By JORDAN IKEDA
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 9, 2012.)
Here in America, the NFL is king. Here in America, the masses are pushing to make Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday. Here in America, New York is our most world-renowned city.
So, with the New York Giants winning the Super Bowl this past Sunday, one would think there wouldn’t be much else to talk about, especially in Empire City. Besides the biggest team in the biggest city winning the country’s biggest game, a plethora of stories are there for the writing — Eli Manning now having more rings than his elder brother; that incredible, game-altering fourth- quarter catch by Mario Manningham; the triumphant tale of Jason Pierre-Paul; coach Tom Coughlin proving all the doubters wrong …
And yet, a day after the Super Bowl, a 6-3 Asian American from San Francisco playing for a 10-15 New York Knicks team has somehow scooped up Gotham’s headlines. Especially after Monday night’s virtuoso, Isaiah Thomas-like 28-point, 8-assist performance sans superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire that had the Madison Square Garden faithful chanting “MVP.”
Guess that’s what they mean when they say a New York minute.
In case you hadn’t heard, Jeremy Lin is sort of a big deal in the Big Apple. They’re calling it Linsanity.
Why I bring this up is that he should be a big deal for you too… even though you’re most likely living on the West Coast and most likely not Taiwanese American.
There’s still plenty to pay attention to. After all, here in the Japanese American community, basketball is king. Here in the Japanese American community, the J-Leagues rule our weekends. And while we’ve gotten a few cracks at the NBA (Wat Misaka, Rex Walters, and Robert Swift), our most successful hoops-related stories have all been at the college level.
For sure there have been other Asians to play in the NBA, most notably Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, and Yuta Tabuse, but Lin represents Asian America’s breakthrough into the National Basketball Association.
And we’re not talking about a bit piece, playing spare minutes in blowouts, or a guy getting into a few games throughout the season. We’re now talking about the starting point guard for the NBA’s largest franchise.
Lin already played the role of borderline NBA-er. After going undrafted in 2010, Lin signed on with his hometown Golden State Warriors but only appeared in 29 games, averaging a little under 10 minutes. Due to a plethora of combo guards on the team compounded further with the drafting of Klay Thompson, the Warriors released Lin in the offseason. He’s spent much of this season trying to hang on to a spot on an NBA roster, released twice in a 16-day span earlier this year. In fact, up until this past Saturday night, he’d been a third-string bench player bouncing between the Knicks and the Bayhawks, New York’s affiliate NBA Development team.
Today, two big wins, 53 points and thousands of MVP chants later, he’s the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, the same team Misaka laced ’em up for 65 years ago.
Let’s be clear. It’s highly unlikely that Lin will continue to average 26 points and 7.5 assists on 55 percent shooting — not with scouting reports now focusing on him, and a game-heavy schedule that already had Lin talking about conditioning after 45 minutes of action in his first career start. With Melo and Amare missing time, it’s also hard to see the Knicks continuing to win with Jared Jefferies, Bill Walker and former Clippers’ “sniper” Steve “I only shoot 3s” Novak playing large chunks of time.
Furthermore, if Baron Davis returns (I say “if” ’cause he’s the definition of “iffy”), Lin will probably lose his starting spot. Hell, he might have already after potentially being embarrassed by John Wall last night. (Side note: these two have a mini-history as Lin got noticed two years ago during a summer league game playing some tenacious defense against 2010’s number one overall pick.)
For what it’s worth, I doubt Wall dominated Lin in their matchup because the thing is, kid knows how to play. He knows how to get to the rim and finish. He knows when to pass. He’s got sneaky athleticism. While his jumper is a work in progress, he’s a natural fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system. A system that transformed Chris Duhon (yes, Chris Duhon!) and Raymond Felton into borderline all-stars and Steve Nash into a two-time MVP.
Because Lin is basketball smart and knows how to balance setting guys up and scoring, I think he’ll continue to be successful playing under D’Antoni. I believe he’ll be B-Diddy’s backup once the bearded one gets over all of his ailments. I think these two games have earned him that much.
Whatever happens, there’s no doubt that the 24-year-old Lin has made a splash in the NBA. And the thing about the NBA is that it’s star-driven — once your name has recognition, you’ll continue to get chances (hello dunk champ Gerald Green).
As for the rest of you playing hoops out in Asian America, Lin has opened the door for you to get chances. He’s smashed down the stereotypes. He’s proven that Asian Americans can be successful on the biggest stage of basketball. And he’s made a big enough splash that the next Asian American kid tearing up the college ranks won’t get overlooked just because he’s Asian.
Scouts will have to give that kid a look, because you never know, he could be the next Jeremy Lin.