the game. Lin, now, hesitates. In recent games, he for much of the time stays on the outside and tosses the ball around.

Basketball is a rough game on this level. If I am correct, Lin could have continued on getting beaten up while continuing to make sensational plays. One recalls the line “give me one more for the Gipper.” But that’s easy to say. Others might be willing to push through no matter what physical pain they throw at him. But Lin, at least so far, is not one of them. It’s sad to see at this point.

Another explanation for this is that the hotshot six-foot eight incher on the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony, recently on the injured list, has come back into the game but has been no help at all to the team. He does score a lot but he is a basketball hog. The joy of winning has therefore left the Knicks, not only from Lin, but also from the others.

As this is written, the Knicks have lost five in a row. Lin still gets knocked down and gets shy, but I’ve noticed he’s learned how to roll with the punch. It keeps him from getting injured. Hopefully, well, I don’t know.

For the moment, I don’t watch anymore. It’s too sad to see. But I do look at the scores every day to see if Lin gets his mojo back. If he does, I’ll be back too.

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