As the ten-year anniversary of Linsanity in New York has come and gone, it really is remarkable to think about the circumstances that led to Jeremy Lin becoming the toast of the town. Lin was brought to the Knicks in December 2011. For his first month with the team, he was a complete afterthought, even with the team’s void at point guard. Veterans Mike Bibby and Baron Davis had missed time due to injury and ineffectiveness, and the team still seemed unwilling to give the 23-year-old from Harvard a meaningful chance to see the floor.
However, on February 4, 2012, everything changed. Lin burst on to the scene at Madison Square Garden in a home game against the New Jersey Nets, scoring 25 points on several brilliant drives to the basket. It seemed too good to be true, but Lin continued his scoring barrage in the ensuing contests against the Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards, and Los Angeles Lakers.
Perhaps the pinnacle of Linsanity came in a road game against the Toronto Raptors. Leading scorer and future NBA Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony was out of the lineup, and the Knicks appeared to be shorthanded. However, Lin scored 27 points, including the game winning walk up three pointer that beat the buzzer and invigorated the fan base.
Even though opportunities did not always come easily for Lin in the NBA, his own confidence in his ability to play at the highest level remained consistent. One of the most memorable examples of this belief in himself came while he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers later in his career. In a close game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant called for the ball at the elbow while Lin was dribbling up. The vast majority of players would’ve given Bryant the basketball and moved out of the way, but not Lin. He knew that he could score in that moment in time, and made a contested three pointer before the shot clock ran out.
Strictly looking back at Lin’s numbers will lead one to the conclusion that he was just another guy in the NBA. For his career, he averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. However, his impact went beyond his steady contributions on the court. There have not been many Asian players in the NBA, and even fewer who have captured the heart of a city or the league for any length of time like Lin did. He knew he had to be that much more resilient in order to overcome a stereotype.
“People were gunning for me because they thought I sucked, or because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by somebody that looked like me,” Lin said. “My whole life, I was always the Asian(basketball player), and I was just so tired of that. I wanted to be recognized for my skills and for what I was bringing to the court. Via The Ringer*.
Professional sports leagues are genuinely founded on the meritocracy premise; that those who perform well will continue to have the chance to do so. Lin’s nine-year NBA career reinforces the notion that talent can come from any background.