***Flashback to last Saturday***
Background: It’s my dad’s birthday, and I let my mom know that I got them tickets to see The Pittsburgh JazzÂ Orchestra.Â After giving her the particulars (show starts at 8, tickets are under my name, etc), the conversation segued to a surprising place.
Mom: “So, Melo’s coming back soon, huh?”
Champ: “Mom, what are you talking about?”
Mom: “Carmelo Anthony. He’s supposed to be coming back soon. Do you think he’s going to be able to fit in with Jeremy Lin?”
Now, my mom never played sports herself, but she has a general understanding of the rules of each of the major sports, and she knows who the stars (and each of the Steelers) are. Basically, sheÂ isn’t one of those people who’d say something like “Oooh, nice dunk!” while watching a football game.Â I mean, when you have a son and a husband who are diehard sports junkies, I guess you can’t help but become a fan as well.
With that being said, I realized exactly how much hype and attention New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has received when I saw that it managed to turn my mom into Stephen A. Smith. A woman who, just a few months ago, asked me toÂ demonstrateÂ for her exactly what “pick and roll” means is now asking me if “Melo” is going to ruin the Knicks’ chemistry and if he’s just a bad fit for D’Antoni’s offense.
Now, in the past couple weeks I’ve had various people ask for my take on Linsanity. I didn’t really want to write about it though, because, well, everyone else is, and I just couldn’t think of an interesting and unique angle I could take.
But, after thinking about it for a few days, there are actually a few things I haven’t heard anyone say about him yet. Not to say that they haven’t been said. I just haven’t personally seen or read them.
Here’s five of them.
1. The person who has the most to lose with Linsanity? Either Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade.
Although the NFL is the undisputed king among professional sports in America, once you leave North American soil, the NBA is the American sports league that travels the best. China is a perfect example of this, as the NBA is the most popular sports league in the world’s biggest country.
Where do Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose fit into all of this? Well, when the NBA decided to allow fans to vote for All-Star starters online, Chinese fans took advantage of this, stuffing the ballot boxes so that Yao Ming and his Houston Rockets teammate, Tracy McGrady, were starters for the West every year. Since Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady happened to be the Western Conference’s best players at their respective positions (center and small forward) at that time, it was no big deal.
But, while it’s too late for Lin to be voted in as a starter in this year’s All-Star game, there’s absolutely no chance in hell that he won’t be picked as a starter next year. And, since he’s starting, either D. Wade or Derrick Rose won’t be. In fact, even if he starts sucking, you could probably pencil Lin in as an All-Star starter for the next four or five years.
Hmm. In a league where star players are obsessed with their legacies Â — and “How many All-Star games did he start when he was in his prime?” is a question people ask when trying to determine a player’s legacy — I wonder how guards clearly better than Lin are going to feel whenÂ realizingÂ he’s going to be starting ahead of them for years to come.
2. This could not have happened anywhere other than New York City.
People have argued that the Linsanity craze wouldn’t have happened if he happened to be in a city likeÂ MilwaukeeÂ or Memphis or Cleveland or Detroit. I agree, but for different reasons.Â I don’t think he’d be playing as well as he has been if he was in one of those cities.Â
It’s been repeated ad nauseum that the Knicks were a perfect fit for him. Perfect coach for him to play for, perfect offense for him to run, perfect group of teammates for him to play with, and even a perfect time for him to play (His startÂ coincidentallyÂ happened when Carmelo Anthony sat out a few games due to injury. If Melo never gets injured, Linsanity never happens)
But, as much as each of those things have helped himÂ succeed, him being in New York F*cking City matters even more. Lin is clearly a guy who feeds off the crowd’s energy when he’s playing. Not to say that he doesn’t have genuine confidence, but the type of fearlessness (and occasional recklessness) he plays with gets a boost when you have 20,000Â raucousÂ people anticipating your every move. Madison Square Garden is the only NBA arena where 1. he’d get that type of environment and 2. the fans areÂ knowledgeableÂ enough to know that he needs it.
It’s obviously carried over. He has played well on the road since he became a starter. But, I just don’t think he’d have built the type of confidence to do this in Toronto if he didn’t get hisÂ initialÂ boost in New York…and I’m sure he wouldn’t have had Raptors fans cheering for him.
3. 2011-2012 has seen a resurgence of “natural-born basketball playing” point guards.Â
While they’re all great basketball players, you can argue that Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall are athletes first. (You can also argue that John Wall is far, far, far, far, far away from being a great NBA player, but that’s another discussion for another day) Each of those guys are soÂ athleticÂ that they would have been great at any sport, and each of them, even MVP Rose, are still learning how to play point guard.
Yet, as Rose and Westbrook have made many assume that you need to be an amazing athlete to be a top-notch point guard today, with Jeremy Lin, Kyrie Irving (who I told y’all about two years ago), and Ricky Rubio, you have a trio of new to the NBA point guards; natural born basketball players who are succeeding despite not being world-class athletes. Of the three, Irving is (obviously) my favorite — a 19 year old (!!!) who literally has no offensive weaknesses — but I see pieces of each of them in each of their games, and this excites me as a basketball fan.
4. Jeremy Lin is handsome. This matters.Â
As anyÂ sociologistÂ will tell you, we’re hardwired to give attractive people certain advantages we don’t extend as easily to others. We assume they’re smarter, stronger, more confident, and more worthy of our trust and support. It’s no accident that most NFL quarterbacks would be considered attractive men even if they weren’t football players. In many cases, they were groomed to be quarterbacks at a young age in large partÂ becauseÂ they “looked the part” and coaches assumed they’d have the charisma and confidence to lead the rest of the team.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, there are manyÂ parallelsÂ between Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow. Both have experienced unexpected success, both captivated the nation, and both will tell you that their success is in large part due to their Christian faith. And, just how I’d argue that Tebow wouldn’t have been as popular if he looked like, I don’t know, John C. Reilly, (In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that if Tim Tebow looked like John C. Reilly, heÂ wouldn’t have been Tim Tebow: Star Quarterback at all), the fact that Jeremy Lin looks like he could be an AmericanÂ ApparelÂ model has given Linsanity a boost that may not haveÂ occurredÂ if he was plainer looking.
5. It’s been interesting watching people try to find parallels for Lin’s unexpected ascent. But, everyone seems to be missing the most obvious choice.
He’s been compared to Tim Tebow, Flip Murray,Â Billy Ray Bates,Â Fernando Venezuela, Tiger Woods, Yao Ming, and pretty much any other athlete who either 1. came out of nowhere to play at an all-star level for an extended period of time, 2. succeeded at a sport despite not having the racial makeup and background of the people who usually succeeded at that sport, or 3. became a national craze.
But, there’s a (seemingly) obvious name I haven’t heard yet, a person who managed to captivate the nation in a historic fashion despite having a funny name, an unusual background, and a chorus of haters who maintain that his success is only due to his race.
Hmm. Who could I possibly be talking about? I’ll give you one hint:Â They went to the same school.Â
That’s enough Linsanity for me. People of VSB, what are you thoughts on the Jeremy LinÂ phenomenon? Do you think he’ll be a short-lived flash in the pan, or do you see his successÂ continuing?
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)