In the two weeks that New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has gone from a fringe NBA player to an international phenomenon and foundation for bad puns, the league’s first American-born player of Taiwanese descent has served as an inspiration to Asian Americans, Ivy Leaguers with hoop dreams, those who believe in the power of faith in a higher power and underdogs in general.
But there is an often overlooked or ignored faction that draws a similar amount of encouragement in Lin’s improbable journey: NBA benchwarmers.
Every player who makes it to the NBA has some amount of ability, and several players at the end of benches — even rotation players — see themselves in Lin. The NBA certainly isn’t filled with players who have Lin’s gifts, grit and basketball intelligence — but it does have plenty more who think that they, too, can thrive if given the same opportunity to play under a system that maximizes their individual talents and a coach willing to give them unwavering support.
Timing and location are two underrated factors to success in the NBA, and Linsanity was the perfect confluence of dumb luck, desperation and preparation.
And, it came close to never happening. The Knicks nearly waived Lin before Coach Mike D’Antoni heeded Carmelo Anthony’s call to give the kid a shot during a game against the New Jersey Nets. Since then, Lin has emerged as a starter, a novelty and now a star. He has taken control of the team, set an NBA record for points scored in the first five starts, and become a marketing sensation that has earned him a spot on the marquee along with Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
But fans of the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets – the teams that had Lin in their grasp and let him slip – and even the rest of the teams around the league that failed to draft him, should not fret or be upset because their organizations failed to see “special” in Lin. New York was the one place this sensation would occur this season, if ever.
The Warriors signed him for what was perceived as a marketing ploy, rarely played him as a rookie, then waived him in training camp to make a failed effort to sign DeAndre Jordan. The Rockets already had two point guards in tow and despite being impressed with what Lin showed in garbage time, they felt they needed to address their need for size by cutting him to get Samuel Dalembert.
The Knicks, on the other hand, were relying on an aging Mike Bibby and two shooting guards with none of the point guard instincts and intangibles to run D’Antoni’s complex, point-guard-driven offense. D’Antoni had helped elevate Steve Nash from all-star to a two-time most valuable player, and made Raymond Felton a borderline all-star, so he was searching for a competent player who could dribble, pass, shoot and make intelligent decisions – and waiting for Baron Davis to recover from a back injury had the Knicks slipping further out of relevancy.
Until Lin stepped in.
With the two high-priced all-stars sidelined, surrounded by a selfless and scrappy supporting cast that was looking to him to score, Lin was in the most ideal situation to flourish. Combined with the fact that the Knicks were also able to stumble upon their most favorable eight-game stretch of the season, with several lottery-bound foes lined up to get knocked down, and a legend has been formed.
Lin never lost confidence in what he could do, even as he was forced to troll through the Development League. Perhaps he was held back because of stereotypes about his race and coming from a school (Harvard) that has produced far more presidents and Internet billionaires than NBA stars. But none of that matters now. Disregarded no more, Lin has traded in obscurity for celebrity.
Lin has found his place.