By Shayna Schor
One year ago, Jeremy Lin’s name carried little ring to it. “He’s a minimum, inexpensive asset. Is he going to be a superstar? No.” This lackluster sentiment expressed in late 2010 by Golden State Warriors team owner, Joe Lacob, who signed the then 22-year-old Harvard grad, accurately reflects how most fans and experts felt about Lin. They did not underestimate his skill, but they were fairly certain he was not the next Isaiah Thomas.
This undistinguished reputation had shadowed Lin for the majority of his basketball career. Despite earning the Player of the Year title for both first-team All-State and Northern California Division II during his senior year in high school, he graduated without a single offer for an athletic scholarship. Regardless of the numerous Ivy League records he had set by his final season on the Harvard Crimson – 1,483 points, 487 rebounds, 406 assists and 225 steals – Jeremy Lin went undrafted into the NBA in 2010. His time on the Warriors was short lived, and the Houston Rockets cut him soon after he was signed, too. In each case, a surplus of guards, deficit of minutes, and clash of styles blocked Lin from making a name for himself.
Even after Lin was signed by the New York Knicks late last December as third-string point guard, his talent was doubted; he was almost released at the end of January. But he stayed on and, when a frustrated D’Antoni “desperately” threw Lin in to break a losing streak, the Harvard grad of Taiwanese descent shocked fans nationwide. On February 10th, with seven assists and 38 points to outscore Kobe Bryant’s 34, Lin led the Knicks to a 92-85 victory over the Lakers. When Lin scored the winning three-pointer in the final second of the game against the Raptors four days later, “Linsanity” had officially set in. Leaving the Knicks with an undefeated record for the first seven games in which he started, Lin was unstoppable.
“We’ve never seen it all come from a guy who, two weeks beforehand, was fourth or fifth on a point guard depth chart, undrafted, overlooked coming out of high school, cut by two teams. It just doesn’t happen this way,” said New York Times sports writer Howard Beck in an interview with Fox Sports. “Jeremy Lin is a guy who nobody thought was even a rotation player possibly a few weeks back, and he’s doing things that usually we only see all stars do.”
What’s noteworthy about Lin is the mark he has left on the public eye. It may have taken him some time to get his name out there but, now that he is exposed, he exerts an unprecedented magnetic pull, drawing press and fans alike. He is an undrafted rookie who had a press conference with national media the moment he signed with the Warriors. He is the most sought after interviewee on the team, and he was asked to be the focus of a documentary soon after signing. A reporter from Taiwan requested to trail him once he joined the team. From February 6th to 14th, Lin’s name was mentioned 2.6 million times on Twitter. Headlines like “Thril-Lin” and “Amasian” dominated national news. So what is it that draws everyone to Lin?
Many argue that his unique background makes him stand out. A Harvard graduate who led the campus’s Asian American Christian Fellowship, Lin is not necessarily the poster boy for the NBA. The Ivy League is highly underrepresented in the NBA, having no drafts since Penn’s Jerome Allen in 1995. Lin is the fourth Asian American to make the NBA and the only one of his descent in the league currently. His impact on racial stereotypes has been a topic of contention: whereas some see him as breaking the traditional stereotype of a non-athletic Asian, others believe he is reinforcing the “Model Minority Myth” of a successful, overachieving underdog.
Perhaps what makes Lin most charming to crowds is his genuine character. He struggles to hide his dimples when told that President Obama has been watching his games. The grin that breaks through when he acknowledges his dedication to teammates and gratitude to mentors reveals an unparalleled degree of authenticity. “You know you can fall as fast as you rise and that’s just a reality of the situation,” said Lin in a press conference. “I just want to make sure I’m not doing a disservice to my team by milking all the attention… because at the end of the day, that’s now what I love – I love basketball, that’s my passion. I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to give myself and my team the best opportunity to win.”
This is a man who runs basketball camps for Taiwanese children in the summer, who giggles before reporters as he recalls the children he coached. Despite the sudden stardom, it is clear that Lin remains intently focused on the game, on and off the court. Maybe fans love Jeremy Lin so much because he comes across as a grounded, engaged, invested team player. For whatever reason, the public is addicted. The understated Ivy League American Asian point guard has the world waiting to watch his next play.