The point guard from Harvard, an elite college better known as a springboard to the presidency than to basketball success, has galvanized a struggling Knicks team and launched a craze dubbed “Linsanity” by New York’s tabloids.
The 23-year-old Lin wrote yet another chapter in his incredible saga by pouring in 38 points Friday to send a packed Madison Square Garden crowd into rapturous delight with a 92-85 victory over Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers for New York’s fourth straight win.
Lin, the first Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA, rose from obscurity to sublime winner by averaging 25.3 points and 8.3 assists in three victories that captivated the city and Asian-Americans across the United States.
He topped even that spectacular debut on the NBA’s big stage by outdueling five-time NBA champion Bryant as the Garden fans, some wearing Lin masks, chanted “MVP, MVP” while watching the point guard carve up the Lakers with his pinpoint passing and confident drives to the hoop.
Undrafted and cut by two other teams this season before signing with the Knicks, Lin got his chance because of injuries and the struggling form of the Knicks, who were 8-15 before he took charge on the floor in the absence of their two top scorers, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Lin admitted he was overwhelmed by all the attention.
“Things are changing so much and everyone wants to talk to me and my family, and we’re very low-key people and private people so sometimes it’s a little tough,” the 23-year-old told reporters after practicing Friday ahead of the Lakers game.
Success has come so quickly to the NBA’s latest rage, whose exploits have been called “Linsane,” “Lincredible” and the victory skein he has directed a “Lin-ing Streak,” that he does not yet have his own apartment, sleeping on the sofa of his brother, a graduate dental student at New York University.
“I didn’t know that you could turn ‘Lin’ into so many things because we’ve never done it before,” he joked. “Me and my family were just laughing last night because I guess we underestimated how creative everybody could be.”
Basketball experts have underestimated how talented Lin is.
The 6 ft 3in (1.91m) Lin was not recruited by any of the major U.S. college basketball powers despite leading Palo Alto High School (California) to a 33-1 record and the state championship.
He was twice named to the all-Ivy League team but went undrafted in 2010 by NBA teams.
“I’ve loved basketball ever since I was young,” Lin said after a question in Chinese from an NBA China TV reporter. “That’s all I really wanted to do was play basketball. That was the path. I just wanted to play as long as I could.”
A groin strain to Carmelo Anthony and a leave granted to Amar’e Stoudemire after his brother was killed in a car crash, left the Knicks shorthanded and coach Mike D’Antoni decided to give Lin a look on the court.
With Lin in action, the Knicks came alive.
Using his cross-over dribble, court vision, passing skills and ability to drive to the hoop, the young guard was able to get his team mates involved and thrill the crowds.
“I always told myself coming into this year I wanted to be able to establish myself in the rotation, and not be a 12th or 15th guy on the team,” Lin said. “That’s what I felt I could do.”
But D’Antoni said the jury was still out on how good Lin would be in the long run.
“We liked what we saw but weren’t ready to give him the keys to the car,” the coach said about his prospects.
“Three games is three games. But he has proven he has the ability to do be able to do those things.
“Not many people in the world can do it one time, and he’s done it three times in a row. He can play. At what level we’ll find out.”
Lin said he was aware of all the buzz he has created, but was just trying to focus on playing the game.
“I’m a homebody,” said Lin, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s as engineers.
“Its been great just to be able to come to a new team and have my brother and sister-in-law here to be able to spend time with. Family is key.”
Lin has won the respect of his team mates.
“He’s a humble guy,” said forward Landry Fields. He wants to go out there and perform and I don’t think he’s going to let anybody get into his head.”
Fields, who also attended a top-ranked academic college, Stanford, said he had also been swept up by “Linsanity.”
“I’ve seen it everywhere,” Fields said. “I’m from the West Coast and everybody’s hitting me up about it. It’s sweeping the nation.”
Center Tyson Chandler, who scored a season-high 25 points against Washington thanks to some deft passing from Lin, said Lin could take the acclaim in stride.
“Lin is a smart player. He’s been in there watching a lot of film. I come in there and catch some film with him. We discuss different things, pick-and-rolls, options we see.
“The way he goes about things you would never know all of this is going on. He’s just a solid guy. His mentality hasn’t changed. He is the same guy that was coming here early fighting for a 10-day contract.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)