This past June, I sat on a bench outside Madison Square Garden and looked up. Above me, a giant billboard featured Carmelo Anthony.
“Why?” I asked myself. Just two months after getting swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, the Knicks still thought this guy they sold the farm for was going to be their savior? An offseason featuring high profile additions of Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis made the Knicks look like contenders for the 2012 crown, but an 8-15 start all has now rendered New York insignificant.
That’s until Jeremy Lin stole the limelight. Right when we thought we could go a few weeks without hearing about the Knickerbockers, this Harvard-educated phenom comes in and puts them right in the middle of the NBA discussion, whether they belong there or not. Jeremy Lin isn’t your typical basketball star, and that’s what has made him recognizable. A NorCal kid who’s become one of the first Asian-Americans in league history is getting more attention for his ancestral background than for singlehandedly keeping the Knicks afloat, something that has been lost in the narrative of “Linsanity.”
Lin made his first big impression February 4 against the Nets playing 36 minutes, 16 more than his previous game-high for the season. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire both left with injuries, but Lin’s 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds were enough to hold off New Jersey as the Knicks won 99-92. Lin started for the first time on the 6 against the Jazz, registering 28 points and 8 assists in a 99-88 win. The third show-stopping performance in a row from Lin came in Washington on the 8. He scored 23 with 10 assists and 4 rebounds to lead the Knicks to their third straight victory.
The question is now whether Lin should remain a starter when Anthony and Stoudemire return to the lineup. It doesn’t, however, seem like much of a question to those with normal basketball IQ, and it shouldn’t be. When Lin took over, the team was coming off a 2-13 stretch. Lin is the spark that the Knicks have been looking for all year long. He has revived a suspect corps of New York guards who were waiting for false hero, Baron Davis, to come back from injury and bring them back to life. A starting lineup with Lin and Fields at guard would be ideal for New York to add to the “big three” of Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler. It keeps Ivan Shumpert from trying to grow up too fast as he has been all year long, and it will open things up for an erratic Fields, who has as many bad days as good ones.
Jeremy Lin has showed us that he’s capable this far, and the Knicks deserve to keep giving him opportunities. They clearly don’t have much else to choose from and this guy looks like the real deal thus far. Whether he’s bouncing flawless passes to Chandler or cutting through the defense, Lin shows the intelligence and awareness that an Ivy League degree can bring. He has finally brought an identity to an overpaid, underachieving Knick offense. The three game winning streak Lin has conducted put New York right back into the playoff picture in the typically shallow Eastern Conference. Having been called every Asian stereotype in the book, Lin is New York tough. It’s no wonder how he’s been able to shine on one of the biggest stages in the league.
It seems that in today’s sports world, we’re constantly looking for an unorthodox icon. Now that “Tebowmania” has subsided, “Linsanity” takes over. I, however, see a difference in the two. Lin like Tebow, brought his team back into contention with a winning streak of a few games, but Lin has much more to do with his team’s success than Tebow. Before we cast the 23 year old kid as the savior of the Knicks, like everyone they’ve acquired in the past year and a half, we should just let him play. Cult hero or not, he’s playing some pretty damn good basketball. Don’t screw this one up, New York.
Alex Rostowsky writes for TheFanManifesto. Follow us on twitter.