A little more than two years ago, a Chinese-American basketball player entered his 39th NBA game. At the end of the game, New York, the world and sports writers would have a new word: “Linsanity”, Jack Freifelder reports from New York.
Linsanity What was it? “Linsanity: (noun.) The state of excitement surrounding basketball phenom Jeremy Lin — a point guard for the New York Knicks, the NBA’s first Chinese-American player, and a gift to sports headline writers everywhere.” — The blog Breaking Copy. What happened to it? “New York Knicks fans awoke to the headlines none wanted to see: “End of the Lin,” “Lin is Gone” — for many the loss of star point guard Jeremy Lin felt like a betrayal. The Knicks confirmed that they wouldn’t match the Houston Rockets’ three-year, $25 million offer for the 23-year-old.” — Fox Sports, July 19, 2012
It has been two years since “Linsanity’’ ruled New York City. Lin — the Harvard University graduate who slept on his brother’s couch in the city because that was all he could afford — came off the bench of the New York Knicks on February 4, 2012.
More than 19,000 fans packed Madison Square Garden that night to watch the Knicks and the New Jersey Nets. The Knicks had lost 11 of their last 14 games.
“When [the Knicks] fell behind 30-20 at the end of the first quarter … all seemed lost,” Will Leitch wrote in a story for New York Magazine. “And then coach Mike D’Antoni got desperate. He had no choice. There was nobody left, and nothing was working. And just like that: Linsanity had begun.”
When the buzzer sounded, Lin had helped guide the Knicks to a 99-92 victory, tallying 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
“It just hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Lin said after that game. “I’m still kind of in shock by everything that happened. I’m just trying to soak it all in right now.’’
Lin’s out-of-nowhere performance captured the city and beyond. In China, the world’s second-largest NBA market, Lin brought a revival of the NBA not seen since the exit of Yao Ming in 2011.
Linsanity sparked higher ticket prices at the Garden and helped boost the share price of the Madison Square Garden Company’s stock. Puns galore
Headline writers, especially on the city’s tabloids, used every pun and superlative they could dream up. “Lincredible!” shouted The New York Post. “Lin and a Prayer” was the page 1 headline in The Daily News; on the back page: “Just Lin Time.”
And on the sports website Deadspin: “It’s the perfect beginning of what could either be Knicks fans’ latest colossal disappointment or the league’s favorite marketing figure since Yao Ming.”
Linsanity was on a roll. Overnight T-shirts and hats with “Linsanity’’ and/or Lin’s photo on them hit the market.
Mitchell Modell, owner of the Modell’s sporting goods chain in the New York City area, told CNBC that it acquired some 168,000 Lin and Linsanity items within 48 hours, including blank T-shirts, jerseys and towels, and then paid printers to put Lin’s number and name on them.
“We had to tie up every local printer,” Modell said. “We put basically a lock on everything Lin in the entire country.”
And more was in the works: Perfume. Towels. Mugs. Socks. Underwear. Sandals. Hats. Visors. After-shave. Cellphone cases. Headbands. Even fire-retardant pajamas for toddlers.
Even Lin himself wasn’t going to be left out of the marketplace.
After his fifth game, when he scored 20 points and made eight assists, he filed to register a trademark for “Linsanity’’ with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
“We laid out a strategy and moved forward with it in 36 hours,” Pamela Deese, a partner in the intellectual property group at Arent Fox, in Washington, told the New York Times. “You have to be able to pivot quickly, as they say in basketball.”
Linsanity was a craze made for the tabloids, but the Times also added to the fervor.
On February 28, under the headline “A New Design for Jeremy Lin Gear’’, the newspaper said that “the voting booth was now closed’’ for readers to submit their designs for Lin T-shirts, hats, jerseys or other goods.
“A New York star on the scale of Jeremy Lin calls for a graphic treatment that is both tasteful and revolutionary, like Lin himself. So far, the designs out there fall short. We asked our readers to help us address the problem by submitting their own designs….’’ said the Times’ story. The paper said 10 finalists had been selected by its magazine’s designer director.
The week before, on Feb 19, the newspaper’s media columnist David Carr wrote about other fallout from the Linsanity craze under the headline “Media Hype for Lin Stumbles on Race.’’
“Unfortunately for Lin and the rest of us, the over-the-top coverage that followed ended over the line, exposing underlying racist tropes that still lurk in the id of American sports journalism, and by extension, the rest of us,’’ wrote Carr, noting that the New York Post tabloid used the “unfortunate’’ headline “Amasian!”.
still kind of in shock by everything that happened. I’m just trying to soak it all in right now.’’ JEREMY LIN
“The combination of Lin’s ethnicity and accomplishments created some excess, but no one could have predicted how low it might go,’’ Carr wrote, pointing out that an article on sports channel ESPN’s mobile site “recycled an ancient and blatantly offensive ethnic slur.’’ “ESPN quickly changed the headline and has fired the person who wrote it, but not before all but ruining a sweet sporting story.’’ And he added: “The real story is more complicated and interesting than the one that lived in punny, lazy headlines: Lin is a proud Christian, which brings in the heartland. As an Asian American, he represents the triumph of the immigrant.’’ The start
The Jeremy Lin-NBA story started on July 21, 2010, when he signed with the Golden State Warriors, becoming the first Americanborn Chinese player in the NBA. Ironically, his first game with the Warriors came during a celebration of Asian Heritage Night on October 29, 2010.
Born and raised in California to parents who emigrated from Taiwan and whose ancestors came from the east coast of the Chinese mainland, Lin was encouraged by his parents, Gie-Ming Lin and Shirley Lin, to play basketball since his childhood.
As a senior at his high school in Palo Alto, California, Lin had captained his team to a 32-1 record. When he graduated, Lin sent his resume and a highlight video reel to all the Ivy League schools and a handful of other universities.
Harvard and Brown University accepted him, but neither could offer a sports scholarship, and Lin chose to attend Harvard.
His play as a senior in college earned him some recognition but few saw Lin as much of a pro prospect. Nonetheless, when he graduated from Harvard in 2010 with a degree in economics and a 3.1 grade-point average, he chose to enter the 2010 NBA draft. But his name was not called on draft night, and as an undrafted prospect, Lin’s chances of playing in the NBA were slim at best.
Besides Lin, only three Harvard players had ever played professional basketball.
In a five-game stint at the 2010 NBA Summer League, Lin played 18 minutes a game for the Mavericks, garnering the attention of a number of NBA clubs, including his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors.
Four weeks after being snubbed at the 2010 NBA draft, Lin had his first NBA contract, though it was partially guaranteed. However, Lin received minimal playing time throughout the rest of the season.
In July 2011, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired. The result was the league’s fourth lockout, which lasted 161 days. Some players used the break to play elsewhere, with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) serving as one of the outlets. Lin followed other NBA stars playing for the CBA; but played only three games with the Dongguan Leopards.
s story gave and continues to give hope to anyone who is aspiring to rise from obscurity to the moon.’’ DR. RICHARD LUSTBERG SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST
On December 27, 2011, Lin signed with the Knicks.
He totaled 136 points in his first five starts, including a career-high 38 points in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb 10. Lin’s tally in that span was the most by a single player since the NBA merged with the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1976, outpacing the likes of NBA icons Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan — among many others.
Nathaniel Jue — a writer for the Bleacher Report, a sports-focused digital media company — said the timing of Lin’s emergence helped fill the void created by Yao’s retirement in July 2011.
“China has been anxiously awaiting the emergence of a player to keep their interest in the NBA,” Jue wrote in a February 2012 article. “Without Yao, how would China stay involved … Jeremy Lin.”
On March 18, Dr. Richard Lustberg, a psychologist, wrote on his blog Psychology of Sports of Lin:
“Many cannot help but relate to someone who came from out of nowhere and showed them all! Being undervalued and misjudged is not uncommon. Add on the Asian pride factor and it is a real feel good story to me. And it sells papers, jerseys and tickets which is good for the economy. What could be bad?’’ But the end of Linsanity was on its way. After a game against the Detroit Pistons in March 2012, Lin had an MRI that revealed a small meniscus tear in his left knee. Rather than risking additional injury, Lin sat out the rest of the season.
A full month after Lin was sidelined, his No 17 jersey was still the second-highest selling one in the NBA, outselling fellow Knicks teammate Carmelo Anthony, according to ESPN.
Though the Knicks went on to make the playoffs in 2012, Linsanity flickered out shortly after Lin’s injury and move to the bench.
In July 2012, Lin became a restricted free agent and opted to test the free-agent market in lieu of choosing to re-sign with the Knicks.
He signed a contract with the Houston Rockets for three years and $25 million a few weeks later. And on July18, a Times’ headline summed it up: “Lin Is Gone, and So Is the Buzz’’ As for all those T-shirts and other garb, a headline on TIME Magazine’s website said:
“These Prices Are Linsane! Fire Sale Begins for Jeremy Lin Knicks Merchandise’’
“T-shirts that once sold for $25 will go for $5, jerseys that retailed for $90 will probably be discounted by at least 50%,’’ the article said. “The NBA Store, meanwhile, has cut the price of many Lin Knicks’ items in half: T-shirts that originally sold for $19.99 now available for $9.97, and $59.99 jerseys are currently advertised at $29.97.’’
Evan Jackson Leong — a documentary maker and a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with a major in Asian American Studies — chronicled Lin’s journey from Harvard to his debut with the Knicks in Linsanity, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. ‘The same kid’
Through all the media coverage, Leong said the thing that resonated most with him was Lin’s ability to stay true to his character.
“He definitely matured because of his responsibilities above and beyond playing basketball, but I’m actually really proud he’s the same kid I met five years ago.”
“Going through all the lows and negativity … that’s what kept him sort of humble in my perspective,” Leong said. “Basketball is not life and it’s not everything, but [Linsanity] has given him something to lean back on the rest of his career. It’s an awesome moment to remember for the rest of your life.”
As for Lin, who declined requests for comments for this story, he has settled into a backup role on the Houston Rockets. The team’s acquisition of James Harden and Dwight Howard, two of the league’s most well-known superstars, gave the Rockets a leading tandem, making Lin a sixth man.
Lin’s ability to score off the bench allows him to “still show flashes of ‘Linsanity,’” according to ESPN NBA analyst David Thorpe.
“He can get rolling with his shot, but those chances for him to do that are more rare now,” Thorpe told China Daily. “Lin’s job is to score off the bench and play tough on-ball defense. He is likely going to be a second-unit player for his career, but he looks like a team player to me.”
“Houston is a real title contender and that is what they need from him,” Thorpe added.
Lustberg, the sports psychologist who asked “What could be bad?’’ about the Linsanity craze on his blog in March 2012, looked back at it all on November 15, 2013, with Jeremy Lin: Linsanity Was Insanity.
“Lin’s story gave and continues to give hope to anyone who is aspiring to rise from obscurity to the moon. But as usual we tend to take things a bit too far when it comes to our psychological and emotional needs.
“Our need for the Jeremy Lin’s of the world reflects our growing hunger to both create and discharge emotions at a rate and pace that is too quick for us to process, setting off a continuous need to create them, use them, and then search for the next fix cycle,’’ he wrote.
“Perhaps when all is said and done we can learn from Linsanity in the sense that people who are down and out can still rise up and achieve, while at the same time taking pause to look long and hard at what the negative effects of our need to fill our psychological needs has on us all.’’
Contact the writer at Jackfreifelder@chinadailyusa.com
New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin drives past a Los Angeles Lakers player at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where the “Linsanity’’ craze began on February 4, 2012.