Monday, February 13, 2012

Jeremy Lin: Not An Overnight Sensation

With the warp-speed reality of life in the Media Age, it's a bit unsettling to realize that the Jeremy Lin Phenomenon is barely a week old. But in the space of five games over eight days, Lin blew up.

At the beginning, a nice little story. "Hey, isn't that cool? A guy from Harvard in the NBA!" "Yeah, and he's Asian-American, too! Wow!"

Lin warmed the bench for the Warriors last year and the whole Harvard/Asian-American thing made for some nice feature stories, but little more.

And then he ended up playing for the Knicks, in the Center of the Media Universe. And then, against all odds, he got a chance to play. And then...well, you know the story. A 26.8 point scoring average as the Knicks won 5 straight. A 38-point outburst against the Lakers. A game-sealing free throw by an obviously-fatigued Lin to ice win over the T-Wolves. And a memorable quote by Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, who said he was riding Lin "like friggin' Secretariat" as long as his young guard kept producing.

We've all been fascinated by Lin's remarkable week. We all know it won't last forever. Many of us hope Lin will become a solid NBA player for a long time.

But here's the part of the story I hope takes root: Jeremy Lin has been a success at every level of basketball, while the so-called "experts" managed to be wrong every time. After leading an undermanned Palo Alto High team to a state championship win over powerhouse Mater Dei, not one Division 1 program offered him a scholarship.

After helping turn Harvard basketball into something other than a punchline, Lin went undrafted by NBA teams, several of which had invited him to work out for them. But it turns out that an NBA "workout" isn't actually "basketball". It might be a two-on-two or three-on-three drill, but not a full game--which is where Lin's subtle game begins to shine.

He managed to wangle an invitation to play on the Dallas Mavericks' summer-league team in Las Vegas, where they play actual games--and where he began to get noticed. Still, after signing him, the woeful Warriors plopped him on the bench. He managed to get up all of 72 shots all year, or 6 fewer than he's taken in his 4 games as a Knicks starter. Again: the Warriors saw but short bursts of a guy whose game is only evident over the long haul.

Jeremy Lin may seem like the new new thing, but in fact, his story is one of the oldest ever told: that of the tortoise versus the hare. Sure, Lin is rabbit-quick on the court. But his career arc is more tortoise-like; a guy who just keeps showing up and performing and when you get to the finish line, there he is waiting for you. An overnight sensation? Not really. It only looks that way to the experts who missed the story over and over again.