Monday, February 4, 2013

February 4, 2012: Jeremy Spoke

NEW YORK - It was a game destined to be long forgotten, in what was already looking like a lost season. Playing their third game in as many days, the Knicks were wounded and in need of a spark. With 3:31 left in the first quarter and his team already trailing, New York coach Mike D'Antoni pointed to the bench and sent Jeremy Lin into the game.

At this point in his career, even getting into the game was an accomplishment for Lin. He had been buried in the depth chart for first his hometown Warriors and now the Knicks, spending almost as much time in the Developmental League as in the NBA. He was running out of time on February 4, 2012. His 10-day contract was almost up, and the Knicks were going to be faced with decision to release him or guarantee his contract for the rest of the year. Considering he had spent most of his stint with the Knicks sleeping on his brother's couch - and had spent the night of February 3 sleeping on teammate Landry Fields' couch - Lin probably knew which way the wind was blowing.

But things can change in an instant. After Lin entered the February 4 game against the Nets, he scored six points in the first half. Not bad, but nothing earth-shaking. He was going to need a gigantic second half to convince the Knicks to keep him around. Fortunately, the Knicks had a lot of injuries, so D'Antoni had to keep Lin in the game.

And Lin took advantage. He continually got to the rim for easy shots or pulling up for short jumpers. He moved the ball around the court, single-handedly jump-starting New York's stagnant offense. Lin scored 19 points in the second half, willing the Knicks to a victory. But it was much more than just a single victory in a long season. When Jeremy Lin entered the game in the first quarter, only the most passionate of Knick fans even knew who he was. By the end of the game, Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" was playing in the Madison Square Garden speakers and Lin was being hailed as a hero in New York.

This was only the beginning.

After his 25-point outing on February 4 - when he had scored just 32 points all season leading up to it - Lin kept scoring. He scored 28 points two days later, got 23 points with 10 assists the game after that, then 38 points against the Lakers after that. From there, the phenomenon was in full force. The Knicks had an unexpected star, and Lin had a fully guaranteed contract.

Of course, it wasn't just about the basketball. It never was. The underdog story was nice, but it was a far bigger deal that Lin was the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. He was also intelligent and well-spoken and humble, so he quickly became a media darling. Sports networks fell all over themselves coming up with new ways to use Lin's name as a pun, with "Linsanity" becoming the most common use. Sports writers burned up keyboards trying to write the latest piece that best explained exactly what he meant to the NBA and the Asian American community.

It didn't take much to see what he meant to the NBA. The Knicks had been going nowhere before February 4, but their games quickly became events. The stands at Knicks games - both in Madison Square Garden and on the road - started becoming filled with Asian Americans, a demographic that hadn't traditionally been NBA fans. Lin was the most popular Knick in years.

The coverage of Lin was so focused and so all-encompassing that it's easy to forget that his tenure as a Knicks starter - or, at least, a player who played starter-type minutes - lasted only 26 games. By the end of March, Lin was out for the season with a knee injury, and by the time the 2012-13 season started, he was a Houston Rocket, having signed a three-year deal in Houston after the Knicks gave little effort in resigning him. Now, Lin is a perfectly average NBA player, and the huge crowds and media attention he saw as a Knick seem to have happened ages ago. But for two months, he was all anybody talked about, the man who  went from being almost out of a job on February 3 to being a nationwide phenomenon on February 4.

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