A look back at Jeremy Lin
The Warriors clearly erred in cutting Jeremy Lin, though this error did not seem so glaring at the time. The forgivable decision was connected to the unforgivable use of an amnesty on Charlie Bell, in pursuit of Deandre Jordan’s shadow. So focused was I on the waste of an amnesty, that I did not bother to consider the waste of a player. The amnesty-nixing was so harmful to future Warriors plans, that it rendered the Lin loss an afterthought.
Jeremy is now considered “the underdog,” a guy who just couldn’t get a fair shake. This is ironic because it once seemed that favoritism was responsible for Lin’s roster spot. Jeremy was “Lacob’s guy,” a friend, or at least cohort, of Joe’s son Kirk. To some Warriors fans, Lin represented everything he’s come to now represent as a Knick. A broken barrier, new hope, an athlete to finally identify with. To other, more jaded Warriors watchers, Lin represented an organizational tendency towards favoring hype over substance.
Oh, there was Linsanity in the Bay, though it was all in the drum roll. He was a fan favorite before donning a jersey. The story out here was immense intrigue, followed by no payoff. It is the opposite of what happened in New York, where little interest gave way to a payoff that galvanized interest around the world.
While Jeremy might not have been Jackie Robinson, he played amid some palpable bias. In his first active Warriors appearance–at 2010 Open Practice–he strove before watchful eyes, mine included. As Stephen Curry drove at a backpedalling Lin, a young black child shouted, “Don’t do it to him Steph! He ASIAN! He ASIAN!” Curry stuck the runner to loud cheers.
The crowd was pro-Lin, and I would guess the kid thought this was all in the spirit of fun–he was only a kid, after all. The Open Practice setting was intimate enough to where you had to wonder if Lin had heard, and how often he receives such taunts in general. It was my first time covering Warriors action in person, and I could not bring myself to ask Lin about it in the locker room. If he had missed the screamed comment, then why even mess with his day? Little had I known that Jeremy had endured far worse back in the Ivy League.
Lin’s first few games were brutal. He played wild, like a point guard version of Anthony Randolph. Against the Lakers, Jeremy went 1-for-5, with five fouls in 16 minutes. Though he recorded an impressive four steals, the constant defensive lurches made him appear more risky than productive. Lin’s dribble was high and balky, like Frankenstein as a puppeteer. Today, he gets lauded for being such a clever finisher. Back then, he would attempt simple layups…and get his shot simply blocked. Those layups may have gone in against Princeton, but NBA big men could swat them while yawning.
Give credit to the kid. He evolved new tricks. The new Jeremy would sooner go back to the D-League than attack the rim without some subtlety, would sooner die than mistake the Lakers for a layup line.
A job conscious Keith Smart benched him three games in a row, then played him 15 minutes to little success. Three minutes, nine minutes, zero, seven, zero. A four game stretch where Lin averaged 14 minutes per, followed by another slow banishment. Yo-yo minutes for the kid with the yo-yo dribble, there was no consistency to his chances or to his production. The fans would still scream when he subbed into the game, but the cheers had all the festive irony of an “M-V-P” chant for Joel Anthony. A consensus slowly emerged: This kid can’t play.
Lin had the D-League stint, came back to the club. It is so funny to read about this current Linsanity, because I can still picture the guy sitting alone in the locker room, waiting on absolutely no one. Not every player gets interview treatment. The guys who don’t often see the floor don’t often see our microphones. You won’t read about the 12th man, so what’s the point of talking to him?
Mere months ago, Jeremy Lin was somebody you wouldn’t read about. A year ago, Jeremy Lin was somebody you would read about. Today, Jeremy Lin is somebody whom everybody reads about.
Somewhere in between, Mark Jackson was named coach of the Warriors. The official press conference was held in a San Francisco hotel, where Jackson’s fame aura was only trumped by that of a beaming Jerry West. Joe Lacob and Peter Guber were there, shaking hands with fingers that could touch a billion dollars. Various Bay Area media figures were present, and the GSW executives were doing their best to mingle with press folk.
Jeremy Lin was also there, in a suit, as the only actual Warriors player representing. He appeared a bit bashful and out of place amid the powerful middle aged men. Why was he there? To fight for his job? To be a good soldier?
On a lark, I asked Jackson about Lin, with a question that drew snickers from surrounding reporters: “Jeremy Lin’s here, do you see him as a rotation player going forward?”
(Rotation player? Lin could scarcely keep himself out of Reno, even with the owner’s backing.)
Mark Jackson responded with impassivity: “I think he’s a heck of a young player. And it’s going to be interesting. He’s going to have every opportunity, to put himself in position, to definitely be a player that’s in the rotation.”
Lin was cut before the first practice. Lin might now be more famous than anyone who strutted through that hotel.