Newest Knick Out to Prove He’s Not Just a Novelty

Source: New York Time (online)
Published: December 28, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO – Jeremy Lin’s 18-month ride through the N.B.A. could best be described as exhilarating, emotional, stressful, agonizing and sobering, more or less in that order.

He has been an unheralded prospect, a hometown sensation, a scrutinized ethnic symbol and a basketball curiosity, at once intriguing and underestimated and ultimately discarded.

Today, Lin is merely a Knick, grateful for a new beginning and the chance to push his story forward, unencumbered by labels.

“I’m just going to play basketball,” Lin said Wednesday before his first Knicks shoot around. “I’m not going to over think anything. I’m just going to go out there, have some fun and play.”

The statement was intentionally broad and unspecific, but the sentiment was tangible.

Jeremy Lin, signed by the Warriors in 2010, was the fourth Asian-American to make the N.B.A.

In July 2010, Lin made headlines when the Golden State Warriors signed him to a free-agent contract. He was an un-drafted rookie, a Harvard graduate, a local product (from Palo Alto) and, perhaps most intriguing, just the fourth player of Asian-American descent to make the N.B.A.

His profile was unique and irresistible, especially in the Bay Area, with its large Asian-American population, which celebrated his arrival. Lin was bombarded with attention and expectations. His agent and the Warriors’ public-relations staff had to impose a temporary moratorium on interviews, just to give him some breathing room.

Lin wanted to be a professional basketball player, not a novelty. A year ago, at age 22, he tried his best to be both, and struggled.

“He loves the fact that he is who he is,” said Roger Montgomery, Lin’s agent. “He loves the fact that he’s Jeremy Lin. But I think he will be really excited when people can say, ‘Man, Jeremy Lin can play.’ Not, ‘Oh the Asian guy — he’s pretty good, huh?’ ”

Montgomery chuckled softly. “Jeremy can hoop,” he said. “But he’s got to prove it.”

Lin may get that chance with the Knicks, who claimed him off waivers Tuesday, two days after he was cut by the Houston Rockets. The Knicks badly needed point-guard depth, and they had been intrigued with Lin for some time.

A 6-foot-3, 200-pound point guard, Lin is deft in the pick-and-roll — a staple of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense — with excellent court vision and more athleticism than he is generally given credit for. He was an excellent shooter in college, although he had difficulty in his limited minutes with the Warriors. He appeared in only 29 games, averaging 2.6 points in 9.8 minutes with a .389 field-goal percentage.

The Knicks opened the season with only one proven point guard, the veteran Mike Bibby, and a young starter, Toney Douglas, whose play making skills and decision-making are suspect. Baron Davis will join the starting lineup once his herniated disk heals, but that may be months away. Iman Shumpert — whose injury prompted the Knicks to sign Lin — is a rookie who is better suited to play shooting guard for now.

So while Lin may start his Knicks career as an emergency backup, he should get a solid chance to prove his value. The Knicks need a steady play maker, someone who can get Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire the ball at the right spot, at the right time, and relieve them from having to create too much on their own or force the action.

Is Lin that player? Knicks officials, who worked him out before the 2010 draft, hope so.

“We liked his speed, we liked his aggressiveness, we liked his size, we liked him being able to penetrate,” D’Antoni said. Lin’s $788,000 contract will not become fully guaranteed until Feb. 10, so the Knicks have time to evaluate him with little risk.

Lin’s road to the Knicks was unexpected, a product of salary-cap machinations as much as anything. The Warriors waived him to tender an offer to DeAndre Jordan, a restricted free agent. The Warriors would have brought Lin back, but he was claimed by the Rockets. Houston waived Lin while clearing roster and cap room to sign Samuel Dalembert. But the Rockets tried hard to find a way to keep Lin.

Lin, whose parents are from Taiwan, is the N.B.A.’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He is the league’s fourth Asian-American, following Raymond Townsend (Filipino-American), who played for the Warriors (1978-80) and Indiana Pacers (1981-82); Wat Misaka (Japanese-American), who was with the Knicks in 1947-48; and Rex Walters (half Japanese), who played from 1993 to 2000 for the Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.

Lin is the first Harvard player to make the N.B.A. since Ed Smith in 1953-54.

The excitement that Lin generated was at times overwhelming. Some fans and commentators wrote him off as a publicity stunt.

“It was extremely taxing for him,” Montgomery said, adding, “He wanted to please a lot of people.”

Lin and Montgomery are, to be sure, grateful for the opportunity the Warriors provided. The fascination with his biography would probably have consumed him no matter where he started his career. But it was tougher in the Bay Area, which had an added rooting interest, and tougher still to find playing time behind two young stars, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.

Now Lin has shed the rookie jitters and has learned to cope with the frenzy around him, Montgomery said. The mission this season, Lin told Montgomery, is “I want to show them that I’m the real deal.”

As he prepared for the shoot around Wednesday, the reserved Lin tried to contain his emotions. He admitted he was “still kind of in shock” about being waived by his hometown team, 18 months after it granted him his N.B.A. entry.

“It seems like forever ago,” Lin said, “but obviously a dream come true. And I’m still excited, just as excited, to be with the Knicks right now.”