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All They Do is Lin

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Are you a witness to the Linsanity? If you haven’t noticed, there’s a fever sweeping the nation – even the world. And the only cure? More Jeremy Lin.

Another star basketball player – no big deal, right? Not quite. There’s something a little…different about this 23-year-old phenomenon. Let’s take a look at where this guy came from.

Lin played high school ball in Palo Alto, California, where he was a senior year captain.  He was first team All State and was a California Conference player of the Year.

Lin wanted an Ivy League education and had his sights set on UCLA or Stanford, but neither school wanted him.  Harvard said that they could get him playing time, but the school offers no athletic scholarships.  So Lin just went.  He did great at Harvard, being the first Ivy League player to record at least 1.450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals.  He was a finalist for the John Wooden and Bob Cousy awards.  Through all of this, he managed to get to class and graduate from Harvard with a degree in Economics.

After college, Lin threw his name in the hat for the NBA.  While nobody bit, he did get offers to play on some Summer Leagues and in some mini-camps.  After a brief stint with the Golden State Warriors and an even briefer one with the Houston Rockets, Lin was picked up by the perennially struggling New York Nets. He was, in fact, bumped down to the Developmental League for a brief time, but after an impressive triple-double game he was brought back to the Knicks bench.

Then starter Baron Davis got hurt. Coach Mike Di’Antoni was considering cutting Lin, but with such a struggling team he figured why not see what the kid can do on the court. So in their next game against the Nets, Jeremy Lin went on the court.

February 4  – 25 points, 7 assists
February 6  – 28 points, 8 assists
February 8  – 23 points, 10 assists
February 10 – 38 points, 7 assists (beating out Kobe Bryant’s 34)
February 11 – 20 points, 8 assists
February 14 – 27 points, 11 assists (oh yeah, and also this game-winning last-second three)
February 15 – 10 points, 13 assists

These are not good numbers. These are GREAT numbers. These are record-setting numbers. And yet the numbers don’t tell the story; they don’t fully explain Linsanity.

You see, this doesn’t happen in the NBA. It just doesn’t happen. Of all the big-time sports in America, professional basketball is the most talent-driven and the most star-driven. And the talented are known quantities – often heralded since before high school as future stars. Stars played in the McDonald’s All-American Game when they were in high school. Stars were recruited to NCAA Tournament-caliber programs in college. Because when you have the talent, it gets noticed.

Except…it doesn’t. Not always. Not this time. Lin played for Harvard. Lin isn’t an abnormal physical specimen. Lin is Asian-American (unlike Yao Ming, who is Chinese). There is plenty, and I mean plenty, of discussion on the web about what sort of a factor race plays in the story of Jeremy Lin – and I’m not interested in rehashing that here. Suffice to say that when an athlete is able to overcome expectations and defies the conventions of their sport – be it conventions of race, nationality, physical factors, alma mater, or others – it is always worth celebrating.

What makes Jeremy Lin’s story so fantastic is all the angles – the unlikely hero who was never given a real shot is given one chance before being cut and becomes the redeemer of his struggling team and an overnight sensation. Now that’s a good hook.