NEW YORK – Back in 2008, while many of his classmates were lining up internships at investment banks, researching graduate schools, or worrying about successfully fulfilling Harvard’s renowned Moral Reasoning course requirement, Jeremy Lin was preparing to make NBA history.
On weekdays during the spring semester of his junior year, Lin recalls his early morning workouts with then assistant coach Kenny Blakeney.
At 7 am, while most of his classmates were rolling over in bed, Lin had already had a light breakfast and was getting some shots up in the gym.
As a fellow Ivy league graduate, I can attest: Time was probably short; classes were, no doubt, tough. Even still, Lin hustled his way into the Ivy League record books, hustled his way to a 3.1 overall GPA, and on Friday night, hustled his way into becoming a lot more than just another beneficiary of the “New York City hype machine.”
And for good measure, after he led the New York Knicks to a 92-85 win over Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers, Lin assured the press that he was in the midst of hustling his way off of his brother Josh’s Lower East Side couch.
Behind his monster effort—38 points and 7 assists—the Knicks beat Bryant and his Lakers in Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2005. The Knicks bested the Lakers in MSG back in 2008, but Kobe missed the game due to a suspension.
On Friday night, before the game, you could feel the energy in the building. In MSG’s North Press Box, there was standing room only. Yes, the Lakers usually make for the busiest night of the year for the Knicks public relations staff. But this night—they told me—was crazy. Even by Lakers standards.
Before Friday night, it would have been fair to say that Lin’s emergence has been overplayed by New Yorkers and underplayed by the national media.
But now, after beating an aging but respectable Lakers club, everyone should be a little more convinced: Jeremy Lin is the real deal.
From the beginning of the game, he controlled the tempo. He orchestrated the offense. He used picks, read the defense, and for the most part made solid decisions. He sliced and diced the Lakers on the perimeter, beat guys off the dribble, and went around and under both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. He even hit a pair of threes.
I was in Madison Square Garden back on March 30, 2011. That night, Carmelo Anthony torched the Nets for 39 points in a 120-116 victory. I was there on January 27, 2011 when Amar’e Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari led the Knicks to their first victory over LeBron’s Heat, 93-88. Hell, on February 2, 2009, I was sitting on the floor the night Kobe set the MSG scoring record with 61 points.
Though all three of those games had their moments, none of them were remotely close to the environment that Lin created in MSG on Friday.
It was true Linsanity.
On the biggest night of his young career, Lin had a sold-out MSG on its feet. Roaring, stomping, and flailing, in unison.
Watching this game on this night was like watching 38:34 worth of Larry Johnson four-point plays. That such a performance came against a Lakers team that commands respect around the league, and in front of a national TV audience, should provide Lin with some sustainable legitimacy.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking he cares. “I’m not really too worried right now about proving anything to anybody,” he said after the game.
And when asked about what he himself has established thus far, Lin deflected the question and made it about the team. “The only thing we established tonight is getting four [wins] in a row… And we’re gonna try to go for five tomorrow… I just think as a team we’re growing and we’re trying to build on this momentum.”
There might be an “I” in “Lin,” but you couldn’t tell.
That’s the most encouraging thing about Jeremy Lin. He’s a team player. He goes out of his way to credit his teammates, coaches, and mentors. He went out of his way to talk up Jared Jeffries (“the ultimate glue guy”), Coach D’Antoni (“an absolute offensive genius”), and Landry Fields.
I couldn’t help but to nod emphatically in agreement when Coach D’Antoni told the press, after the game, that he was shocked to learn that Lin took 23 shots and scored 38 points. “It all came in the flow of the offense. I couldn’t tell,” said the coach. And it’s 100 percent true.
Lin is the real deal. He’s confident, yet humble. He plays conservatively, but doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s fast, but he doesn’t rush. On Friday night, he showed that to Madison Square Garden. He showed Kobe—who one night earlier claimed to not know anything about Lin or “what he’s done”—and he showed two countries—America and China.
Neither Coach D’Antoni nor Tyson Chandler could remember a situation in which someone buried at the end of a bench came in and made such an immediate and improbable impact on their team.
Lin, in his own words, noted that he is used to being “the 15th guy.”
That’s just as over as Kobe’s win streak at Madison Square Garden.
That’s over… Just like Jeremy Lin’s lack of respect should be.
Sure, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire will both return within the next week. Obviously, things are going to change.
But for those that are not “All Lin” on Jeremy, take note:
He is the first player in the NBA, since 1991, to record at least 20 points and seven assists in his first three starts.
Even better, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, the 89 points he scored in his first three career starts is the most points scored by any player in their first three career starts.
Before Tuesday, Lin didn’t have a guaranteed contract for the rest of the 2011-12 NBA Season.
Today? He holds a record over some of the game’s most prolific scorers. That list includes Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Lebron James, and yes, Kobe Bryant.
What makes his story more amazing is the fact that the Knicks were somewhat interested in adding Kenyon Martin. Obviously, he had other plans. But if he decided that he wanted to play in New York City, Jeremy Lin and his non-guaranteed contract may have very well been sacrificed to make room for him.
If that happened, Lin told members of the press that he would have probably gone overseas to continue his playing career.
Instead, this week, Knicks fans are worried about whether or not the team will be able to afford to re-sign Lin once he becomes a free agent on July 1, 2012.
Last week, in this space, I wrote that the Knicks may have dodged a bullet when Martin decided to take his talents to Los Angeles. Had he decided on New York, Linsanity may not have ever been born.
Because it has, Mike Bibby is far more likely to be waived to make room for J.R. Smith—that is, if J.R. decides he wants to play in Gotham.
But that’s neither here nor there.
At this point, Lin should be taken seriously. He has the skill set and the tools that the Knicks desperately lacked at the point guard position. He makes good decisions with the ball, he can break down defenses and get into the paint, and he can finish at the rim.
It’s a bit premature to anoint him as a future Hall of Famer, much less a season savior. But he is certainly a knight in shining armor. For Knicks fans and Coach D’Antoni.
Lin isn’t the shooter Steve Nash is, and he’s certainly not the passer that Ricky Rubio is.
But what he is, is a hard worker.
What he is, is a great rags to riches story.
What he is, is a smart and capable leader on the floor, beloved by his fans and his teammates.
What he has done is electrify Madison Square Garden and seemingly changed the culture of the entire building. For 12 years, Knicks fans paid to watch opposing players waltz into the garden and light them up.
Now, with a young point guard that can play the way Coach D’Antoni wants, the Knicks may have finally found the straw to stir their drink.
Once you fully appreciate how close all of this was to actually never happening. It’ll make you appreciate it all the more. And if you were in the building on Friday night, saw what I saw, and felt what I felt… you’d be a believer, as well.
Overnight, Jeremy Lin has gone from being the subject of New York cooler talk to a national story—in both the United States and China.
It’s nothing short of amazing.
Indeed, Madison Square Garden is alive again. With a seemingly capable point guard to feed Stat-e-Melo, orchestrate the offense, and make wise decisions, things are looking up for the Knicks.
For the team, and for D’Antoni especially, good fortune abounds.
After falling to 8-15, lady luck eventually came around. And not a moment too soon.