Playing any sport in New York is a task in itself. New Yorkers expect a lot from their teams. Sometimes it’s rewarding (Hi, Giants and Yankees fans), and other times it’s not (Hi, Jets and Mets fans). And the Knicks have been bad for a while. Less than two weeks ago, the Knicks were in panic mode. The came Lin, and, well, you know the rest.
It’s a lot of sudden pressure, though, this Linsanity thing. Being this young and this successful in the NBA, it’s a blessing and a curse. Yes, you’re 23 and you’re the most famous athlete in the city, but you’re still 23. You’re, according to the standards for the rest of humanity, still growing and maturing as a person.
In his interviews, Lin comes across as modest, humble, and thankful for the opportunity and the subsequent success. He also stresses how he’s more concerned with the effort and results of the team and less with his individual performance. If any of the sudden success has gone to his head, he’s not showing it.
To me, Lin really just seems like the kind of guy you’d hang out with on a Friday night or in a dorm room on a Wednesday, playing Xbox and eating crummy pizza. And since he went to Harvard and stayed for four years, there’s probably a good chance this is all true. He’s just another recent college grad—except for that whole playing for the Knicks thing.
He’s enjoying it all, too. Every time he makes a big play, there’s a huge grin on his face. How can you not love that? He’s not gloating or taunting anyone; he’s just playing basketball and having fun. It’s why we play, and it’s why we watch.
The truth is we see a bit of ourselves in Lin, especially since he’s only 23 years old. Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, 23 and 22, respectively, aren’t guys like us. They’re freakish, non-Earth-bound super-athletes who knew they’d be in the league since junior high. It’s really, really fun to watch them, but it’s fun because they do things beyond your imagination. It’s standard, blow-your-mind entertainment.
What Jeremy Lin is doing is entertainment—but in a more identifiable way. He was told he’d never play Division One basketball; he did. He was told he’d never play in the NBA; he did. Lin makes watching the NBA worth it for guys like me. Normal guys, who were maybe good at a sport, but weren’t world-class athletes.
I’ve seen Jeremy Lin playing flip cup at a frat house. I’ve seen him sitting in a library cubicle. I’ve seen this because Jeremy Lin was a college kid—like every other college kid—and I was too. No matter where his career takes him, right now he’s a normal guy who’s proving that you can beat the Lakers without a Maserati or a penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side. While word is that he’ll be living in Trump Towers in Westchester for the rest of the season, for some reason I don’t think his room will look like all the others.
—Photo Kathy Kmonicek/AP