How does one avoid clichés when the topic at hand has a storyline that could be optioned by the some of the most schmaltzy 1980s B-grade Hollywood producers?
To say that the stars are currently aligning perfectly for Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks would be like saying water is wet. The hysteria of "Linsanity" -- a word that didn't exist a mere eight days ago -- is the product of all the random, moving parts (statistical, financial, educational, geographical and, yes, racial) that have come together for this young man at the exact same moment in time.
And when he stuck the game-winning three-point basket in the face of Jose Calderon, the Toronto Raptors and an unusually bi-partisan Air Canada Centre crowd on Tuesday night, he allowed the week-old legend to keep growing.
If it is possible to educate oneself about the ups and downs of playing in the NBA in a very short period of time, then Lin is getting a crash course with spectacular success. While his past two outings going into Wednesday have brought about shaky shooting -- the Raptors double-teamed the do-it-all point guard at times, cutting off the driving lanes that seemed so wide open for him in his first couple of statement games -- he delivered when it counted late in
Toronto, scoring the Knicks' last six points. His 11 assists -- most of them earlier in the game -- were also a season and career-high, although that should really go without saying.
Of course, the flip side of living in an instant-media, instant-celebrity age is that, as quickly as we build people up to insane levels, there is a concurrent shadow group beginning the process of tearing down. Lin's eight turnovers Tuesday, while a painfully high number for a starting point guard, is only marginally above his average during his stunning six-game run. While you can attribute some of this to the fact he's a 23-year-old with a grand total of zero NBA starts before last week, he's simply going to have his haters.
However, success breeds confidence. On the Knicks' final possession -- after the Raptors surrendered yet another offensive rebound -- Lin, with the ball, looked over to head coach Mike D'Antoni. Call timeout? No. Pick and roll? Hadn't worked that well in Amar'e Stoudemire's first game back.
"Actually, I looked back and asked [D'Antoni] if I could get an iso," Lin told reporters after the game.
He then proceeded to isolate Calderon and bury the Raps.
"A lot of stuff has to be put in place [for such a situation to unfold] and a lot of it is out of my control," Lin said at a packed news conference before the game, an almost surreal sight that included a reporter of Taiwanese descent giving him a Canada Post-issued Year of the Dragon stamp honouring 2012 as well as his birth year (1988).
"At the end of the day, there's 20 or 30 things, when you combine them all, that had to happen at the right time for me to be here ... that's why I call it a miracle," Lin explained.
Consider: An undrafted (and unrecruited by an NCAA school as I pointed out last week) guard out of Harvard claimed off waivers by the Knicks in December, demoted to and recalled from the D-league, then pressed into duty because of injuries not long after he was almost cut so New York could theoretically sign veteran Mike James. Keep in mind, he was also sleeping on the couch of his brother, an NYU dental student, because his NBA salary wasn't guaranteed for the full season until his trajectory into superstardom this past week.
And the fact that this happened in New York City? As Keyshawn Johnson would say, "C'mon, man."
NYC is actually the biggest factor in all this. It's Lin helping the Knicks win in the mecca of basketball, the Garden stage with the lights dimmed, the media capital of the world -- all those oversold superlatives.
In 1998, a rookie named Shane Spencer got called up by the New York Yankees and hit so many home runs in so few at-bats the Gotham fans and media took to calling him "Roy Hobbs." That's New York. If Derek Jeter had been playing shortstop for the Seattle Mariners for the past 17 years, would you know him as superstar you do today? No, he'd just be a very good baseball player.
And to a much, much more condensed degree, that's what this story is all about: Time and place. About somebody getting an opportunity that very few get and not only running with it, but blowing it up. In this case, it just happens to be a Taiwanese-American Harvard grad on one of the biggest stages in sports. That's what Floyd Mayweather partly failed to grasp before he tweeted that countless black NBA players do what Lin does every night.
Lin brushed off questions Tuesday about that and U.S. sportswriter Jason Whitlock's pathetically sophomoric tweet from last week, taking the high road over the inevitable racial questions.
"I'm not really too concerned with what anyone said," Lin stated.
A devout Christian, Lin has already begun drawing comparisons to another pro sports phenomenon by the name of Tim Tebow.
Let me say that, aside from their shared religious values, there is no comparison whatsoever. Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner who had one of the most storied football careers in NCAA history. His somewhat deceiving success at the NFL level was unexpected because of the vast differences in running a college and pro offence -- and because his spirals usually wobble like Jell-O. In the spring of 2010, Lin was probably walking around Harvard Square planning on putting his economics degree to work because the NBA was basically a pipedream.
It's apples and oranges. But it's a hell of a story.
Lin will come back a little closer to Earth, the sheer laws of basketball gravity ensure it. Perhaps overblown is the fear among some Knicks fans that Carmelo Anthony's imminent return will thwart the team. Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen wrote Tuesday that Anthony is on the verge of taking the career path of Paul Pierce, who realized at a certain point that he didn't need to hog the ball. It's also worth noting it was Melo who, while struggling against the New Jersey Nets in the first Lin game, encouraged D'Antoni to keep the point guard on the floor more.
But is Lin a flash in the pan or not? Who knows.
He's clearly got game, but I don't think opponents have done a serious in-depth job of scouting him because he was being viewed as a stopgap with Stoudemire and Anthony out. And the Raptors did a good job of defending him for most of Tuesday's game. Chemistry and politics change a lot in basketball, so we'll soon find out.
But for now, it's a great story about time and place.
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