This Jeremy Lin craze has begun to feel like the movie "Twister." Any second now, I expect to see a cow go flying past my windshield — a cow being ridden by Marv Albert.
What's happening with Lin, the New York Knicks' sudden sensation, is almost a meteorological event. Unless, of course, it's an astrological one — like a comet whizzing across the night sky. To think that, just three weeks ago, hardly anybody had heard of the guy. And now ... well, Lin trading cards are selling on eBay for thousands of dollars.
Our social machinery — Twitter, Facebook, what have you — lends itself to this sort of thing, to man being turned into mania. Witness the whole Charlie Sheen "winning" fever a year ago. (I mention Charlie only because he played Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in "Major League.")
In Lin, though, we might have the perfect storm, the ideal confluence of race (Asian-American), religion (Christian), market (New York) and improbability (Harvard University, Class of 2010). In other words, he's part Fernando Valenzuela, part Kurt Warner, and might even have a bit of Jim Craig in him. If I were you, I'd close the hurricane shutters — but only after buying plenty of bottled water.
Let's face it, there's no telling when the Linsanity will blow over. After all, it's already lasted longer than anyone could have imagined — nine games, nearly a seventh of the NBA's abbreviated season. During this time, the previously struggling Knicks have gone 8-1, and Lin, their Point Guard from Another Planet, has averaged 25 points and 9.2 assists. That's pretty lofty territory, 25 points and 9 assists a game. Indeed, only four players in league history have put up those kinds of numbers over a full season: Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Tiny Archibald and Michael Adams. Any of them ring a bell?
No right-thinking hoops fan expects Lin to play at this level forever. In fact, he's already pushing the Certified Mania Limits. Consider some of his comparables:
• Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Detroit Tigers, 1976 (age: 21/22): Began the season 9-1 (and earned an unlikely All-Star berth). Went 10-8 the rest of the way (but still won Rookie of the Year honors and finished second in the Cy Young voting).
• Craig, U.S. Olympic hockey team, 1980 (age: 22): Went 6-0-1 in goal in the Olympics and backstopped the historic victory over the Soviets in the medal round. Signed with the Atlanta Flames days later and won his first game (but won only 10 others in his brief NHL career).
• Valenzuela, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1981 (age: 20): Started 8-0 with eight complete games, five shutouts and a 0.50 ERA. Went 5-7 thereafter (but still ran off with the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards and helped the Dodgers win their first World Series in 15 years).
• Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos, 2011 (age: 24): Won eight of his first nine starts, then dropped three straight (as he and the Broncos backed into the playoffs).
(Valenzuela, you may recall, spent a season in Baltimore in 1993, but by then the magic was gone. Watching him pitch for the Orioles was kind of like watching David Cassidy make an appearance on "The Colbert Report." It's interesting, though, that his dream season came in the '81 strike year — and that Lin's has followed a lockout. Both sports were desperate for feel-good stories, and Fernando and Jeremy provided them.)
Everybody likes attention, but Lin probably is looking forward to being just a basketball player again — rather than a symbol or an oddity or a laboratory frog. Especially since, in the hysteria swirling around him, some media folks have said and done some regrettable things. A headline writer for ESPN's mobile operation has lost his job, and one of the network's anchors has been suspended 30 days, both for using a racially insensitive term.
No, it isn't always fun and games being an object of fascination. Craig's debut with the Flames was such an occasion that the arena was sold out for the first time all season -and management distributed 8,000 miniature American flags. Four weeks later, he told the New York Times, "The crowds are driving me crazy." As evidence, he held up a hand that had been "slashed by the ballpoint pens of overeager autograph seekers," the newspaper reported.
About all you can say to Jeremy Lin -or to anyone else caught in the crosshairs of unexpected celebrity — is: Enjoy the ride, kid. Oh, and don't forget to buckle your seat belt.
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