In less than a week New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin went from unknown—except to Ivy League basketball fans and people who monitor which players get called up from the D-League—to trending worldwide on Twitter.
Last Saturday against the Nets, Lin had 25 points and 7 assists in 36 minutes off the bench. It was only the second NBA game all season that he had played more than 7 minutes. In his first two starts, Monday against Utah and Wednesday at Washington, he had 28 and 23 points and 8 and 10 assists, respectively.
As of this writing Lin is averaging 30.3 points and 11.8 assists per 48 minutes. Had he played enough games to qualify, he would be sixth in the league in both points and assists per 48 minutes. Lin is second in the league in PER (John Hollinger’s player efficiency rating that combines stats such as true shooting percentage, usage, and rebounding rate), trailing only LeBron James.
As of January 23rd, Lin was playing for the Erie BayHawks of the Developmental League. (On January 20 he had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists in a win over Maine.) Less than three weeks later, he’s the topic du jour on Twitter, sports blogs, and all of ESPN’s talking-head shows.
So where did this kid come from, and what’s his story?
You may have heard that Lin had no scholarship offers coming out of high school. This, despite leading his team to a state title and being “the runaway choice for player of the year by virtually every California publication.”
But Lin was determined to go to UCLA, Cal, Stanford, or one of the Ivy League schools. None of the Pac-10 schools showed any interest (though Lin says Stanford was “fake interested”), and the Ivies don’t give out athletic scholarships. If Lin had set his sights on a mid- or low-major, things might have worked out differently.
Lin went to Harvard, where he was a two-time All-Ivy League First Team selection and, as a senior, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award. But no one took a chance on Lin in the 2010 NBA Draft and only one team, the Mavericks, invited him to play in the Summer League.
After an impressive Summer League performance, Lin got free agent offers from four teams. He signed with the Warriors for the 2010–11 season. Three times during that season, the Warriors assigned Lin to their D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. For the season, Lin played in only 29 games, averaging 2.6 points and 1.4 assists in 9.8 minutes.
The Warriors waived Lin as soon as training camp opened for the 2011-12 season. The Rockets claimed him off waivers then let him go less than two weeks later. The Knicks picked up Lin after rookie guard Iman Shumpert got injured on opening day. A few weeks later, New York assigned Lin to the D-League.
Since Lin’s breakout game against the Nets last week, the Knicks are 3-0. Lin led the team in assists in all three games and points in two of the three. (Tyson Chandler scored 25 points to Lin’s 23 Wednesday against the Wizards.)
Linsanity skeptics will point out that two of these three games were against the lowly Nets and Wizards, but Lin bested All Star point guard Deron Williams and 2011 rookie-of-the-year John Wall. He also went for 28 and 8 against the 13-10 Jazz.
Jeremy Lin: The NBA’s Only Taiwanese American
Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese ancestry. All other Asian-American players (and there have only been four) have been of Japanese or Filipino descent.
Lin’s father, Gie-Ming Lin, grew up in Taiwan, where he become obsessed with basketball, despite having few opportunities to watch, much less play, the game. The elder Lin said that the chance to watch the NBA was one reason he decided to pursue his Ph.D in engineering in the United States.
Gie-Ming Lin went to Purdue (naturally). But even as an adult working on his doctorate, he had never picked up a basketball and didn’t feel comfortable playing against his peers. So he studied tapes of basketball games. Analyzing NBA games on his VCR became an obsession. And Gie-Ming passed down his extensive knowledge of the game to his children, among them Jeremy.
Lin’s ancestry made him a fan favorite when he played in the Bay Area, with its large Asian-American population. But Asian stereotypes might also have been responsible for Lin’s lack of opportunities coming out of high school and college.
His ethnicity also made him the target of racial slurs in college. Lin told Time that he received racially motivated taunts in most, if not all, Ivy League gyms.
Lin responded to those taunts with grace, and now he is doing more than perhaps any player before him to dispel old stereotypes about Asian Americans and basketball.
Do you want more Jeremy Lin?
Here’s Lin dominating an intramural flag football game:
Here, Lin breaks John Wall’s ankles then throws down on the Wizards:
And a couple of other Linsanity-related links:
- Mike Prada at SB Nation explains Lin’s success.
- You can buy the official Knicks “Linsanity” T-shirt here.