Jeremy Lin could never match his remarkable start but he is no NBA failure

Hunter Felt
The Guardian
It was all downhill for the Harvard graduate after the unprecedented heights of Linsanity, but the 30-year-old should be proud of his basketball career. For one brief, wild moment in 2012 Jeremy Lin was the most talked about athlete in the world. Over a handful of games with the New York Knicks he went from being an unknown player struggling to escape the NBA’s D-League to an unstoppable basketball force. Now, at age 30, Lin remains a free agent and is struggling with the difficult knowledge that he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. “Rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me,” Lin said recently during an apperance in Taiwan, “so, free agency has been tough. Because I feel like in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me.” It feels surprising for a player who just won a championship with the Toronto Raptors to make such an admission until you look at the context. Lin was a bit player in Toronto and hasn’t been a regular starter for years. It’s understandable that he doesn’t feel like he “really earned” his championship ring given his limited playing time. It’s also likely that these words are coming from someone whose entire career will be forever overshadowed by a handful of weeks where he was untouchable and unstoppable on the court. That story – which was labeled “Linsanity” by a pun-crazed press – started on a couch. Claimed by the Knicks in late 2011 after a short stint with the Golden State Warriors, Lin spent some time with the team’s D-League affiliation before being plugged into the lineup after injuries struck other players. Having no idea how long his time in New York would last, Lin ended up staying in his brother’s apartment in the meantime. Slotted into the starting rotation due to the team’s lack of options, Lin’s out-of-nowhere production sparked something with the Knicks, who suddenly went on an improbable winning streak. The numbers were ridiculous. The Knicks went 7-0 in Lin’s first seven starts at point guard. He scored 136 total points in his first five games at the point for New York, a sequence of victories highlighted by a game-winning three-pointer over the Raptors. The perpetually embattled Knicks had found something unexpected in Lin and they ended up going 9-3 with Lin as a starter heading into the All-Star break in 2012. It would have been a major sports story anywhere, but the fact that it was happening in New York didn’t hurt. For a brief spell, Lin was a phenomenon. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row. His underdog story made him a worldwide sensation, with both China and Taiwan competing to claim the newly minted celebrity. Only the fourth Asian-American player in NBA history, his success was rightfully seen as inspirational and the fact that he was a Harvard graduate even helped raise the profile of Ivy League schools as potential basketball hotbeds (not that anybody should feel too sorry about Harvard being overlooked for any reason). While he had to know that Linsanity was never going to last forever, Lin probably had aspirations that he could at least establish himself as a star player in the league. That never happened. Lin’s 2011-12 season ended in a knee injury and the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs without him. The Knicks opted to let him leave for the Houston Rockets, who offered him more money, and Lin has now played for eight NBA teams. He has never made an All-Star team, making him the very definition of a journeyman. By the time he landed in Toronto, it was clear that he was no longer a full-time player. It might feel like Lin’s career has been a failure, but that’s only if you look at it in the context of Linsanity being some sort of repeatable feat rather than an event that was noteworthy because it was so inexplicable. Lin was never going to be an all-time great. All-time great players don’t tend to go undrafted and aren’t thrown into starting roles by teams acting out of sheer desperation. What Lin ended up being was a very good player who has managed to stay in the league for nine seasons despite being completely overlooked at the start of his career. Along the way he has earned $65m on the court, become a role model around the world and, oh yeah, is the first Asian-American player to win an NBA championship. His story remains one of the most remarkable ones in basketball history and not just as a one-season wonder. Now, you can’t blame Lin for not quite seeing it that way. Sports remain cruel in one respect: players find themselves looking at the end of their careers at ages when most people have barely started theirs. As NBA writer Nate Jones notes, “within the bubble of the NBA fraternity, feeling like your NBA career could be over is devastating if you actually love hoop.” Basketball mortality is a painful thing even for those rare greats who leave on their own terms. And Lin won’t be leaving the NBA on his own terms. Then again, it’s not quite over yet. If he wants it, Lin will probably get a shot to latch onto another NBA team, although it will be as a veteran player coming off the bench. It wouldn’t be the most glamorous end to a career but, well, that’s also par for the course in this business. One thing’s for certain, he won’t experience anything like Linsanity ever again, but that’s only because nobody else really has either.

Jeremy Lin could never match his remarkable start but he is no NBA failure

It was all downhill for the Harvard graduate after the unprecedented heights of Linsanity, but the 30-year-old should be proud of his basketball career. For one brief, wild moment in 2012 Jeremy Lin was the most talked about athlete in the world. Over a handful of games with the New York Knicks he went from being an unknown player struggling to escape the NBA’s D-League to an unstoppable basketball force. Now, at age 30, Lin remains a free agent and is struggling with the difficult knowledge that he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. “Rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me,” Lin said recently during an apperance in Taiwan, “so, free agency has been tough. Because I feel like in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me.” It feels surprising for a player who just won a championship with the Toronto Raptors to make such an admission until you look at the context. Lin was a bit player in Toronto and hasn’t been a regular starter for years. It’s understandable that he doesn’t feel like he “really earned” his championship ring given his limited playing time. It’s also likely that these words are coming from someone whose entire career will be forever overshadowed by a handful of weeks where he was untouchable and unstoppable on the court. That story – which was labeled “Linsanity” by a pun-crazed press – started on a couch. Claimed by the Knicks in late 2011 after a short stint with the Golden State Warriors, Lin spent some time with the team’s D-League affiliation before being plugged into the lineup after injuries struck other players. Having no idea how long his time in New York would last, Lin ended up staying in his brother’s apartment in the meantime. Slotted into the starting rotation due to the team’s lack of options, Lin’s out-of-nowhere production sparked something with the Knicks, who suddenly went on an improbable winning streak. The numbers were ridiculous. The Knicks went 7-0 in Lin’s first seven starts at point guard. He scored 136 total points in his first five games at the point for New York, a sequence of victories highlighted by a game-winning three-pointer over the Raptors. The perpetually embattled Knicks had found something unexpected in Lin and they ended up going 9-3 with Lin as a starter heading into the All-Star break in 2012. It would have been a major sports story anywhere, but the fact that it was happening in New York didn’t hurt. For a brief spell, Lin was a phenomenon. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row. His underdog story made him a worldwide sensation, with both China and Taiwan competing to claim the newly minted celebrity. Only the fourth Asian-American player in NBA history, his success was rightfully seen as inspirational and the fact that he was a Harvard graduate even helped raise the profile of Ivy League schools as potential basketball hotbeds (not that anybody should feel too sorry about Harvard being overlooked for any reason). While he had to know that Linsanity was never going to last forever, Lin probably had aspirations that he could at least establish himself as a star player in the league. That never happened. Lin’s 2011-12 season ended in a knee injury and the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs without him. The Knicks opted to let him leave for the Houston Rockets, who offered him more money, and Lin has now played for eight NBA teams. He has never made an All-Star team, making him the very definition of a journeyman. By the time he landed in Toronto, it was clear that he was no longer a full-time player. It might feel like Lin’s career has been a failure, but that’s only if you look at it in the context of Linsanity being some sort of repeatable feat rather than an event that was noteworthy because it was so inexplicable. Lin was never going to be an all-time great. All-time great players don’t tend to go undrafted and aren’t thrown into starting roles by teams acting out of sheer desperation. What Lin ended up being was a very good player who has managed to stay in the league for nine seasons despite being completely overlooked at the start of his career. Along the way he has earned $65m on the court, become a role model around the world and, oh yeah, is the first Asian-American player to win an NBA championship. His story remains one of the most remarkable ones in basketball history and not just as a one-season wonder. Now, you can’t blame Lin for not quite seeing it that way. Sports remain cruel in one respect: players find themselves looking at the end of their careers at ages when most people have barely started theirs. As NBA writer Nate Jones notes, “within the bubble of the NBA fraternity, feeling like your NBA career could be over is devastating if you actually love hoop.” Basketball mortality is a painful thing even for those rare greats who leave on their own terms. And Lin won’t be leaving the NBA on his own terms. Then again, it’s not quite over yet. If he wants it, Lin will probably get a shot to latch onto another NBA team, although it will be as a veteran player coming off the bench. It wouldn’t be the most glamorous end to a career but, well, that’s also par for the course in this business. One thing’s for certain, he won’t experience anything like Linsanity ever again, but that’s only because nobody else really has either.

For one brief, wild moment in 2012 Jeremy Lin was the most talked about athlete in the world. Over a handful of games with the New York Knicks he went from being an unknown player struggling to escape the NBA’s D-League to an unstoppable basketball force. Now, at age 30, Lin remains a free agent and is struggling with the difficult knowledge that he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

“Rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me,” Lin said recently during an apperance in Taiwan, “so, free agency has been tough. Because I feel like in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me.”

It feels surprising for a player who just won a championship with the Toronto Raptors to make such an admission until you look at the context. Lin was a bit player in Toronto and hasn’t been a regular starter for years. It’s understandable that he doesn’t feel like he “really earned” his championship ring given his limited playing time. It’s also likely that these words are coming from someone whose entire career will be forever overshadowed by a handful of weeks where he was untouchable and unstoppable on the court.

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That story – which was labeled “Linsanity” by a pun-crazed press – started on a couch. Claimed by the Knicks in late 2011 after a short stint with the Golden State Warriors, Lin spent some time with the team’s D-League affiliation before being plugged into the lineup after injuries struck other players. Having no idea how long his time in New York would last, Lin ended up staying in his brother’s apartment in the meantime. Slotted into the starting rotation due to the team’s lack of options, Lin’s out-of-nowhere production sparked something with the Knicks, who suddenly went on an improbable winning streak.

Related: Why NBA stars like James Harden and LeBron James invest in soccer clubs

The numbers were ridiculous. The Knicks went 7-0 in Lin’s first seven starts at point guard. He scored 136 total points in his first five games at the point for New York, a sequence of victories highlighted by a game-winning three-pointer over the Raptors. The perpetually embattled Knicks had found something unexpected in Lin and they ended up going 9-3 with Lin as a starter heading into the All-Star break in 2012. It would have been a major sports story anywhere, but the fact that it was happening in New York didn’t hurt.

For a brief spell, Lin was a phenomenon. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row. His underdog story made him a worldwide sensation, with both China and Taiwan competing to claim the newly minted celebrity. Only the fourth Asian-American player in NBA history, his success was rightfully seen as inspirational and the fact that he was a Harvard graduate even helped raise the profile of Ivy League schools as potential basketball hotbeds (not that anybody should feel too sorry about Harvard being overlooked for any reason).

While he had to know that Linsanity was never going to last forever, Lin probably had aspirations that he could at least establish himself as a star player in the league. That never happened. Lin’s 2011-12 season ended in a knee injury and the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs without him. The Knicks opted to let him leave for the Houston Rockets, who offered him more money, and Lin has now played for eight NBA teams. He has never made an All-Star team, making him the very definition of a journeyman. By the time he landed in Toronto, it was clear that he was no longer a full-time player.

It might feel like Lin’s career has been a failure, but that’s only if you look at it in the context of Linsanity being some sort of repeatable feat rather than an event that was noteworthy because it was so inexplicable. Lin was never going to be an all-time great. All-time great players don’t tend to go undrafted and aren’t thrown into starting roles by teams acting out of sheer desperation. What Lin ended up being was a very good player who has managed to stay in the league for nine seasons despite being completely overlooked at the start of his career. Along the way he has earned $65m on the court, become a role model around the world and, oh yeah, is the first Asian-American player to win an NBA championship. His story remains one of the most remarkable ones in basketball history and not just as a one-season wonder.

Now, you can’t blame Lin for not quite seeing it that way. Sports remain cruel in one respect: players find themselves looking at the end of their careers at ages when most people have barely started theirs. As NBA writer Nate Jones notes, “within the bubble of the NBA fraternity, feeling like your NBA career could be over is devastating if you actually love hoop.” Basketball mortality is a painful thing even for those rare greats who leave on their own terms. And Lin won’t be leaving the NBA on his own terms.

Then again, it’s not quite over yet. If he wants it, Lin will probably get a shot to latch onto another NBA team, although it will be as a veteran player coming off the bench. It wouldn’t be the most glamorous end to a career but, well, that’s also par for the course in this business. One thing’s for certain, he won’t experience anything like Linsanity ever again, but that’s only because nobody else really has either.

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