A long time ago when Jeremy Lin was a high school student in Northern California, when he was the captain of his basketball team dreaming of much more, a college career at the very least, Jeremy Lin was, (once again), the underdog. It was the Division II Championship game and Jeremy Lin was playing against one of the greatest basketball programs the state of California has ever seen: Mater Dei High.
Not favored to inflict any kind of damage upon Mater Dei, the Vikings of Palo Alto went into the game as the other team. They were 33-1. Jeremy was the captain, an unusual sight because he was Asian American, an unusual sight because he was the product of parents who were no taller than 5-6. Jeremy Lin was a 6-2 driver to the rim. He had an innate feel of the point guard position, something his future coach Mike D’antoni would be amazed by. Lin averaged fifteen points that season.
Mater Dei had a huge front line, 6-8 tall players and above. Lin had 17 points but he missed 13 shots. He had 8 rebounds. He had 2 assists. But what Lin did that night was what he has been accused of not doing throughout his NBA career. Jeremy Lin and his teammates played ferocious defense, so much so, the Vikings held Mater Dei to 29% shooting. It won them the Division II State Championship.
Two years ago Jeremy Lin was a journeyman player picked up by the New York Knicks off of waivers. He was buried on Mike D’antoni’s bench, the fourth guard in the rotation. He was set to be released before February 10th when his contract would be guaranteed. And then this happened.
On February 4th against the New Jersey Nets, guarded by Deron Williams, Lin had 25 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists. In the next game Lin had 28 points and 8 assists. In the next game against the Wizards and John Wall, who Lin had competed against in the summer league, he had 23 points and 10 assists. He played the Lakers the following night and had 38 points and 7 assists. On February 11 he scored 20 points and 8 assists against the Timberwolves. Lin was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 27 points, 8 assists, and 2 steals.
Jeremy Lin was the first player in NBA history to score 20 points and have 7 assists in his first five starts.
Of course that Jeremy Lin was the Jeremy Lin in a vacuum. You had to see it to believe it, an undrafted player from Harvard carrying a team from one victory to the next. Naturally, it was a phenomenon and like all rare things produced by the universe it could not last. Against the Miami Heat Jeremy Lin went 1-11, smothered by Mario Chalmers. And that was that. Jeremy Lin was who we knew he was all along. Not great. Not terrible. A solid NBA player. A good point guard.
Jeremy Lin signed as a restricted free agent in July of 2012, cashing in on his New York success, inking a deal with the Houston Rockets. And then in October, a few months later, things changed for Jeremy Lin, his Houston fate. The Houston Rockets signed James Harden, trading away Kevin Martin who would have been the perfect shooting guard to compliment Lin. Martin did not need the ball, Lin could control tempo and offense.
But James Harden was a different sort of player altogether, a magical player, a superstar who had waited his turn and exerted an inordinate amount of patience in the Oklahoma City Thunder system. Harden could not be pigeonholed. He was a combo guard who needed the ball in his hands. Lin, a pick and roll guard, needed to set up the offense and his teammates. It never really worked. Harden had a penchant of dribbling the ball, holding it and then jacking up shots. Or driving to the rim without including his teammates in the possession. For Lin, who was still learning how to play in the NBA, a backcourt dominant player like Harden was a puzzle he did not have the experience or the personality to solve. His game regressed as did his confidence. He lost his starting job to Patrick Beverly.
Early in his career Jeremy Lin was in the D-league three times and what he learned was that if he was the first one there and the last one to leave, if he worked harder than anyone else, if he did what Jeremy Lin always did- study, work, inhale, absorb, remember, try, focus, study, work, inhale, absorb, remember, focus then someone would notice. They would have to.
His NBA stops- the Warriors, Knicks, Rockets- have all meant one thing in the history books. The first Amercian of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to ever put on a NBA uniform. For all that this has meant to this country and its Asian population not known for athletic achievements, in Taiwan Jeremy Lin has been bathed in holy water. The Taiwanese people absorb everything about him to the point he is not a young man to them. He is a young God put on this earth to deliver to them grace, piety and blessings.
Jeremy’s skill is getting into the paint and finishing at the rim. He is a willing passer and an able shot maker from distance. A Harvard degree in Economics speaks for itself, he is smart on the court. But he is particularly awful in one-on-one defensive assignments. His footwork is average and often his confidence comes and goes when he can’t stop his defender.
Sports is filled with ironies. Jeremy Lin’s first NBA’s basket was against the Los Angeles Lakers. He had 3 assists and four steals, playing 11 minutes in the third quarter. He also had 5 fouls. And so it is. The place it all started for Lin, the first time he saw the ball go in the basket was Staples Center. It is where he first believed he belonged. It is where he will go next. The Staples Center. It will be supportive and enthusiastic, the reception he will receive his first night. Los Angeles is home to a large Asian community and they will adore every moment Jeremy Lin is on the court, a sight few thought they would ever see in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. And there is this too: Kobe with the Asian first name and Jeremy with the Asian last name.
Jeremy and Kobe in the backcourt offer possibilities because of their differing skill set. Jeremy as a driver. Kobe as a post scorer and mid range shooter. Jeremy as a spot up shooter and Kobe as a scoring artist. But there is something else too even more amazing than their fit. There is the old guy who was destined to be great. And there is the young guy destined to be out of the league by now. They proved everyone right once upon a time and they proved everyone wrong.
2014-15 is waiting.