What’s with Linsanity?

(Originally posted on HilaryPhelps.com March 6, 2012)

Linsanity, Linbound, Linvaluable and 946 more have been named on Yahoo as of this morning.  There’s no question about it, Jeremy Lin has arrived to fanfare unlike any other NBA player in history.  But what’s so great about him?

The breakout star of the Knicks was the second of three boys born in America to Taiwanese parents who immigrated to the United States in the 70’s. He received no athletic scholarship out of high school and remained undrafted when he graduated from Harvard, where during his college career less than 0.5% of men’s Division I college basketball players were Asian. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN picked Lin among the 12 most versatile players in college basketball and upon graduation eight teams invited Lin to pre-draft workouts. Lin was top-notch during at five on five workouts, a formation not seen in NBA tryouts. The New York Times later described Lin as “a smart passer with a flawed jump shot and a thin frame, who might not have the strength and athleticism to defend, create his own shot or finish at the rim in the N.B.A.”

Lin came out of college, and reached a partially guaranteed contract with the Golden State Warriors in 2010 as the first American player in the league to be of Chinese or Taiwanese decent (Yao Ming came directly from China, not America, and spoke very little English). The team held a press conference, which was virtually unheard of for a player of his status, but with a large Asian population in the San Francisco Bay Area he already had a huge following even though he seldom saw playing time and was soon sent to the D- league (NBA’s Developmental League).  From there, he went to the Houston Rockets and then onto his current home, the New York Knicks.  He bounced back and forth three different times between the D-league and the NBA before being pulled up to the Knicks, where he was placed as fourth on the Point Guard depth spot and was playing for a back-up position. Having a rightful fear of being cut again, that he asked a chaplain at a pregame prayer service to pray for him.If released again, Lin considered playing in Europe, returning to the D-league, or taking a break with a non-basketball job. With players injured, and after losing in the Fourth Quarter to the Celtics, the Knicks played Jeremy Lin in what they call desperation.  Only a few days before, there was internal discussion of cutting him because his salary became guaranteed in February.

In a January Sports Illustrated article dedicated to the greatness that is Tom Brady, it contributed his athletic prowess to his work ethic.  Playing second-string quarterback at the University of Michigan to players such as Brain Griese and sharing a spot with Drew Henson, Brady watched game film until his eyes were bleary and to the point where he could literally, and in a Matrix-esque fashion could visualize the players’ movements on the field before they physically moved a muscle.  Like Brady, Lin wasn’t the natural athlete, but worked harder and longer than his teammates to create his athletic destiny.  He studied the game and put in effort; Lin arrives early to practice and stays later than the other players in an effort to hone his skills.

Noted in a recent ESPN article, “I haven’t done a computation, but it’s fair to say that no player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time, in any sport, that I’m aware of like Jeremy Lin has” marveled NBA commissioner David Stern.  After several instances of remarks made in poor taste, whether intentional or in jest, the Asian American Journalist Association (AAJA) released a set of guidelines to the media in response to what it termed as “factual inaccuracies about Lin’s background as well as an alarming number of references that rely on stereotypes about Asians or Asian Americans.”  Sales for the Lin jersey increased by 3000%, and since February 4, his jersey has been the best selling in the NBA. Nike and Adidas introduced Lin-related athletic apparel, and expected that his fame would help sales in China. The audience for NBA games on television and online in China rose 39 percent over the previous season.

In early 2012, Lin slept on his brother’s couch in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.  The night before his breakout game, he slept on the couch of teammate Landry Fields.After his Knicks contract became guaranteed, he relocated to his own condo in White Plains, New York.  Jeremy Lin’s time has come.

When asked about Lin, Kobe Bryant said, “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.”  It’s not the athlete with the freakishly talented athleticism that has staying power, it’s the athlete who shoots balls, swim laps and runs routes well after the lights have gone down over the practice arena; it’s the athlete who goes the extra mile and breathes the sport into every ounce of his being; the quiet one working behind the scenes striving to achieve athletic dominance who has staying power.  It doesn’t happen by accident, it is crafted through years of doing what most are unwilling to not only mentally conceive, but willing to physically do, going above and beyond what is required, seen and noticed.

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