For diehard New York Knicks fans, the last four decades have been years of promise and years of frustration. The Patrick Ewing era began with dreams of championship rings and ended with ringless fingers. For a time Madison Square Garden resembled a tomb of interred memories from Clyde “The Glide” Frazier to Willis Reed and from Dave DeBusschere to Bill Bradley.
The past projected the only hope for the future. However, several weeks ago, in what can only be described as a magical moment, everything changed!
The Garden was energized by the unlikeliest of sources: a 23-year-old Chinese-American who graduated from Harvard, not the most obvious basketball factory. Moreover, the young man in question, Jeremy Lin, was dropped from the roster of two other teams.
He was regarded as too slow and too soft to make it in the NBA. He was sent down to the D League to improve his skills and was considered the likeliest person to be cut from the Knicks squad 24 hours before the decision was made to keep him.
In a scant half-dozen games Lin transformed the Knicks franchise and New York City. He has created Linsanity, a fascination with team play unseen in New York since the early 1970s.
Moreover, as opposed to players who preen in front of a camera after a dunk or who have tattoos all over their bodies as advertisements for themselves, Lin is self-effacing, tattoo free, and invariably gives credit to his teammates for recent successes.
In fact, he is the straw that stirs the drink. As a point guard he orchestrates the attack. He has been averaging about 25 points a game with seven assists thrown in for good measure.
Most significantly, he has changed the fortunes of the team. The Knicks have won eight of their last 10 games by playing team basketball, looking for the open man and unselfishly giving up the ball when the situation calls for it.
Lin was a successful, but not highly recruited basketball player from Palo Alto. In fact, his first college choice was Stanford, but the coach there didn’t recognize his potential. He went to Harvard where he majored in economics, not exactly the conventional route to the NBA. He was not drafted out of college.
His parents are both engineers and brought up their son in a traditional Christian home. His dedication to Christian principles invariably emerges in his press conferences. Rather than live the flamboyant life of an NBA player, Lin did not have his own apartment and slept on a couch in his brother’s flat, never complaining about the living arrangement.
In his first starting assignment against the Utah Jazz, I was seated in a floor seat about five feet from his brother. Sibling excitement is the only way to describe the scene that evening. Lin scored 28 points that night and led his team to victory, but the smile on his brother’s face told an even more scintillating story.
Lin is the only Chinese-American in the NBA. He is now a star who cannot be denied fame and fortune. But it is his attitude that wins fan loyalty. He puts team ahead of self, a position almost unknown in the professional ranks today. He gives credit to God for his success, but it isn’t a treacly religiosity that he espouses. He appears to be comfortable in his own skin.
Whether he can lead the Knicks to the promised land of the championship remains to be seen. In the short term, he has generated interest in the team, given it a new and healthy perspective, and restored basic team concepts to a game infected with narcissistic attitudes.
Jeremy Lin is a phenomenon who has put electricity into the Madison Square Garden stands. When he is on the court all eyes are on him; he is the one player others want on their team. He makes the basketball machine hum and he did this coming from nowhere to scale the heights of big-time basketball in New York.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.
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