DAY 1, FEBRUARY 4TH: Going into this night’s game, both the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets are sub.-500, their seasons already foundering in failed expectations. In New York especially, all the focus is on football, since the local Giants are on the eve of their second Superbowl of the past four seasons. Maybe because the stakes feel low, maybe because Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has few options with an injury-ridden roster, and maybe because his job is on the line, D’Antoni decides to play the team’s 3rd-string point guard from Harvard: Jeremy Lin.
The undrafted, unsigned Lin proceeds to score 25 points, including 12 in the 4th quarter, all whilst outplaying the Nets’ star guard, Deron Williams. The Knicks win, 99-92. That evening, the New York Daily News reports on the game with a headline that starts, “It’s Lin - sanity!”
So it begins.
It’s a sports media truism that February is a slow news month, what with the end of football and baseball still months away. However, the interest in Lin — a 23 year old, Chinese American basketball player — metastasized from local novelty to global phenomenon in seemingly record time. He can now boast the best-selling jersey on NBA.com. Time Magazine put him on the cover of their Asia edition; Sports Illustrated has featured him on their cover in back-to-back weeks. There’s a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after him (though no longer with fortune cookie bits). Perhaps you heard that when all this began, Lin was crashing on his brother’s couch; you couldn’t script a more unlikely, compelling story. Have I mentioned this has all happened in less than three weeks?
“Linsanity,” the phenomenon and Lin, the person/player, are obviously inextricable, but they’re not interchangeable, and over the last three weeks the Lin story has become a loom for a skein of narratives through which myriad constituencies weave their needs and desires. For some, Lin is the ultimate underdog: overlooked, undervalued yet now, overachieving. For them, his rise is a confirmation of American exceptionalism and the promise of meritocracy. He is cast as the fearless, yet unselfish, minority player who could have pursued any career with his Ivy League education, but instead, decided to gut it out in professional basketball.
For others, Lin is the beneficiary of token sympathies, overly lauded for being an Asian curiosity in a sport dominated by black and white bodies. From this perspective, Lin is a product of the same hype machine that produced Tebowmania over the winter and which will likely move onto some new flavor-of-the-month once the novelty of Lin wears off.