By Jason Keidel
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With all the static of myriad sidebars surrounding Jeremy Lin – from his storybook eruption in New York to sparking a global, Gangham Style craze we coined Linsanity to his solemn departure to Houston – it's hard to separate the man from the myth.
But one thing that seems nearly universal in Knicks fans is the bubbling contempt suddenly shown the young man since he left our city for far greener pastures in Texas. And it's hard to understand why. From talk show hosts to fans who just a few months ago regarded Lin like he was King Farouk, everyone east of the Hudson morphed from Jeremy Lin devotees to player haters in a New York minute.
What's Lin's sin? He did what any of us have done or would do: sign with the highest-paying employer.
The rigid, rigorous rancor toward Lin is baffling, if not childish. Evidently, going 19-6 isn't enough. Lin and the Rockets must perform inversely. Not only are New Yorkers giddy over their team's feverish start, they take equal solace in the Rockets' 13-12 record and are downright spastic over Jeremy Lin's struggle (11.6 PPG, 6 APG, 3.9 RPG) to adjust to a new team and town. It seems the only team Lin can beat is the one he made relevant for a few surreal weeks last winter.
Lin gave Knicks fans a reason to cheer for the first time since the 20th Century, when Y2K was the digital apocalypse. Lin was like a meteor shower on a frigid, endless, winter night, something to celebrate during the darkest time of the year. He made consecutive covers of Sports Illustrated – no doubt aided by the vacuum in the sports calendar between football and baseball – and has handled his new-found fame with an elegance we could only hope to summon.
If you read the recent feature on him in SI, you'd see he knows that Linsanity is larger than his life, an organism of its own, that he's more an avatar of ethnic and cultural crossroads and political jousting than the progenitor of an authentic global movement. And yet he still travels the world, to his ancestral hubs in China and Taiwan, endures the dog-and-pony act with nobility while entire nations tug on his tattered cape. Surely his influence on global interest in basketball warrants some coin, even if the contract isn't commensurate to his hardwood prowess.
Carmelo Anthony breached an implicit agreement, if not an entire brotherhood by panning a fellow player's contract. He called Lin's three-year, $25 million deal "ridiculous." And he's right. I mean, what well-run team would give a player who hasn't won anything countless millions? Besides the Knicks, of course, who gave Carmelo $100 million when he hasn't even sniffed an NBA Finals…
You or your parents or their parents have heard stories about Jim Brown, who is about as big physically and metaphysically as Paul Bunyan. When asked why he never spiked the pigskin after a touchdown or choreographed some silly, celebratory contortion, Brown said he wanted to act like he'd been there before.
And that's the problem with Knicks fans. You're so unaccustomed to being decent, much less dominant, that you don't know how to handle a little prosperity. And a little it is. Long before the Knicks dashed out to this start, we were hearing comparisons to Red Holzman's juggernaut. All the anecdotes about Clyde and Pearl and Dollar Bill were belched over the airwaves as if the 2012 Knicks were already in the NBA Finals, up 3-1, and ready to drop the guillotine on the Lakers, just like the old days.
All this hyperbole heaped upon a team that hasn't won since the Nixon administration, hasn't won a playoff series in over a decade, and has won ONE playoff game in ten years. Can the Knicks win a round before we crown them?
And what does any of this have to do with Jeremy Lin? The worst part about the five-borough bile chucked at the Houston Rocket is that no one is better versed in the phenomenon than New Yorkers. If anything, New Yorkers should show a little gratitude toward the Harvard Man. What, you prefer Latrell Sprewell, who goes Hulk Hogan on head coaches?
Heck, I detest the Knicks and even I was spellbound by Linsanity. A crossover here, a dribble-drive there, a perfect pass to a slashing forward. How sweet it must be for Lin to at least have lit-up the Knicks during his lone performance at MSG this year.
And we can even take a provincial pride in the young man who, rather than say he's a child of the world, a dot in the united colors of Benneton, he's proudest of being an American at a time when loathing our land has become nauseatingly chic.
Word of advice to Knicks fans. Don't worry about Jeremy Lin. He has moved on, rather gracefully. It's time for you to do the same, lest you be reminded of how hard it will be to win without Lin.
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