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Friday, October 24, 2014

The rise of Jeremy Lin

If something notable had occurred in the sports world over the weekend, I probably would have used this space to wax inexorable on the first players ever involved in a benches-clearing brawl at the NBA All-Star Game. Or, barring that, the first ever Oscar nominee to be impaled with one of those shiny statues. Instead, I write to you today as yet another sports pundit to join the Jeremy Lin feeding frenzy.

Some folks might complain that this article is about three or four weeks too late. After all, I’ve been beaten to the punch by both Sports Illustrated and Time. Keep in mind that this might be the only time you’ll find one of my missives mentioned in the same context as those two publications. Well, for those of you who think I am late to the party, I guess that means I was just a little Lin-souciant. Others might say that this article, like the previous eighty or so I have written, contains nothing of newsworthy value, making this writing a tad Lin-ane. And, since I have to fill out my weekly quota of 1200 words, here is your warning since this article might at times seem a little Lin-exorable and Lin-transigent.

If the bad puns have not by now alerted you to the fact that yet another living, breathing member of the sports media (and then some) has gotten on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon, then perhaps this sentence will: Another, living, breathing member of the sports media has gotten on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon. (Yeah, don’t put too much stock in that weekly word quota.)

Seemingly out of nowhere has risen a star who essentially went un-recruited out of high school, went undrafted out of Harvard, and then went unnoticed during his first year-and-a-half in professional basketball. When one considers that he spent an NBA summer league stint with one team, part of an NBA season with another, and was cut after logging all of seven minutes in the preseason with a third, and signed with a fourth only with the understanding that he’d be backing up everyone save for Michael Bloomberg and needed no less than a triage-worth of injuries, Jeremy’s story is one part Lin-cognito and three parts Lin-credible. OK, I’ll stop.

Jeremy is the first American player in the NBA of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. The first player of Asian descent was Wat “Kilowatt” Misaka, who coincidentally also played with the Knicks, but lasted only 3 games during the 1947-1948 season prior to the merger that created the modern NBA. Before going any further, I should probably note that my last name — Lee — has a long and storied heritage even though it’s about as Asian as General Lee: the general or the car for that matter.

For fans living in the Pacific Rim, Lin-sanity has helped to bridge the gap between the Knicks’ sensation and the wow factor that was Yao. Yao Ming’s retirement in 2011 after numerous foot injuries brought to end an NBA career that spanned eight seasons and eight All-Star nominations. Future generations, for better or much, much worse, are now left to sort out his legacy amidst YouTube clips of those trite Visa commercials. Despite these two basketball icons, the continent hasn’t had a whole lot to cheer about as far as athletes succeeding in the NBA, much less the other major sports in the world.

Some players, born abroad or with family from the area, have come and gone without even making it out of the preseason. Other guys like Ray Townsend, whose mother was from the Philippines, and Robert Swift, who did justice to his last name by exiting the NBA almost as quickly as he entered it, didn’t stay long enough to create much of a Wikipedia page. Mengke Bateer, who was born in Mongolia, managed to hang around and win a championship in 2003. Though his title haul matched that of Jerry West, there still has been no word on remodeling the NBA logo in his image. His career was largely as memorable as was his role in the 2009 Hong Kong film Bodyguards and Assassins. (This useless piece of trivia underscores the fact that I have a lot of free time on my hands.) Yi Jianlian, a Chinese native, has been in the league since 2007. He began the season with the Dallas Mavericks but was sent down to the D-League to a team call the Legends; ironic, since most people probably won’t remember him unless he finds a way to one-up Lamar Odom’s Kardashian-schtupping exploits.

Jeremy Lin’s NBA antics, though, certainly transcend even the cultural significance of his accomplishments so far. Gotham has been starved for a basketball championship. The last time the Knicks won a championship was 1973, probably about the same time people from New York referred to themselves as Knickerbockers. At the very least, the city has been trying in vain to find someone to rally behind in the post-Patrick Ewing-flattop days. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have failed to garner the same panache — the two essentially a consolation prize after the team whiffed on multiple attempts at trying to secure any or all of the now-infamous Miami Heat troika.

With Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert fighting over the role of Commissioner Gordon, Lin has become Batman. On January 17th, Jeremy was playing in Erie, Pennsylvania for a team whose arena holds 6,000 (assuming you can find that many willing to watch minor league basketball). Three weeks later, the man scored 38 points against the Lakers. His meteoric rise in the NBA seemed to happen so quickly, Jeremy was still reported to be sleeping on his brother’s couch. I’m still not exactly certain what the entire furor was about, since a career in sports media has ensured that I will not be able to afford that kind of luxury until at least my retirement. Nevertheless, once his $800,000 contract became guaranteed, Lin moved into Trump Towers. The whereabouts of the couch, however, are unknown. (I checked Craig’s List: no dice.)

Statistically, Lin’s career as a starter has been unprecedented. In his first week as a starter, he scored more points in his first four games in that role than any player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, bettering even Soumalia Samake and Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Over the past few weeks, Lin also tied the Sports Illustrated record for appearing on the cover of the magazine two weeks in a row. He also appeared on the cover of New York’s Newsday 20 days in a row, tying Tiger Woods’ record in 2009. As long as Lin avoids driving his car into a tree and that whole adultery thing, he should probably be out of the woods (get it?) as far as bad publicity goes.

His story though has been the salve the NBA needs, especially in the wake of the lockout shenanigans that shortened the season this year. Jeremy Lin, the perfect candidate. The NBA’s Tebow. Everyone is enjoying the ride. Certainly the headline writers are. How many puns would someone have been able to create out of Bismack Biyombo’s name?



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