Four years ago when Jeremy Lin played in the D-League he was an explosive ball handler with an enormous work ethic and an Econ degree. He also had promise- that was the best thing you could say about the Harvard educated rookie. But no one thought he’d be an All-Star. The Warriors waived Lin after 18 months. And thus began a cycle in which a significant part of Jeremy Lin’s future was out of his control.
Lin was picked up by the Rockets and then waived. The Knicks pulled Jeremy Lin out of the scrap heap and he lingered famously on the bench until he became famous in a rags to riches kind of way. Capitalizing on his newly minted narrative, Jeremy Lin, in the offseason of 2012, took a lot of money he didn’t deserve and signed with the Rockets. But he lost his starting job amid a lot of I-told-you-so’s. In his last act of marginalization he was traded for cap space to the Lakers.
Jeremy Lin was half way around the world when he heard of his trade to the Lakers. China was a good place to be; China loves the Lakers and embraced Lin with more passion and idolatry than if he had been traded to the 76ers. If Lin was startled by the news of the trade so were the Chinese. Many of them could not sleep once they found out about Jeremy Lin’s new destination. For them it was a dream come true. These are the same people who wait for hours in the sun to see a glimpse of Kobe Bryant’s face. They immerse themselves in Lakers gear as if jerseys alone are sacred garments. Not surprisingly, the Lakers are the most popular team in China.
Before the Lakers left for China last year, Judy Seto, the Lakers physical therapist, spoke about her parents country. “Basketball has a strong heritage in China. In some of the places in China people say ‘we have waited a lifetime for them (Lakers) to come. To have the Lakers in my country in my city is a dream come true.’ Basketball has been popular in China for a long time.”
It is that immense popularity that may translate itself into All-Star votes for Jeremy Lin. China has a huge voice in the makeup of the NBA All-Star team just by virtue of its residents: a billion strong. In 2011, an injured Yao Ming was voted in as a starter in the All-Star game even though his season was over. Thank you China. Kobe Bryant was voted in as an All-Star in 2014 even though he played six games. Credit China for their blind allegiance.
Skating the narrow line of being an All-Star and causing chaos has always been Jeremy Lin’s burden. In 2013 he received 839,000 votes. It was 45,000 votes less than Chris Paul. Lin was relieved not to make a team he did not belong on.
In 2014 Lin received 628,000 votes, fourth among Western Conference guards. But he had 150,000 more votes than James Harden, his own teammate who averaged 25 points a game. Lin had 311,000 more votes than Russell Westbrook. He had 370,000 more votes than Tony Parker.
Wearing a Lakers uniform, Lin’s Chinese popularity has already skyrocketed. Asian-Americans who look at Jeremy Lin as a heroic ceiling breaker have been reenergized. For the first time in his career Jeremy Lin will play a Christmas Day game, will be seen by millions. The access TimeWarner Cable has with the Lakers will open up opportunities for a new breed of Lin followers who don’t judge his value on stats but on what he has done to elevate Asian people in a sport where no Asian guard has ever excelled.
This is territory the WNBA recently covered when Atlanta rookie Shoni Schimmel, the first Native American basketball player to play in the women’s league, made the All-Star team as a starter. She was third in total votes. Like Lin, Schimmel is explosive to the rim and plays with flair. Like Lin, a documentary film was made about her struggles. Like Lin she is hardly a star, she averages 9 points a game. Her WNBA coach, former Lakers star Michael Cooper, does not even start Schimmel. But if fans have one thing in common it is this: they love impossible stories. Schimmel, who was raised on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, defied every possible odd and became a professional ballplayer. All she did in the WNBA All-Star game was score the most points ever scored in a WNBA All-Star game. She won the MVP.
Do NBA fans want to see Jeremy Lin in the All-Star game at the expense of Damien Lillard or Tony Parker? Maybe not. But Chinese fans do. Asian-Americans do. Last year when Dwight Howard wasn’t voted in as a starter, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey went on Twitter to vent. It was ironic since Twitter is the problem. Fans now can vote on social media (Chinese fans vote on Weibo). Morey finds the social media voting apparatus biased which of course it is.
But if Morey was mad last year about Dwight Howard not being a starter imagine his outrage this year if Jeremy Lin (the player he gave away for nothing) keeps James Harden out of New York in 2015. Further imagine Jeremy Lin back in Madison Square Garden, the place of his greatest triumph where he became Jeremy Lin. Now that would be a story.