Jacob Eisenberg explains how one game in Maine proved that Jeremy Lin belonged in New York City…
One game was all it took for Jeremy Lin to prove he belonged in the NBA. Surprisingly, that game was not on Friday versus the Lakers in The World’s Most Famous Arena. Instead, Lin showed his NBA worth on January 20th in the unlikeliest of places – the Exposition Building of Portland, Maine. In the home of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, Jeremy Lin proved to Mike D’Antoni that he could play.
Getting sent down to the minor leagues can never feel good. In many cases, the disappointment of the relegation is enough to mentally break a player’s career. As for Jeremy Lin, the urge to crumble must have been there. After all, the demotion on January 17th symbolized the third release from an NBA team in just over a month. Lin, however, showed his character and utilized the demotion as an opportunity to prove his skeptics wrong.
Most graduates of Harvard University have an easy time of finding work within months of graduating. Jeremy Lin, however, was an unusual case. After going undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft, Lin became the talk of last summer as he outperformed number one pick John Wall in a showcase. After signing a contract with his hometown Golden State Warriors, the Taiwanese-American toiled on the bench for most of the season. However, as the season ended, Lin’s role with the Warriors increased. On the final game of the 2010-2011 season, Lin recorded a career-high thirteen points. His place in the NBA seemed established.
By the end of last season, Jeremy Lin’s role as a backup with the Warriors seemed established.
Unfortunately for Lin, as a byproduct of the NBA lockout, teams commenced free agency late leading to releases and acquisitions just days before opening day. In order to make room on the roster to offer DeAndre Jordan a contract, the Warriors sacrificed Jeremy Lin on the first day of training camp.
Several days after his release, the Rockets were quick to sign Lin. However, after David Stern foiled Houston’s plan to trade for Pau Gasol, the Rockets had to release Lin in order to make roster room to offer consolation prize Samuel Dalembert a contract. Within four days, Lin went from being released by his hometown team to being signed by the Rockets to being released by them days later. The week couldn’t get more up-and-down. Fortunately for Lin, the Knicks came calling two weeks later with an offer.
When the Knicks claimed Lin off waivers on December 27th, the move seemed low-risk/ low-reward. In reality, had Jeremy Lin’s contract been guaranteed, it is unlikely interim-GM Glen Grunwald would have signed him. What made Lin appealing to the Knicks was his combination of basketball intelligence and his lack of a guaranteed contract. For the Knicks, who had aspirations of signing Kenyon Martin or J.R Smith after they returned from China, Lin symbolized a temporary body Mike D’Antoni could throw onto the court at the end of a blowout to rest his starters. Because his contract was unguaranteed, the Knicks would be able to release him without having to pay his full salary.
Without a guaranteed contract, Lin spent the first month and a half with the Knicks living on his brother’s couch. If Lin didn’t perform for the Knicks, they would not have to pay his $ 800,000. As it turned out for Lin, opportunity became more of an issue than performance.
Despite the Knicks’ underachieving at 6-7 thirteen games into the season, Lin couldn’t get an opportunity on the court. For all of Toney Douglas, Mike Bibby, and Iman Shumpert’s struggles, Mike D’Antoni was still reluctant to play the neophyte from Harvard.
Because he was rotting on the bench, Lin was demoted. He received his pink slip from the Knicks with an assignment to start for the Knicks’ minor league affiliate, the Erie BayHawks.
The NBA Development League was established as a place for basketball players to improve their skills and give themselves exposure from NBA teams. What happens when an NBA talent is playing in the Developmental League? Just look at Jeremy Lin’s box score.
Jeremy Lin only needed one game in the D-League to prove his NBA worth.
On January 20th, Jeremy Lin debuted for the BayHawks in matchup against the lowly Maine Red Claws. To be honest, this game was lucky to draw the attendance of 2,000 fans. The Red Claws entered the game at 7-15 and the BayHawks were not far ahead at 9-12. The only reason this game was notable was because Jeremy Lin was playing.
Lin did not let up all game. As the Knicks displayed one of their poorest performances of the season in a 100-86 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Jeremy Lin had the most impressive performance of his career. With 28 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds, Lin seemed head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the competition. As it turns out twenty days later, he is better than the competition.
Lin was recalled three days after his eye-popping performance. Still, it took D’Antoni another two weeks to give Lin a legitimate opportunity. When Lin entered the Knicks-Nets game on February 4th, his team had hit rock bottom. Losing the previous night to the Boston Celtics in a fourth quarter collapse moving their record to 8-15, D’Antoni summoned Lin.
By the end of the night, Knicks fans were reminded of what they had been looking for all season, a point guard. Just six days before the Knicks’ deadline to decide whether to guarantee his contract or not, Lin removed all questions of his worth. In the three games since his initial explosion, Lin has set the NBA record for most total points within his first three starts. It is no coincidence that the Knicks have their longest winning streak of the season at four games despite missing their two superstars- Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Although the Giants won the Super Bowl less than a week ago, Jeremy Lin has supplanted Eli Manning as the toast of the town.
ESPN raves about Lin like they did for Tim Tebow just weeks ago. Jeremy Lin is providing hope to all of the underdogs. As Lin’s most recent victim Kobe Bryant said to the media after Friday’s game, “It’s a testament to perseverance and hard work. A good example for kids everywhere.”
For a franchise that has mired in the abyss of Stephon Marbury’s ego, Isiah Thomas’ sex scandal, and James Dolan’s greed, a good example like Jeremy Lin is a breath of fresh air.
Jacob Eisenberg writes for The Fan Manifesto. He can be followed on Twitter @Eisenberg43. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Published on TheFanManifesto.com on 02/11/12