Jeremy Lin needed a chance, the Knicks needed a spark, and together they were a perfect match in February.
Lin saved his career and salvaged New York’s season, and for three weeks the Knicks and their little-known point guard made basketball matter again at Madison Square Garden, a place known as the Mecca but in reality years removed from being the center of anyone’s NBA universe.
New York fans loved him, but Lin’s popularity reached far beyond them. An American-born Asian and Ivy League graduate, he was nothing like the opponents he was suddenly outplaying on a nightly basis.
It was an amazing, inspiring story, but ultimately Lincomplete.
Great stories are authored every NBA winter, though rarely with the global impact of Lin’s.
Lasting legacies, however, are only made in the spring.
Lin won’t be able to help the Knicks reach the playoffs. He probably has lost the chance to match up against Derrick Rose or some other point guard with the season on the line.
He is headed for surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, with an expected six-week recovery time meaning the Knicks will only still be playing if someone takes hold of the offense the way he did two months ago.
So it’s too soon for Lin to describe what he went through this season, knowing the journey ended long before the finish.
“This season’s been, when you talk about ups and downs, this has been a lot of downs and a lot of ups,” Lin said. “And at the end of the day I’m still thankful to be here, thankful to be part of the Knicks, to see this team, how we’ve grown and how we’re going to make a push for the playoffs and hopefully go deep in the playoffs. I think as a team we’re doing OK and we’re going to be just fine, but it’s obviously been a very emotional year.”
For Lin, there certainly should be relief. He was perhaps days away from being cut for a third time this season before former coach Mike D’Antoni turned to him with the season going nowhere in February. The Knicks could have cut him the following week without having to guarantee his contract of the remainder of the season, and Lin refused to even get his own place to live with that black cloud hanging over him.
Undrafted out of Harvard, he left no question of his NBA credentials in the weeks that followed. Someone will give him a job next season, in New York or elsewhere.
But Lin has never been caught up in himself, trying desperately during the height of Linsanity to deflect the attention away from himself and onto his team. So when asked how knee surgery could affect his uncertain future, Lin quickly turned the discussion back to the present.
“I’m more concerned about the season,” Lin said.
Already without the injured Amare Stoudemire, another major injury will be difficult to overcome as the Knicks try to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Baron Davis, Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas are the remaining point guards, but if the latter two could do the job, the Knicks never would have needed to try Lin in the first place.
That leaves Davis, who is still playing his way back into shape after a herniated disk kept him sidelined until February. The former All-Star turns 33 this month and has been injury prone, so the Knicks in some ways may need Lin more than ever.
“Jeremy’s a lot more livelier than Baron in terms of movement. Baron’s been around, Baron is a crafty veteran. But again, he’s playing a little banged-up right now, so he’s not the Baron of old,” interim coach Mike Woodson said. “So Jeremy brings a lot to the table. We’re going to miss what he brings.”
Assuming he can’t make it back this season, the question is where Linsanity will be seen again.
Lin will be a restricted free agent this summer, allowing the Knicks to match any offer made to him. D’Antoni loved him and Woodson has gained respect for him — though he seemed to question Lin’s toughness by saying Lin chose to have surgery when he’s known players who played through the injury — but it’s unknown who will be making the decisions. Woodson may not be back and general manager Glen Grunwald also wears an interim tag, so it’s possible the Knicks could have an entirely new staff that has someone else in mind for its point guard.
Lin knows where he wants to be.
“I think New York, the way that the city, that the fans, writers, the media, everybody, I think it’s been an unbelievable journey,” he said. “I would love to keep this team together as long as we can. Everybody, top to bottom.”
The deeply religious Lin called his injury a “bump in the road,” saying he would trust in God’s plan for him. That faith got Lin through his turbulent first month of this season, when his hometown Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets waived him before the season started.
And it kept him upbeat and confident after D’Antoni’s resignation last month, which was greeted by speculation that Lin wouldn’t be the same player under Woodson, who preferred veterans who don’t turn the ball over as often as Lin.
Lin’s stats indeed went down but the wins kept coming, which is ultimately how point guards should be judged.
Whenever he returns, some doubters will be waiting, wondering if he’s lost a step after having surgery for the first time in his life, or if someone else’s offense will be too much of an adjustment.
After what Lin accomplished in just two months, nobody should write him off.
That would be Linsane.