Linsanity Explained, Part 1
Linsanity has swept the nation. I imagine it is also sweeping the world1. It certainly has got me.
Let’s preface this. I am a die-hard New York Giants fan, and I love football. I am a casual Knicks fan, and I like basketball. The Giants’ Super Bowl victories of ’08 and of this month are easily the top two moments in my life as a sports fan. I should not be able to be happier than those moments. But at this moment, I am loving the Jeremy Lin story as much as those Giants’ victories.
What is it about Jeremy Lin and Linsanity that has captivated me, the nation, and the world? Well, because I have way too much time on my hand, I’ll be dissecting this phenomenon over the next few days.
Obviously, New York was the first place to go “linsane.” Despite all the hype over the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants2, New York City is a basketball town first; there’s a reason they call it the Mecca of basketball, and at the center is Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks. The fans at MSG bring an energy unique to that place; they just love basketball. The best of players tend to shine when playing there, and when they do, they get rewarded for it, whether it be ceaseless booing or uproarious cheers. The fans appreciate good basketball in any form. Yet, the Knicks haven’t won a championship since 1973. An entire fan base, which arguably loves basketball more than any other, is starving for a team that will get over the hump, for a team that will bring home the trophy.
It once again seemed like hope was lost. Despite having two of the best scorers in the game, arguably the best offensive coach, and a champion center to shore up the porous defense, the Knicks were lost. They lacked a good point guard, the bread and butter of a D’Antoni coached offense. And so the Knicks suffered, toiling about, playing players out of their position, moving Carmelo to point forward, entirely altering the system. Their hopes were laying on an injured Baron Davis, who continued to have set backs during his recovery.
But then came Jeremy Lin. Goaded by Carmelo3, Coach Mike D’Antoni took a chance on the undrafted point guard, giving him significant minutes against the Nets, and Linsanity was born. The kid outplayed near everyone’s expectations (more on this later). The Knicks suddenly seemed more energetic. The offense started to flow again. The defense stepped up. And, at the time of this writing, the Knicks haven’t lost since that Nets game.
Linsanity, at heart, transcends sports. He’s the epitome of an underdog story, and there are a few key parts of Lin that makes this story so captivating.
Jeremy Lin can ball. You may remember the early stages of Linsanity. Lin put up some good numbers against some bad-to-mediocre teams. There were still many doubters about his ability. An Asian-American ballplayer I know wrote this on Facebook.
Jeremy Lin, i’ll b impressed when you put up same numbers against the better teams above .500, now everybody needs to stop #linning or linsanity crap
But if you watched the games, Lin showed off a few things. He could (a) drive the lane, (b) find the open man, and (c) keep his dribble alive. With these skills alone, which he was displaying with some consistency, you knew he could succeed as an NBA point guard, and especially in D’Antoni’s system. Of course, since then, he’s silenced many of those doubters.
Plus, he’s smart. His basketball IQ is incredibly high. He understands the game situations very well and, with time, will likely master them. At the end of the Timberwolves and Raptors games, the Knicks had opportunities to take the game winning shot. Most coaches will call a time out here and set up a play, but D’Antoni did not. He explained that, with Jeremy Lin out there, who understands the offense so well, there’s no need to take the time out and give the other team a chance to set up their defense. Coach D’Antoni, who a few weeks ago had never even addressed Lin by his name, now has his full faith in his point guard.
Jeremy Lin is humble. When talking to the public, Lin is making the comments that every PR rep and agent should tell their athlete clients to say. He praises his teammates. He praises his coach. He praises God. But this isn’t some PR stunt; he actually understands that it’s a team game, and that a lot of their success has to do with their coach’s system. And he’s deeply religious, so he believes that his God is influencing all of this. (The lesson? His statements are generally always thought out but honest.)
When consistently asked about what he’s doing on the court, he just redirects the answers towards what others are doing, and rightfully so. Linsanity revolves around Lin, but the team doesn’t succeed without everyone playing at the level they are now. The ball movement is, in general, excellent. Players are making big shots. Defense has become a huge priority. Lin can’t directly control the ball when it’s not in his hands, but everyone on that team has been jelling.
And Lin knows that this is largely in part of D’Antoni’s system. He referred to it as “genius.” This is likely because Lin recognizes with high basketball IQ (and likely high IQ) that the offense, when run properly, is almost perfect.
Jeremy Lin has confidence. Before his game winning 3 at Toronto, he waved off Tyson Chandler twice, forcing the final play isolation. Keep that in perspective: this is a player who is thriving partially because of a genius offensive system that rewards the pick and roll, but when it was time to win the game, he didn’t resort to it. He knew he could win the isolation match-up. And he did.
This is an underreported storyline of the ongoing Jeremy Lin saga. Waived by a couple of teams and sent to the D-League a few times, Lin never gave up. He must have felt crushed4; it’s reported that, after being waived, Jeremy just thought he would never get his shot5. But he did, and he took full advantage of it. Sports news talking heads are quick to associate this with following one’s dreams. There’s an implication that, with Jeremy’s skill set, he was somehow a long shot to make it in the league. And obviously, he was a longshot, but not because of his skill set. Jeremy knew he belonged.
He is not Rudy. His dreams were not to simply make it onto a team.
He is not Rocky. He is not a physically overmatched underdog.
He was an NBA-ready point guard who just, due to circumstances out of his control6, needed a chance.
After the first few games , Lin was consistently asked if he ever thought he could “do this.” It’s a generic question, asked of anyone who accomplishes an unexpected significant achievement. The assumption is that while most people hope for the best, people generally don’t expect it. But every time, he thinks about his response, then hems and haws before side stepping the question and answering a different one. Keep in mind that he is entirely humble. But he knows he can’t answer the question because, in fact, he knew he could do this (and he doesn’t want to seem like an egoist prick, because he’s not one). He knew he could run an offense. He knew he could drive the lane and dish the ball. He knew he could put a team on his back and win. He knew he belonged in the NBA.
Honestly, as a sports fan and a human being, I could not be happier about it all. So many things conspired to keep Lin out of the league. But so many things conspired to make Linsanity the sensation it is now: a humble, hard working kid, becoming the savior of the mecca of basketball.
1. I know it is followed internationally, but I have no idea if it’s at the same level over there as it is here.
2. I won’t get tired of writing that until September.
3. Like many others, I too was worried that the Knicks’ recent success could possibly stop with the return of Carmelo. But if you’ve seen the Knicks sideline during the games, the entire team is going nuts (coaches and staff included). They’re pumped to have Lin. The concept that Carmelo is going to stop the ball now seems preposterous. Everyone has re-bought into the D’Antoni system, and it all begins with Lin running the show. But just in case you were worried, there were rumors that Carmelo Anthony wanted Jeremy Lin to be put in the game, which was confirmed in a Michael Kay Show interview by Lin himself. So Melo is the conductor of the Jeremy Lin train. I don’t think he’s going to hop off.
4. I assume it’s relatable to being fired from a job where you know you can excel, or being broken up with when you know the relationship can be great. Yesterday, he expressed his frustrations in the Michael Kay Show radio interview.
5. During a post-game interview, Lin mentions that it’s great to have this high after all his lows. The unseen journalist seems perplexed by this, asking “what lows?” You can almost feel the heavy sigh as he thinks about his response for a second, until Lin reluctantly but concisely replies, “being cut, being sent to the D-League.”
6. Bill Simmons has a great Lin-centric mailbag, where he explains this. In short, there was racism (more on this tomorrow), but there was also Harvardism (a school that’s produced twice as many Presidents (8) as NBA players (4)). There was bad scouting (the entire league really had a multiple chances to get him), but there were also just very few teams who would have been able to give him a chance (the league has many quality guards). It was a lot of things that, together, conspired to make it unlikely Lin would ever get a fair shake. Just read that mailbag. He touches no less than a dozen different ways that, if things were just slightly altered, Linsanity would never have happened.