Nobody needs to read another person's meditation on Jeremy Lin leaving the Knicks, I know, but I just need to think out loud for a few minutes here to process some lingering thoughts.
Because here's the thing: Linsanity wasn't some gimmick ginned up by ESPN or anyone else who desperately wanted Jeremy Lin to succeed. He became a household name because of what he did on the court. That Lakers game, the Raptors game-winner, the Mavs game on ABC where he had 28 and 14 and completely destroyed Dallas in the second half. These things happened, and it was great.
He basically brought every benchwarming teenager's daydreams to life -- where the point guard comes out of nowhere and becomes the biggest star on the planet and everyone's asking "How is he doing it???" and he's on back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers and every other game he just keeps one-upping himself. The daydream really happened with Lin, and it was totally, totally awesome.
But here's the problem: So many people saw Linsanity as "A Star Is Born" instead of a "totally decent player taking over and playing like a star for a few weeks." Those three weeks in February weren't cool because we were watching a star come out of nowhere; it was great because we were watching a nobody come out of nowhere and play like a star for a few weeks. It wouldn't last forever; that's what made it so amazing while it lasted.
This is important; if Lin had come out of nowhere as a potential superstar -- like Gilbert Arenas, maybe -- then all the noise the past seven days would've made perfect sense.
But he's not 2003 Gilbert Arenas. He was playing in the perfect system at a time when the Knicks had no other options, so Mike D'Antoni was able to hand him the ball and ask questions later. Once Lin began to look a little more mortal and Carmelo got back, reality set in.
He needs the ball in his hands to be effective, he needs shots to justify being on the court, he needs great defenders to help cover for him, and even if he has all that, he's gotta play at his absolute best for the whole formula to be worth the trouble. It makes you wonder whether people would think of Lin's game differently if he were black. Would we see him as a continuation of every not-quite-dominant-enough scoring combo guard that the NBA casts aside literally every single year? Sometimes -- or one time, with Gilbert Arenas -- that's a mistake and a superstar slips through the cracks. But usually it makes sense.
Since almost everyone in the NBA can play, the biggest thing that dictates NBA success is opportunity. But guys like Flip Murray and Juan Dixon never became stars because they came with an opportunity cost. They can be decent if you give them shots and lots of minutes, but that's gonna take away from everyone else on the court. If they're just decent but not dominant, it's not worth what you're losing. And that's Lin. Decent, not dominant.
None of this is certain, obviously. Lin played less than half of an already-shortened season, he's still young, and who knows where it goes from here. But just because we can't be sure doesn't mean everybody should just abandon logic when we talk about Jeremy Lin.
Over the past week Knicks fans have been eyes-out-of-their-head enraged about their team refusing to pay the Asian Flip Murray $30 million in 2015*, and it's all a little bit insulting. We could go through and parse a hundred indignant Knicks posts and tweets, but you've probably seen them. People who are indignant now about all the disrespect to Lin might feel different when he's voted in as an massively overmatched All-Star starter for the next five years. (*Edit: Not all to Lin, but at least $30 million, with harsher tax penalties multiplying what Lin's salary costs New York).
Yes, the Knicks let an asset go for nothing and it was probably over some petty resentment from James Dolan and it was probably stupid. But no, he wasn't really a budding star, and given the pressure to play him and keep him relevant, maybe he wasn't even a great fit on the Knicks roster. The Knicks do not have mascot. They do not need a mascot starting at point guard. They could have eventually traded him, but when the biggest reason to keep an expensive player is "you might be able to trade him," it's not exactly a slam dunk move.
So, all the sanctimony had been driving me crazy this week. It's ridiculous. Then I read this interview from Sports Illustrated and understood why exactly this has been so frustrating.
"A year ago, I was just trying to stay alive and fight day by day, just to be on a roster," said Lin, who famously slept on couches upon his arrival in New York. "What I have now is way more than I ever would have dreamed of, and way more than I need."
The biggest problem is that I don't want to root against Jeremy Lin.
The cynic in me wants this week of madness to look ridiculous in nine months when Lin is hobbling along in Houston, overwhelmed and overpaid on a 30-win Rockets team. Except... When you really look at Lin and listen to him, he's just a genuine, thoughtful guy who just happens to be living out every teenager's fantasy, taking every step in stride. If everyone else has lost perspective here, it's not his fault.
It was tempting to be cynical in February and it's even moreso now, but cynicism misses the point as badly as the naive fans holding Internet effigies for the Knicks management team this week.
The truth about Jeremy Lin is that his story is a sports movie brought to life, so maybe that blurs people's reality a little bit in both directions. But at the center of it all, he's not some inspirational cartoon. He's just a player who worked his ass off in case he ever got a chance in the NBA, got the opportunity of a lifetime in New York City, then capitalized on it all like a sensible adult. Apart from the hurricane of insufferable hyperbole spinning around him, Lin's every bit as refreshing as he was in February. And as certain as I am that all this week's outrage has been a complete waste of time, I'm equally certain that when he's in Houston next year, I'll be rooting for him to prove me wrong.