Thursday, February 23, 2012

Linsanity: an unlikely superstar

Until two weeks ago, I dare anyone to say they knew who Jeremy Lin was. Today, you have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t. For the past two weeks, the topic of conversations on ESPN and all sports TV and radio centered on Lin, the 2010 Harvard grad who came out of obscurity to become the talk of the NBA – and the entire sports world.
Talk about an underdog story, Lin is the ultimate NBA overachiever: He received no athletic scholarship offers out of high school, was undrafted out of college, cut by two NBA teams, then picked up by the Knicks and subsequently sent to the NBA D-League. After a triple double with the Erie Bayhawks, Jan. 20, Lin was recalled by the Knicks. If not for the Knicks playing so abysmally, this feel-good story likely wouldn’t have happened and we all wouldn’t be treated to the joy that is “Linsanity.” After the Knicks squandered a fourth quarter lead to the Celtics, Feb. 3, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni decided to give Lin a chance – and he made the best of the opportunity. Off the bench, Lin had 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a 99–92 win. In the Knicks next game, Lin got his first NBA start, scoring 28 points and eights assists.
His first four NBA starts read like a Hollywood script – including scoring 38 against the Lakers to lead all scorers. He is the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first four starts and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals in those four games. Just when we think the Lin story can’t get more exciting, he scores a game-winning three-pointer with five-tenths of a second remaining against the Toronto Raptors.
What Lin is doing is something we’ve never seen at this level of sports – a player rise from absolute obscurity to global superstardom in just a week. The clearest proof of this lies in fantasy – two weeks ago, Lin was owned in 0 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues; today, he is owned in 100 percent of the leagues. Want more proof? Sales and traffic for the Knicks online store increased more than 3,000 percent since they introduced the No. 17 jersey and t-shirts. Linsanity has even stretched beyond the sports world – since Lin’s Feb. 4 debut, stock in Madison Square Garden Inc., the company that owns the Knicks, the Garden and the namesake sports network, has surged increased 9 percent to an all-time high.
A large part of the hysteria has to do with his race – let’s be honest, Lin being of Taiwanese descent makes his meteoric NBA stardom that much more unexpected and exciting. He is the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA and in the past week, has graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and newspapers across the U.S. and in Taipei. He has a built-in fan base in basketball-mad Asia that has been waiting for a superstar of their own since Yao Ming retired last year.
In three weeks, Lin has gone from NBA D-League and sleeping friends’ couches to stardom. He needs to work on his shooting (38 percent on his jump shots) and his dreadful defense; but what Lin has going for him is his efficiency in the pick-and-roll, his lateral quickness that effectively shakes defenders and, most importantly, his unwavering composure.
It’s important to note that all of Lin’s games have come with Carmelo Anthony on the bench, and the superstar scorer will likely take away many of Lin’s scoring chances. With that, Linsanity is sure to die down; but for now, I’m sure enjoying the show.

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