The Revolution of Jeremy Lin

Photo from Getty Images

Ideologies, be it scientific, political, or religious, have long dominated the world and clustered society into different categories according to what a faction of a mass believes. Oftentimes, these ideologies that clash trickle into disagreements, disagreements that turn into full-fledged wars. It’s what defines the very divide between communism and capitalism, between Christians and non-believers, between flat-Earthers and sane people.

However, ideologies aren’t simply restricted to the mentioned elements of society. It’s omnipresent in basketball, too. Take Kobe Bryant and his Mamba Mentality, for example. Derived from the ferocity of Michael Jordan, the Mamba Mentality is a driving force for Bryant that only covers one rule: work your fucking ass off. Bryant created this ideology on the grounds that one has to do whatever it takes to be the best they can be, a take-no-prisoners approach to the game, perhaps even to life. It builds on this implied mentality that one takes no form of disrespect. After all, confidence is the very key to truly achieving the Mamba Mentality aside from, well, the obviously blatant part of it all which is hard work.

Kobe always took this to heart. Case in point: when his Lakers visited the New York Knicks in MSG on February 10, 2012. Actually, let’s backtrack a bit. Days before, reporters hounded Bryant after their win over arch rival Celtics, with a certain Knickerbocker by the name of Jeremy Lin seemingly as the main talking point as the Lakers prepare to travel to the Big Apple.

Bryant isn’t exactly the humblest player in the world, yet justifiably so because of his undeniable legend. Though as much as his ideology was ever present in the NBA, a new faction of the masses was starting to bloom at the time. The truth is, Lin, who was really nothing worthwhile just a few weeks back, was starting to gain traction in the news cycle. More and more people started to talk about this Asian-American kid from Harvard, just as proportionally as more and more wins started to go towards the way of the hapless Knicks.

A new ideology, nay, a phenomenon, was starting to make its way to the league: Lin was the Messiah, Madison Square Garden was the holy place, and Linsanity was the message.

In the interview, Bryant simply scoffed at the questions with this so-called “Linsanity”, seemingly with an air of offense. “Who is this kid? What has he been doing?” Bryant laughed, as he jokingly ended with a “Jesus Christ” to affirm that he wasn’t worried at all about this kid. He is Kobe Bryant, after all.

All of Bryant’s rhetorical questions from the now ill-aged interview were answered. In February 10, 2012, Mamba Mentality wasn’t the prevailing ideology. It was Linsanity. ‘This kid’ Jeremy Lin absolutely torched the Lakers defense and carried the Knicks to a 92–85 victory. Another win, another story, another collection of believers in the growing legend of Jeremy Lin.

For two whole months in the waning moments of 2012, the basketball world stood at a standstill as they watched with wonder the unprecedented rise of Jeremy Lin. What was once a mere roster-filling signing to the minimum in late 2011 by the Knicks turned into a global phenomenon that will forever be etched in basketball history, and Lin, brick by brick, made his way one game at a time.

It’s just one game…

The birth of Linsanity didn’t get off the ground running right away, in fact, it had to endure a less than mediocre start. When Lin was picked up by New York on December 27, 2011, they didn’t expect more of him other than to fill in some point guard minutes as the Knicks, being the Knicks, saw their lead playmaker Baron Davis constantly being sidelined by an elbow injury.

The rest of their guard rotation seemed to be weaved of patchwork: Mike Bibby was old, and Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, and Landry Fields were simply too young and lacked the ability to lead the position. The Lin signing was a grasp for straws for the Knicks in a lockout-shortened season. He was an extremely raw sophomore guard with a sliver of promise from his insignificant rookie year with Golden State. Simply put, he was playing for minutes fodder until Davis was fully healthy.

Lin was as bad as any other benchwarmer in the league during his first 9 games. He averaged a measly 3.6 points and 1.9 assists, playing a grand total of 55 minutes. Judging from how their season panned out that year, it looked like the Knicks were on their way to another disappointing end with Lin set to be another background player in passing as the season went on.

It is with no surprise that when the 8–15 Knicks took the floor against the 8–16 New Jersey Nets in MSG, nobody was anticipating anything at all. The Nets, who would finish with a 22–44 record for 12th in the East, were just straight up bad, while the Knicks were in the middle of a tough stretch that could have decided their momentum to even sniff the playoffs. There was no real storyline to this game by as the two Knick stars Carmelo Anthony and A’mare Stoudemire were constantly sitting out games due to recurring injuries.

Lin checked in the game late in the first quarter, being the first point guard off the Knicks bench as the Nets built up an early double-digit lead. There was a small roar from the Knicks crowd as Lin entered, with the feeling being more of relief for the team’s token Asian-American player finally getting some shine.

The small roar resumed with Lin assisting Landry Fields on a pull up jumper. The small roar was replaced with bursts of excitement when Lin exploded to the rim off a backboard cut, finishing acrobatically with a big man right on his path. Contrary to popular belief, to the norms and hierarchy of basketball in the US, that was supposed to be it.

Except, Lin didn’t want to be just merely a token. In a league where foreign players, much less those of Asian descent, weren’t due of much respect, he could actually become…

Just before one could think of a proper new definition to best fit Lin, he made another play, one off of his steal from the Nets’ Jordan Farmar, and a fast break assist up ahead for Toney Douglas. The Knicks inched closer, Lin’s presence inched farther from the court side seats to the upper bowl. 

With each play he was involved in, Lin’s impact on this game continued to grow. Lin bounced it to an open Jared Jeffries. Lin sank a floater off of a pass from Tyson Chandler. Lin returned the favor to Chandler with an alley-oop. Lin forced a jump ball on Deron Williams. Jeremy Lin was everywhere now.

What was once supposed to be a dead crowd cheering on a bad team to win against a bad team now turned into one that was under the spell of Lin’s magic. He ended the first half with 6 points and 4 assists, but that had to be the end of it right? Nope. It didn’t end there. Lin went on to score 19 of his 25 points in the game in the second half, electrifying the Knicks en route to a win.

What was supposed to be game that was going to fade into obscurity was now the hottest piece of news in town. What was supposed to be chance minutes for a third-string point guard was now important winning time for Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni. For every strong finish in the paint, every smile on his face as he runs back on defense, every good pass, every victorious scream to the crowd, the Lin mob chanting “JE-RE-MY!” in unison grew and grew.

Understandably, there were still a lot of people failing to turn over to the Lin hype machine. He played great, yes, but great Jeremy Lin games have never existed before that day. By all definitions, this game was supposed to be a fluke, until it never was. The Knicks netted two more wins against Utah and Washington, and with stars Anthony and Stoudemire still out sidelined, who other than Jeremy Lin being at the forefront with a couple more 20-point games, even chipping in a double-double in a head-to-head match-up against John Wall.

In a matter of days, Jeremy Lin alone transformed a Knicks team well on its way to infamy, to the home of a league-wide sensation.

…but it turned into Linsanity

Remember how Kobe shrugged off Lin? Now, no one can really blame Kobe for his take, because the Knicks had no business being on the floor against the Lakers. Reviewing the box score of the game, New York only went 8-deep with Anthony, Stoudemire, and Davis taking on DNPs. The rotation got so bad that even Mike Bibby had to play 11 minutes. Meanwhile, the Lakers were at full force with their 2010 title-winning starters of Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Fisher, and World Peace still intact; Lin was the least of their concerns.

Lin went on to outplay all of the Lakers starters that game. In the opening minutes of the game, Lin regathered a broken play and found himself open in the corner for a three. As he prepared for launch, Andrew Bynum decided not to put a hand up, and sure enough, it went in. As the Knicks started to build momentum midway through the first quarter, World Peace had the ball stolen at half court. Lin tracked it down and raced up the court for a breakaway layup. Pandemonium ensues in MSG as the Knicks lead ballooned to nine. 

It was as if he relentlessly replayed Kobe’s interview pregame and made it his personal vendetta to destroy the Laker defense the way he started that night, but Lin wasn’t like that. He just went out there and played. This wasn’t just luck or coincidence anymore, this was real, and it was Linsanity.

In what was the most iconic play of the game, Lin grabbed a rebound and raced up on offense to start a play in the second quarter. He secured a keen eye on Derek Fisher — who he was abusing all night — and took one hard dribble to the right. Just as Fisher engaged him in that direction, Lin swiftly spun around Fish and banked in a layup in one motion.

At this point, the Knicks fans were in an uncontrollable frenzy, a sort of euphoria that you get when you finally see something good after years’ worth of pain. In a game where the glorious Lakers were playing, Lin was the player with the most confidence on the floor.

In the waning moments of the game with the Knicks up eight, Lin surveyed the floor for a potential play. After a series of magnificent assists, threes, and layups in the plays prior, it was time to take this home with the one thing that could legitimize Linsanity even more: a win.

Lin decided to take it upon himself and drove to the basket. He’s met by the towering Gasol at the rim, but, as he did the rest of the night, he pulled off something magical. Lin shifted into a tough reverse layup to put the Knicks up 10. It was the dagger that killed the Laker comeback. Lin finished with a game-high 38 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and two steals. Kobe Bryant knew who he was now. The rest of the world now did too.

Linsanity had officially reached global heights after that match. In retrospect, that Knicks-Lakers game was the pinnacle of Linsanity, but from then on during the season, big Lin games were commonplace now. It seemed as if every day, the news cycle couldn’t wait to get a piece of the best story in the world, and every night that Lin played, the sensation grew bigger and bigger.

Being Asian-American, he carried more than just the ‘NEW YORK’ on his chest and the ‘LIN’ on his back. He became the very representative of Asians in sports. He wasn’t just a token anymore, he became a symbol for an entire race of people who were terribly underrepresented in the biggest professional sports leagues.

Photo from Getty Images

All good things must come to an end

As much of a feel-good of a story Linsanity was, it still wasn’t powerful enough to combat the woes that be for an NBA team during a season, most especially the New York Knicks. When Carmelo Anthony returned to the lineup after being sidelined by a groin injury, it signified another batch of alterations to the Knicks’ play style midseason. The last time Anthony played was the first game of Linsanity against the Nets, and since then, he missed eight games, all of which the team ran a system catering heavily to the pick-and-roll, Lin’s bread and butter. Since Anthony’s return, the Knicks went an abysmal 2–8, and in a dramatic turn of events, Mike D’Antoni stepped down as the Knicks Head Coach on March 14, 2012, as he felt it was “best for the organization”. 

With Mike Woodson now in as Interim Head Coach, it never was the same for all the highs Linsanity produced. The shift to an isolation offense took a hit on Lin’s play, and his numbers dipped to averages of 13.3 points and 42.86% shooting from the field, a far cry from his 25 points per game on 50.93% field goal percentage before Anthony’s return. Linsanity in New York reached a screeching halt after a game against the Detroit Pistons on March 24, 2012, when Lin exited the game prematurely due to a torn meniscus. Exactly a week later, the Knicks announced that Lin would be undergoing surgery for the injury, and that would be the last we have seen of Lin in New York.

Life A.L. — After Linsanity

Lin’s career after New York, after Linsanity was, to say the least, not as relatively significant.

The Knicks decided to let Lin walk in the summer of 2012. Lin accepted an offer sheet to play for the Houston Rockets, but just as the motions were in play for Lin to be handed the keys to the offense, the Rockets pulled of one of the greatest heists of recent history by trading for OKC’s James Harden, an on-ball heavy scorer with a knack for playmaking. Playing alongside Harden, Lin had a rollercoaster of a stint in Houston, proving further the fact that he wasn’t as effective off the ball. 

After two seasons with the Rockets, Lin moved to LA, but had his most disappointing season since Linsanity on a tanking Lakers squad. Lin had a bit of a comeback the following season with the Hornets, playing excellently as the sixth man to Kemba Walker on an overachieving Charlotte team. That was enough for the Brooklyn Nets to offer Lin to a 3 year, $36 million contract to secure his services. He had his flashes during the 2016–2017 season, Lin showed progress as the lead playmaker for Brooklyn, but injuries hampered Lin from having any semblance of consistent NBA success. The following season, Lin suffered a season-ending injury in the very first game when he ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee. He was traded to the Hawks the season after, bought out, and then finally signed by the Toronto Raptors where he won an NBA title. In the summer of 2019, Lin signed with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks in which he currently plays for.

Linsanity, in all its glory, was also sadly a sole representation of Lin’s career in the NBA. As fast as the phenomenon took Lin to the top, unfortunate circumstances down the road prompted his NBA story to be cut short.

Despite a far-from-story book ending to Linsanity, that era gave the world the inspiring story of one scrawny Taiwanese-American kid from Harvard who had a dream to play in the NBA. Lin’s impact off the basketball court was, and still is, immensely larger than that on it. Before Lin, the very shortlist of NBA players of Asian descent, headlined by Sun Yue, Yi Jianlian, and of course, Yao Ming, lacked inspiration because of the sheer scarcity of Asian representation. When Lin stepped on the floor and was under the magnifying glass of the world for two whole months, he inspired a lot of fellow scrawny Asian kids who shared his dream. He gave Asian kids another option beyond watching LeBron James and Kobe Bryant highlights. For two months, they were watching Jeremy Lin highlights because they could heavily identify with him.

Photo from Jeremy Lin’s Instagram

Since then, the situation has been relatively better with more and more Asian blood on the come up in the dregs of professional sports. Soon enough, the NBA could be teemed with Asian-bred talent, and we have Linsanity to thank for that. In these confusing times, let Lin’s story be highlighted by how he was insane enough, to pursue his basketball ambitions that made him a cultural pillar and a trailblazer of a basketball revolution.