It has been almost nine months since Jeremy Lin has played basketball in Madison Square Garden. His final game as a Knick, the eventual halt to Linsanity, was a 101-79 blowout of the Detroit Pistons on March 24, in which Lin tallied 13 points and 7 assists in 24 minutes. Lin left that game with a “sore knee” and never returned to the floor as a New York Knick. Of course, later it was revealed that Lin would actually need surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his “sore” knee, and he would miss the rest of the season.
Tonight, Jeremy Lin will return to Madison Square Garden to play basketball, albeit for a different team: the Houston Rockets.
Lin’s departure from the Knicks has been oft- (overly?) discussed since he signed a three-year/$24-million contract with the Rockets in early July. It was widely assumed that Lin would return for the 2012-13 season in a Knicks uniform – and why not? Lin’s stretch of basketball from early February to late March was truly phenomenal. An undrafted point guard from Harvard, cut from two teams at the beginning of the season, at the end of the Knicks’ bench, just waiting for his moment.
That moment came on February 4, when the baldy struggling Knicks, on the third game of a back-to-back-to-back, turned to Lin for a boost off the bench when they found themselves losing at home to the even-worse New Jersey Nets. That’s when Lin took over. 25 points, 7 assists, and a game-saving performance. The next game, against the Utah Jazz, coach Mike D’Antoni turned to him as the starting point guard – another miraculous performance. 28 points, 8 assists in another win, this time without the help of Amar’e Stoudemire (mourning the death of his brother in Florida) or Carmelo Anthony who pulled his groin in the early minutes.
With the Knicks mostly star-less for the next few weeks, Jeremy Lin took over and became the toast of New York, the leader, the savior the Knicks needed to turn their disappointing season around. Over those next 11 games, the true stretch of Linsanity before the team (and Lin to a degree) evened out, the Knicks went 9-2 with Lin leading the way. Lin averaged 23.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 9.2 assists, and 2.6 steals per game during this stretch, breaking NBA records for points and assists in first-time starts.
There were some awe-inspiring performances: 38 points in a victorious showdown versus Kobe Bryant and the Lakers; a come-from-behind win in Minnesota, while out-dueling Ricky Rubio; a game-winner in another come-from-behind victory in Toronto (this still gives me goosebumps); a spectacular performance of point guard play against the Dallas Mavericks.
It could be said that Linsanity ended when the Knicks took on the Heat in Miami. The Heat, having been fed a week’s worth of motivation, trapped, harassed, and otherwise bullied Lin into a lowly performance – 8 points 1-11 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 8 turnovers.Though it wasn’t the last of Lin’s great games, he came back down to Earth, so to speak, and the Knicks were unable to recapture that same magic thereafter. A losing streak followed, Mike D’Antoni resigned as head coach, Mike Woodson took over, and though the Knicks began their winning ways again, it was a more-team focused approach and Lin saw a dip in playing time and statistics. And then, of course, his last game as a Knick.
The Knicks’ decision not to match Lin this summer was controversial. How could they let a 23-year old sensation walk away without anything in return? In the Knicks’ defense, Lin’s back-loaded offer from the Rockets would have had huge tax repercussions in the new CBA (though it’s been proven that they could have lessened that hit a number of different ways). They also felt somewhat betrayed when Lin supposedly renegotiated his contract with the Rockets for more money. Likewise, there were doubts among the Knicks players as to how well a young point guard could run and direct the team to get them to the championship level they desired.
In Lin’s defense, he’s come out and said since joining the Rockets that he was never offered a contract from the Knicks; in fact, he was told to go out and seek an offer. Likewise, Lin was told multiple times by Mike Woodson that he would be part of the club going forward. Lin even admitted that he never really wanted to leave New York.
Luckily, post-Lin life for the Knicks has been good. New York is atop the Eastern Conference by two games, sitting with one of the franchise’s best ever starts to a season at 18-5. Even while missing key players like Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, the Knicks have thrived behind MVP-like play from Carmelo Anthony, continued dominance in the middle from Tyson Chandler, and excellent leadership from Lin’s successors, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
For many Knicks fans, Linsanity ended a long time ago, and they’re glad to have moved on, especially with the way the Knicks have been playing. Furthermore, Lin has struggled in Houston, averaging just 11 points, 6 assists and 39% shooting. Oddly, Lin has struggled in part because of the arrival of James Harden who has dominated the ball – Lin’s preferred method of playing. Much like some of the issues that Lin and Anthony had sharing the ball, Lin needs to find a way to be effective with Harden without dominating the ball on each possession.
Tonight should be a fond reflection for Knicks fans. No, Lin is not on the Knicks, so after the opening tip, there’s no demand to cheer for him. Some resentment towards Lin exists because of the controversy that surrounding his exit; a decision that split the Knicks’ fan base in half.
But when his name is announced, everyone should cheer for Lin, because it’s not about how he left or why he left. It should be to pay homage to a young man who delivered one of the most unlikely, exciting, inspiring periods of basketball. I’ll be applauding from my living room.
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