The night before, Kobe Bryant had laughed off a question about whether he would be called on to defend Jeremy Lin in New York. He had no idea what kind of game Lin played, and didn’t understand the fuss about a player he could barely remember even playing against.
Now he knows. Linsanity waits for no one.
“A great story,” Bryant said. “It’s a testament to perseverance and hard work. A good example for kids everywhere.”
That it is. There’s a lot to be learned from Lin’s remarkable journey from nowhere to instant stardom at Madison Square Garden, where fans were so giddy Friday night that many were watching the game through masks bearing Lin’s likeness.
Not a bad example for NBA superstars, either. There’s something they can learn about the way Lin is handling his sudden turn in the often harsh glare of the New York media spotlight.
LeBron James said he wanted to be more humble this year? Take a cue from Lin, who deflects any praise about his play by either giving credit to his teammates or to God.
Bryant wants his less talented teammates to be more involved on the court? Look at what Lin has done in less than four full games to mold a ragtag group of wannabes and cast-offs into a team that believes in itself in the space of just a week.
“We are a team,” Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. “His personality has rubbed off on the guys.”
If, by some odd chance, you don’t know Lin’s story by now, here’s the condensed version: Harvard graduate. First American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. Cut by two other teams.
And, until last Saturday when he came off the bench in New York to score 25 points, a fourth-string point guard so afraid of not getting a real contract for the season that he was sleeping on his brother’s couch.
A classic American underdog story with a few twists. A feel-good story that flies in the face of everything we might think we know about NBA basketball.
We don’t love Lin because he was able to carve his way through and around Bryant and the rest of the Lakers on his way to a career-high 38 points to keep him undefeated as the Knicks’ starting point guard. We don’t love him because he can both drive the lane to score and hit his teammates with expert passes when his route is blocked.
Kobe can do the same things, and so can LeBron. We respect their skills, talk about their greatness, but there’s no real attachment unless we happen to be a fan of their teams.
It’s different with Lin.
We love him because he’s every person who ever dreamed of greatness. We love him because he’s overcome adversity, and fought past ethnic stereotypes. We love him because he insists he’s not all that smart despite a high school GPA of 4.2 and the Harvard degree.