* INTRODUCTION – SECOND INSTALLMENT *
The seven-game winning streak was a vision to behold.
Jeremy entered the game and the momentum slowly started to build. The buzz at Madison Square Garden became a roar, and the roar became a riot. By the fourth quarter, Jeremy was punctuating every point with pumping fists and barbaric yawps. His teammates were leaping from their seats with silly grins on their faces, like they were watching a high school kid embarrass Shaquille O’Neal. The chants of “Jeremy!” were thunderous, and the formerly skeptical Knicks announcer Mike Breen exclaimed in disbelief, “It’s the Jeremy Lin show here at the Madison Square Garden!” After the win, the fans were euphoric as they flowed out into the streets of Manhattan. Surely it had been a one-night miracle, but they were glad they had seen something so completely, wonderfully bizarre.
Yet the show went on. Two days later, after the Knicks beat the Utah Jazz without their biggest stars on the strength of Jeremy’s 28-point performance, Jeremy said in a postgame interview, “I definitely couldn’t have imagined this.” He gave thanks “to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” because “I can’t tell you how many different things had to happen for me to be here.” Coach Mike D’Antoni painted a less appealing image. For as long as Jeremy has the hot hand, he said, “I’m riding him like freakin’ Secretariat.” Magic Johnson marveled that he had not seen such excitement at Madison Square Garden for a very long time.
At the end of the third victory, Michael Lee of the Washington Post reported that the Washington Wizards fans, who usually leave a trouncing early, stayed to the end to applaud Lin’s 23-points, 10-assist effort. It was like Rocky Balboa winning over the Soviet spectators in his bout with Ivan Drago. The Knicks had now won three straight, and the world was taking note of this Asian-American Jesus-lover who was resurrecting the hopes of the New York faithful. One sportswriter called him “the toast of the NBA, a 6’3″ David among Goliaths, and an inspiration to millions of Asian fans both here and abroad.” His following on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, had leapt from 190,000 to over a million.
So it went. He ran up 38 points against Kobe Bryant. As they waited for Lin to come to the microphone for a press conference, one sportswriter said to another, “I said Lin was a fluke. I should be fired. We all should be fired.” Jeremy said, “This is my dream being lived out.” A writer for David Letterman tweeted, “If Jeremy Lin got down on one knee and Tebowed, the world would implode.” After the victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, USA Today reported that Minnesota had seen the largest crowd in eight seasons and that traffic to the Knicks’ online store had increased 3000 percent. And after Jeremy’s last-minute heroics against Toronto, the most celebrated players in the league were tweeting their congratulations like starry-eyed fans.
Finally, after the Lin-led Knicks scored an impressive win against the Sacramento Kings on February 15, here were the metrics. Seven games, six starts, seven wins. Jeremy Lin had scored 89 points in his first three career starts, 109 in his first four, and 136 in his first five–all records since the merger of the ABA and the NBA in 1976-77. All in all, across the seven-game streak, he had amassed 171 points in 263 minutes of play. His average of 24.4 points and 9.1 assists help up favorably against the averages for LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the same time span.
This was not a highly touted draft pick. It was an undrafted, twice-waived bench-master who was setting records for the most points scored in his first games as a starter. It was the first Chinese American in the NBA and the first Harvard graduate to play in the league in half a century. It was someone who had been, a week earlier, still getting stopped by security and mistaken for the team’s physical therapist.
At the height of the Linsanity, there were more Google searches for Jeremy Lin than there were for Jesus Christ and Justin Bieber combined. He appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Time in Asia. New York Times columnists were writing about him. President Barack Obama let it be known that he was watching Lin, and Sarah Palin made sure she was photographed with a “Linsanity” T-shirt.
John Schuhmann at NBA.com summed it up: “There is no predicting where this is going, because there is no precedent. All we know is that Jeremy Lin has revived the New York Knicks, has gone from scrub to star like no other player in NBA history, and has captured the attention of basketball fans near and fear…We really have never seen anything like this before.”
How will Jeremy fare without Coach Mike D’Antoni, who resigned March 15? Can Jeremy and Carmelo Anthony find a way to flourish together in the same offense? Time will tell.
Yet those Seven Games of Linsanity will never fade from the annals of professional basketball history. Whatever else may happen in the future, Jeremy has already accomplished something historic, something worth remembering and understanding. Those seven games will always stand as an expression of extraordinary courage and grace under pressure and the miraculous confluence of opportunity and talent and heart. Jeremy, in those games, gave the world a witness to his beliefs, his values, his character.
All of New York City–contentious, anxious, gloomy, dyspeptic New York City–was enthralled. The nation was enthralled. Asia was enthralled. In a season that was never supposed to happen, a player who was never supposed to play accomplished what no benchwarmer was supposed to accomplish. It was dazzling, astounding, and riveting to watch–and it gave hope to benchwarmers and underdogs around the world.
Come back tomorrow for the third and final installment in the Introduction, or purchase the book.