By Neil Beldock
Jeremy Lin’s play during the 2011-12 NBA season which became branded as “Linsanity” may be the most unprecedented, unpredictable, surprising, captivating and amazing stretch of basketball ever played……EVER!!!!!
For those who witnessed “Linsanity”, the memories and excitement of this phenomenon may remain vivid, but perhaps the backstory as to how Jeremy Lin became “Linsanity” is forgotten or unknown. It is truly a remarkable story.
It was a commonly and predictably cold February 4th 2012. What was also all too common on this February 4th was that the New York Knicks were once again a sub-500 team sinking fast and trying to avoid a third straight loss. The season seemed to be on the brink of completely falling apart.
It was halftime against the rival New Jersey Nets, a particular bad Nets team playing their final season in New Jersey, a team which would win only 22 games all season, and the Knicks had put forth a rather lackluster first half and were trailing at halftime.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni seemed to be lost for an answer as to how to reverse the Knicks course. In a desperate move D’Antoni decided to go with Lin who was, inarguably, the 15th man on a 15 man roster.
Said D’Antoni, “I was afraid to do anything. We were already in crisis mode and I can’t be grasping for straws. The other players would be looking at me like ‘Are you crazy?'”.
Nevertheless, with little to lose, D’Antoni rolled the dice and went with Lin giving him some minutes in the first half and, after liking what he saw, starting him in the second half, a move that no doubt rose the eyebrows of both players and fans.
All Lin did was score 19 second half points, including 12 in the fourth quarter to lead the Knicks to a come-from-behind 99-92 victory. He finished the game with 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds playing against the Nets all-star guard Deron Williams.
The next game D’Antoni decided to stay with Lin and started him against the Utah Jazz. Once again, Lin did not disappoint as he posted 28 points and 8 assists while playing 45 minutes of a thrilling 99-88 win over the Jazz, a game in which the Knicks played without their two star players Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony (who would miss the next 3 and 7 games respectively).
From this point forward there would be no hesitation from D’Antoni. “I’m riding him like freakin’ Secretariat”, D’Antoni said. Thus, “Linsanity” was born.
The next game would see Lin once again amaze those who watched as he scored 23 points and posted 10 assists, his first career double-double in a 107-93 win over the Washington Wizards.
But there is still a difference between a phenomenon being born and a phenomenon exploding into pop culture, and exploding into pop culture is exactly what happened on February 10th 2012, Lin’s third career start.
Facing Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on a nationally televised Friday night game at Madison Square Garden, with the Garden crowd cheering wildly every time Lin touched the ball, all Lin did was score 38 points and dish out 7 assists in a 92-85 Knicks victory. What people may have read about over the past few days had now been introduced and witnessed by millions on ESPN during prime time.
Said Kobe Bryant after that Friday night game: “Players playing that well usually don’t come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.”
Perhaps more accurate words were never spoken. In looking back at Jeremy Lin’s early playing days it seems quite apparent that the words spoken by Kobe Bryant were and are in fact true. Maybe the greater basketball universe was just not ready to recognize a 6 foot 3 inch player of Asian decent as having the ability to compete at the highest levels of basketball in spite of anything and everything he did on the court.
Lin grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and, despite being named the Northern California High School player of the year after his senior year, received no scholarship offers. Harvard University, like all Ivy League schools, do not offer athletic scholarships. Yet, they headed 3,000 miles west to coerce Lin to head 3,000 miles east to attend one of the finest academic institutions on the face of the earth.
Now, they say Harvard people are pretty smart. And I guess they are because all Lin did while playing for Harvard was become a 3-time All-Conference player. Yet, not surprisingly, Lin was once again overlooked and received very little attention from the professional basketball world.
In yet another example of Harvard people being pretty smart, Lin was unwilling to give up on his basketball dreams and career. He signed a partially guaranteed contract with the Golden Warriors and rarely saw playing time. Three times during his rookie season the Warriors sent him to the D-League before releasing him during the preseason of the following year. The Houston Rockets were next in line to overlook Lin and also released him during that same preseason. He was then signed by the Knicks and took his position as the 15th man on a 15 man roster.
Then came February 4th against the Nets. Followed by the games against both the Jazz and Wizards. Culminating with the Friday night prime time affair with the Lakers concluding the first four games in which Lin was given the proverbial “keys to the car”. As documented above, the result was a Knicks record of 4-0 with Lin averaging 28.5 points per game and 8 assists per game, not just great numbers for a point guard, these are Hall-of-Fame numbers.
“Linsanity” was now in full bloom with not only the basketball world, but the entire world in general becoming increasingly aware of Lin’s accomplishments. Crowds filled arenas and cheered wildly for Lin all around the NBA. In Washington, the crowd roared when Lin soared down the lane for a dunk, a reaction which was nothing compared to the crowd’s explosion in Toronto when Lin calmly and confidently hit a jumper from the head of the key at the buzzer to give the Knicks a 90-87 win.
“Linsanity” steamrolled ahead as the Knicks won seven in a row and 9 of 11 games heading into All-Star Weekend. No longer being overlooked, Lin was a late addition to play in the “Shooting Stars” game, an All-Star game of 1st and 2nd year players played during All-Star Weekend.
During All-Star Weekend, Lin was one of the most sought after players by the media. He also became back page headlines for the New York papers, was the subject of two Sports Illustrated cover stories, and his New York Knicks jersey #17 was the highest selling NBA jersey in 2011-12, outselling the jerseys of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, among others.
As a player, Lin was the first player in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 7 assists in each of his first five career starts. Most importantly, his efforts played a huge roll in revitalizing the team and the season for the Knicks and their fans, propelling a sinking team to the playoffs.
Said D’Antoni, “He’s had to battle for everything he has. And it’s a great story. He’s fun to coach, a good guy. You root for people like that”.
Alas, like many phenomenons, “Linsanity” was not to be everlasting. There were reports of other players being jealous of the attention Lin was receiving and ultimately, when his contract with the Knicks expired he signed a lucrative deal with the Houston Rockets. Said Knicks teammate Amare Stoudamire: “If he stayed it would have been cool. But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being the new star. So he didn’t stay long. But Jeremy was a great, great guy. Great teammate. He put the work in and we’re proud of him to have his moment”.
And looking back, what a moment it was. “Linsanity” was truly one of the most unprecedented, unpredictable, surprising, captivating and amazing runs not only in basketball history, but in sports history as well.
Please connect to Amazon from this to review and purchase books about Jeremy Lin.