Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Linsanity Really Meant

If you're reading this, you probably know that Jeremy Lin is now a member of the Houston Rockets. Last night, the Knicks decided not to match Lin's three-year/$25.1 million offer sheet, and they let him walk away. Perhaps it was because of the huge financial burdens the $15 million third year of his contract would put on the Knicks; perhaps it was because the Knicks were insulted that Lin supposedly re-negotiated with the Rockets to get a larger contract after the Knicks said they'd match it. I don't know. And I'm not attempting to debate it.

After a mere 26 games, about five months of time, Linsanity - the meteoric rise of a 23-year old, undrafted, Harvard graduate, Asian-American that captured the sporting world and even made its way into the lives of ordinary, non-basketball-loving citizens - is over in New York City.

It wasn't very long. Really, if almost any other player was let loose to a new team after only 26 games, we wouldn't care very much. Not this much.

So, why am I so damn sad that Jeremy Lin is gone?

Jeremy Lin will be a good player, I believe. He was a good player in his short stint with the Knicks. A really good player. Hell, he was a great player. That is, obviously, the big reason why I'm upset. Nobody likes to see a good player leave their favorite team. But there's more to it than that.

Perhaps it's because the Knicks didn't deserve Linsanity. Sure, the Knicks fans deserved Linsanity; some of the most loyal followers who pack Madison Square Garden night-in and night-out, who've put up with a decade of mediocrity and embarrassment, but faithfully return each year, ready to go to battle, inevitably with a new set of troops. They We deserved Linsanity. But the New York Knicks, the organization, did not deserve arguably the greatest story in sports in the past decade.

The Knicks, who for the past decade spent dollar after dollar to try to plug one leak after another. The Knicks, whose off-court issues became more representative of the franchise than their on-court actions. The Knicks, whose re-building plan in the late 2000s, led by the admirable Donnie Walsh, still consisted of spending grandiose sums of money to pick and paste pieces together in hopes of finding the right combination. The Knicks, who during the first stretch of honest, moderate (maybe even home-grown?) success, traded it all away with dollar signs in their eyes, for a shiny name that has produced little more than what could be considered moderate success.

No, the Knicks did not deserve what Linsanity was. Because Linsanity was something more than basketball. It was attention-grabbing, awe-inspiring, emotional. Above all, it was really, really fun.

The rise of Jeremy Lin, and the subsequent Linsanity, was (perhaps) the most successful, albeit short-lived, time period in recent memory for the Knicks. It was undoubtedly the most fun stretch I've ever had as a Knicks fan.

I became a fan of the team in first grade, when the first basketball game I ever watched was Game 5 of the Knicks-Heat series in the similarly shortened lockout season of 1998-99 (I'm still much younger and new to the team than much of the fanbase). I watched Allan Houston hit a running jumper and knock off the Heat, and it was all over from there; I was hooked. From then on, however, in the following years, things unraveled quickly, and there hasn't been many opportunities since to cheer, to be excited, let alone be insane.

But Jeremy Lin's explosion this past February was insane. And the best part of all, to me, was that it was the Knicks' first natural success in quite some time. As opposed to the gleeful run the Knicks had in November and December of 2010, where Amar'e Stoudemire led the young, seemingly wide-eyed Knicks to revelance; as opposed to the eye-opening moments of sheer dominance that Carmelo Anthony has exerted over opponents and onto the Garden crowd, Linsanity felt organic. I like both Stoudemire and Anthony, but they're both players the Knicks bought, and jammed together like Lego pieces. Yes, Jeremy Lin was technically bought by the Knicks when they picked him up on waiver wires in December 2011. But Lin's success was the first success for the Knicks that the franchise had not planned. Their hopes, their aspirations for Jeremy Lin did include a take-over of the NBA.

But boy, when that take-over happened, it was something. There was his debut outburst against the Nets, at the Knicks' lowliest of times, desperate for an answer, desperate to stay alive.

There was Lin's first NBA start, where he took down the Utah Jazz, with Anthony and Stoudemire both out of the game. Where we all said, "He's doing it again!"

There was his first NBA double-double in a win over the Washington Wizards; the most jaw-dropping crossover-drive-drunk combo we'd seen in a long time. "What the hell is going on?!"

There was his 38-point, nationally televised dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers, where Kobe Bryant learned who Linsanity was.

There was the improbable come-from-behind victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, where Lin looked exhausted, and out-classed by fellow youngster Ricky Rubio. They still pulled it out, this superstar-less, Lin-led crew.

There was the unbelievable come-from-behind victory against the Toronto Raptors, where Lin was, once again, not to be outdone. The defining moment, the pinnacle of Linsanity, where I screamed. I flat-out screamed like a teenage girl finding the surprise Sweet-16 birthday party her parents have thrown her.

There were plenty of other great times along the way: alley-oops for everyone, a 28-point, 14-assist take-down of the Dallas Mavericks, a fourth-quarter wake-up to beat the Philadelphia 76ers.

And then on a night of a blowout of the Detroit Pistons, it all ended. Lin left the game with a sore knee, and after a week's worth of deliberation, it was announced that he'd have to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Linsanity faded, without anymore punny signs, or in-crowd marriage proposals to Lin, or post-game, celebratory kisses. It would be the last we'd see of Jeremy Lin with the Knicks, unfortunately not in a uniform, but in sleek, fashionable suits sitting at the end of the bench, looking longingly at the court.

The Knicks' decision to part ways with Lin has upset a lot of people. It shouldn't, because professional basketball is an entertainment business, and it has little effect on our lives, but nonetheless, it's upset people - myself included. There was a petition on to keep Lin in New York that nearly reached 15,000 signatures. Several people pointed out, that petitions on the website are for more serious issues, but Lin's prowess on the basketball court, his effect on peoples' lives urged them enough to sign a petition, as if the Knicks' front office was listening.

During Linsanity's greatest heights, he was inspiring Asian-Americans to express pride in their heritage. His big game-winning shot against the Toronto Raptors came on Asian Heritage night, and when the ball slashed through the netting, as if there was never a doubt as to where it would end up, the arena erupted, forgetting they were supposed to be cheering on their hometown team.

Even Lin's teammates seemed stunned by his explosion. As joyful as it was to watch Lin continually surprise and dominate, it was equally so to watch his teammates soak it in, waving towels on the bench, meeting him at half-court to chest bump him. Pardon me if I'm wrong, but I've never seen a teammate kiss Kobe Bryant after a game-winning shot.

Likely it was the surprise of it all that got to everyone. However, there was something undeniably emotional about that continual surprise. An emotional cocktail of pride, inspiration, awe, and downright joy of watching Lin spin through a crowd of Lakers to bank in a layup; of watching him run down the sideline, holding his follow-through from a made three-pointer, as the crowd roars in the background; of watching him face the Garden crowd and pop the "New York" lettering on the front of his jersey.

The heart-tugging emotion of realizing that it won't happen again. The sinking feeling we all get when reading that Lin wanted to stay in New York.
"What New York did for me was unbelievable. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career."
And because of the profound impact he had on fans everywhere, I don't think it's over-dramatic to say that another player's breakout following his wake just wouldn't be the same. What could top Linsanity? It was a story-book adventure while it lasted, and while his torn meniscus seemed to briefly halt it, the Knicks' refusal to match his offer sheet stopped it dead in its tracks, likely never to be revived again in New York. What could be better? Ultimate success, of course; a championship. But sending Lin to Houston, in my mind, further dissolves the chances of that happening.

While the first tastes of success (we can only hope) of this coming season will wash away some of the pain, for myself, and I believe many others, it won't erase our memories of Linsanity. Because it was more than basketball; it was more than Jeremy Lin leading a team to a win and filling up a stat sheet with numbers for basketball nerds to oogle over.

Jeremy Lin's breakout was pure insanity. Insanity in its most pleasant, passionate, organic form.

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