HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin wanted to disappear right now, hop on the next flight to anywhere and never be heard from again, his sports legacy would still cast a mammoth shadow.
Seriously, it can’t get much better than this.
Lin is off to the best scoring start (109 points) to a career of any player since the 1976 NBA/ABA merger, Allen Iverson has the old mark of 101.
He’s fueled five straight wins for the Knicks, the last four as a member of the starting lineup. He’s put together five straight performances that not only woke up a fan base, but five straight hair-raising showcases that rattled the basketball world to its foundation, if only because it proved that in this day and age of advanced statistics, where scouts have scorched the earth looking for the next big thing (we like to call it the “no star left behind” era), Lin has turned out to be a genuine find.
The fact that he was hours away from being released by the Knicks (seriously, the coaching staff actually discussed it, per a source) before fate intervened and pushed him into the starting lineup, makes the story more Hollywood than Broadway.
“This whole thing almost never happened,” the insider said via text late Saturday night. “He’s probably saved a few jobs and the Knicks’ season.”
How long this magic ride lasts is anyone’s guess.
Many presumed it would come crashing to an end Friday night with the Los Angeles Lakers in town and Kobe Bryant ready to stomp through the Lin parade. A career-high 38-points and seven assists later, it was clear that Lin is here to stay a little longer.
Saturday it continued. Even on a brutal shooting night (1-for-12 after halftime), he found a way to outshine Timberwolves rookie phenom Ricky Rubio, sinking the game-clinching free throw with 4.6 seconds left for a win in Minnesota.
Now I realize that the haters out there are waiting to pounce (already we’ve seen the complaints that Lin is something of a turnover machine, averaging 4.6 during this mercurial run) and is hardly the deep threat (he’s shooting a frigid .176 from beyond the 3-point line during this stretch) a team needs its point guard to be in today’s NBA.
The haters will have their day and they are welcome to it.
But if you can’t understand why Lin’s journey and current tear resonates with so many, you’re not paying attention. As my main man and former colleague Bryan Chu explains, his reach goes beyond just basketball:
Growing up as a Taiwanese-American baller, I had no one to look up to. As a sports journalist for the past six years, I had no one from a similar background who could relate to what I was going through as I tried to find my career path, especially when it came to experiencing racism.
Jeremy was an outlet for my feelings. That’s why he and I clicked when we met as reporter and subject.
I first learned of Jeremy when I was at UCLA and he was tearing it up on the California high school courts. When I later found out he had gone to Harvard, my initial thought was, “Well, he gave up on sports, and he’s concentrating on academics like the rest of us Asians.”
But he was still playing ball when I first met him in 2008 while reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle.
I was writing an article about the dearth of Asian-Americans in college and pro basketball. It started like this:
Jeremy Lin has seen it and heard it.
Too short. Too skinny. Picked last. Asian.
Those tags stick to Lin wherever he goes, even as the starting point guard for Harvard’s basketball team.
“It’s a sport for white and black people,” Lin said. “You don’t get respect for being an Asian American basketball player in the U.S.”
Despite his stature on the court at Harvard, Lin admitted it was “nerve-racking” playing against older, more experienced players in the San Francisco summer league. To them, Jeremy was a novelty. Maybe even a joke.
“We even have an Asian kid from Harvard,” a summer league rep told me in previewing the rosters.
As a fellow ABC (American-Born Chinese) with Taiwanese roots, Jeremy was very open to me about his story. After all, I could relate.
Jeremy told me of his ongoing battles with racism playing for Harvard in front of Ivy League crowds.
“I hear everything: ‘Go back to China. Orchestra is on the other side of campus. Open up your eyes,'” Lin said at the time.
I shared my battles with racism—the “ching-chong” and “the Chinaman” I heard as a journalist.
Mine, however, paled in comparison to Jeremy’s. I respected him for not lashing out. I respected him for not letting it faze him. Most of all, I respected him for pursuing his dreams. I felt if he could go through a barrage of verbal assaults with a ball in his hands, then I could handle a few instances with pen and notebook in hand.
Lin is serving as a cultural phenomenon while chasing his NBA hoop dream. That’s more pressure than the average player will ever have to deal with.
It’s another reason to root for him if you’re already in the Lin camp, it might be what sways you if you’re on the fence, and it’s perhaps a reason to reconsider if you’re on the other side!