Three years ago on the last night of the season in a meaningless game in the Bay Area, Jeremy Lin missed a layup. It was not a particularly noteworthy failure other than it would have given the Golden State Warriors a 4 point lead. But consider the source. It was Jeremy Lin after all, local kid. Everything up to that point had been a stereotype. He was an undrafted NBA rookie fighting for respectability. He had already been sent to the D-league twice. He was trying to keep his head above water as he attempted to carve out a NBA career.
On that last night of the season in 2011 Jeremy Lin would not know what lay ahead, that his days in Oakland would be numbered. He would not know he would be waived. He would not know the New York Knicks would open a door and he would run through it. He would not know the change in his destiny would give birth to idolization because of his rise to fame so swiftly. He would not know the twists and turns of his basketball life would include being the most famous athlete in the world for 19 days.
That night in April, Jeremy Lin was a rookie playing in his last game of the year. He played his most minutes (23) and had 12 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds- his best all around performance. He had 0 turnovers and shot 62%.
But the Warriors thought so much of that April performance they would waive Jeremy Lin the following December. Joe Lacob, Warriors owner said, “Is he going to be a superstar. No.”
But in that April game, Lin would sub in for Steph Curry. He would grab a rebound, miss his first shot, foul Paddy Mills, make his second shot, get another rebound and then draw a clear path foul on Rudy Fernandez which put him at the line. It was the one thing Jeremy Lin possessed over every other complication and doubt. It was his glory and his crown: speed. He drove the ball, sometimes too hard, he drove the ball and lost control of his body and the pace of the game but he kept attacking as if he was unconscious.
The game in April ended with a 24 point Warrior lead and a vacation. The Warriors did not make the playoffs even though they had Steph Curry and Monta Ellis. Jeremy Lin’s California dream ended pretty much the same way it started, without very many expectations he would last in the league.
Ten months later Jeremy Lin would shoot into stardom and become the mythical Jeremy Lin. With all of the hype he would become famous and with all the hype he would become an Asian caricature; he would lose sight of Jeremy Lin the economics major while becoming Jeremy Lin the commodity only to discover he was more of one and less of the other.
In the 19 days of Linsanity when he was great- before he became rather ordinary, there was a high point, a benchmark Jeremy Lin still covets. It was the game still talked about, the one against the Lakers at Madison Square Garden when Jeremy Lin scored 38 points and was unstoppable. It was a Friday night game on ESPN which made it even more unbelievable and iconic. Because it was the Lakers and because it was Kobe and because Jeremy Lin was a nobody who destroyed the Lakers, Jeremy Lin became someone he could never ever be.
There is something so brilliant about a phenomenon that makes it blinding just before it makes it abnormal. Jeremy Lin felt pressure to duplicate what he did against the Lakers on ESPN. He wanted to prove he was that person, he could do that thing night after night after night. And for the next seven games he scored and he assisted and he was the most important part of the Knicks team as he added more chapters to his unfathomable myth, one that was written in stone, that thing about dreams and the underdog and believing anything is possible.
But against the Miami Heat the Jeremy Lin bubble burst, this time on TNT. Mario Chalmers made it his job to pull back the curtain on Jeremy Lin and expose him for exactly what he was, a second year player who had a hot streak that could not last, because as Joe Lacob said earlier, Jeremy Lin would never be a superstar.
The good thing is the Lakers are not expecting Jeremy Lin to be anything other than Jeremy Lin. When Jeremy Lin faced the media as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers he was reserved and soft spoken and admitted he had matured since his Linsanity days. “I’m not trying to create Linsanity. I’m not trying to be that phenomenon that happened in New York.” And yet he selected the same number (17) that was immortalized during that special period in 2012.
So much of Jeremy Lin’s life has been a surprise. Linsanity was a surpise and the Rockets aggression to get him was a surprise. Being benched in favor of Patrick Beverly was a surprise. So it was no wonder then that Jeremy Lin was surprised at hearing he was traded to the Lakers. It seemed unbelievable to the Torrance born Lin. But once that wore off he continued as usual, touring China and meeting his off season goal to add a floater, one more weapon to his attacking style of play.
“Now my goal is I’m not trying to be a player from the past.” Even if he wanted to be he simply couldn’t. As special and as overwhelming and as energizing as Linsanity was, it also was one of those miraculous moments in time that was not meant to last. It had to be born. It had to live. It had to be crucified.
Because he is joining a team with Kobe Bryant, Lin feels the least amount of pressure than ever. He doesn’t have to have a voice that rises above others. He doesn’t have to justify Linsanity. He doesn’t have to prove his Rockets contract was worthwhile. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder; he is just as good as any other point guard on the Lakers roster. All Jeremy Lin has to do is contribute to the team by giving the Lakers himself, by attacking the rim and improving on defense and controlling the offense with dribble penetration.
Fatigued from China- Jeremy Lin arrived this morning- finished with his morning work out, Jeremy Lin was subdued but mature and pretty straight forward when assessing his past. Linsanity is the center of his fame. It gave him notoriety and popularity. It gave him financial independence. Now it is nudged to the side, no longer that thing he has to prove, because now he plays for the Lakers and that is insanity in and of itself.
And just in case he loses perspective on what is important and what it means to be a Los Angeles Laker, Jeremy Lin received a text from Kobe. It said “we have work to do.”