New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin did something incredible last night. I’m not talking about his 38-point performance against the Lakers to lead the Knicks to their fourth straight win, though that was cool. Lin’s truly remarkable feat: He made me watch a regular season NBA game. After that, nothing is Linpossible. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
The 23-year-old with more nicknames than Jay-Z has become an overnight sensation in New York and a global phenomenon on Twitter. Lin is what I’ll call a “Feed Filler,” an individual who, while performing, takes over my Twitter timeline. From the Knicks’ 8:00 tip-off through this morning, it was all-Lin on the social networking site. Tebow Mania has nothing on Linsanity.
Yesterday I went inside a sporting goods store in Manhattan and saw an entire rack of Lin #17 jerseys and t-shirts for sale (see above photo). A few customers were pawing through the selection, looking for the right size. One was a middle-aged Asian man, a Lin Effect that can’t be ignored. Madison Square Garden has undoubtedly witnessed an Asian influx since Lin made his debut. Fans are making clever signs—“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Point Guard” comes to mind—and taking pride in the Asian-American star.
This is a great thing for the Knicks, the NBA, and New York. It is not yet, however, a great thing for Time Warner Cable or the Madison Square Garden television network. This was Lin’s fourth game playing major minutes—during which he has averaged 28 points and eight assists—but the first on national television (ESPN). Lin’s first appearance came against the New Jersey Nets, so many New Yorkers could watch on the YES Network. But Lin’s first start against Utah and his match-up with John Wall and Washington earlier this week were not televised locally due to a contract dispute between Time Warner and the MSG Network.
When the New York Giants were marching towards a Super Bowl and the Knicks were 8-15, many New Yorkers didn’t mind that they couldn’t watch the Knicks. Now that they’re winning—sorry, Linning—that has changed. Last night, New Yorkers and the rest of the country saw Lin outplay Kobe Bryant. If that didn’t whet fans’ appetites for Knicks basketball, nothing will. It will be interesting to see if the cable company and network feel added pressure to come to an agreement.
Regarding Lin’s long-term potential, we can’t forget that we’ve seen this before in sports—a player seemingly come out of nowhere and take the league by storm. Benny Agbayani and Shane Spencer are two examples from right here in New York. If you know who they are, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, it still proves my point.
Is there a basketball equivalent to finding a hole in a slugger’s swing? Probably, but people who know a lot more about basketball than I do think Lin is for real. What he is doing on the court—reading defenses, contorting his body to avoid much taller defenders, knocking down 18-foot jump shots—suggests he is not just a flash in the pan.
Some great articles have been written about Lin. We already know a little bit about him: his parents came to the United States from Taiwan; he went to Harvard because none of the other schools he preferred—Cal, Stanford, UCLA—wanted him; he was recently sleeping on his brother’s couch because he didn’t have a guaranteed contract. In the next few hours, days, and weeks, we’ll learn even more.
My favorite part of Lin’s emergence is the 100 percent serious talk about how Carmelo Anthony (currently sitting with a groin injury) will play alongside Lin. Similar debate surrounds Amar’e Stoudemire, who has been absent for Lin’s starts due to the death of his brother, but the general consensus is that the two will work well together in the pick-and-roll. In Anthony and Stoudemire we have a combined 11 All-Star Game appearances and $36,737,705 in salary for this season alone. Yet there is concern—legitimate concern!—over how they will mesh with an undrafted point guard who, three weeks ago, was playing for the Erie BayHawks of the NBA’s Development League.
Sports Illustrated college sports writer Andy Staples wrote on Twitter last night: “Jeremy Lin has me watching an NBA regular-season game. He is a miracle-worker.” Staples got a “second” from me and many others. What Lin will do next is anybody’s guess, but what he’s already done is unquestionably astonishing.