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Jeremy Lin — The Underdog’s Champion

Because everyone loves a success story

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

People love underdog stories.

February 10th, 2012. The date credited by Bleacher Report to be the day that Linsanity began. Any sports fan outside of the NBA probably didn’t know that Jeremy Lin even existed before that date.

Before Lin’s incredible run, if you asked anyone to name a player from the New York Knicks, they’d point to Carmelo Anthony. And with good reason — Melo was a beloved figure under the roof of Madison Square Garden, and everybody in New York, hoops fan or not, had at least heard of him.

But once Linsanity began, Jeremy Lin was at the forefront of every sports fan’s minds.

Hailing from California, J-Lin was raised in a Christian family by 5'6 Taiwanese parents — he was only 5'3 heading into his freshman year of basketball, but by some miracle, in his senior year he was an NBA-ready 6'1. Despite this and his strong performances at Harvard, no NBA team wanted to pick Lin up, and he went undrafted in the 2010 draft.

After an unsuccessful stint with his hometown Warriors and the Houston Rockets, Jeremy Lin signed with the Knicks.

The Knicks signed Lin off of waivers to increase their depth at the point guard position — the backup for their backup, if you will. The 2011 NBA lockout meant that the Knicks didn’t get a chance to see their new signing play, which is probably why they demoted him to the fourth spot on their depth chart.

Finally, Lin made his Knicks debut on the road vs. the Warriors in December , where he received cheers from fans of his former team, but all in vain, as the Knicks took a painful loss away from home. For better of for worse, the Knicks ended up assigning Lin to the Erie Bayhawks (now known as the Lakeland Magic). The lone game he played in landed him on the Bayhawks’ all-time roster. He led the Bayhawks to a win over the Maine Red Claws, boasting a triple double of 28 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds. In his first game.

As any team would, the Knicks called Lin back a few days later, but they almost dropped him again after he fell victim to an elbow infection. Nevertheless, the team were so unsuccessful that between fans calling for Mike D’Antoni to be fired and the team being handed loss after loss, they had one last person to turn to, and that person happened to be Jeremy Lin.

Even before Linsanity, Jeremy Lin knew how to kickstart a team campaign. On February 4th, 2012, Lin faced All-Star Deron Williams with the New Jersey Nets, putting up 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists — all career highs — in the victory. Lin was playing so well that even his teammate Carmelo Anthony suggested that D’Antoni give him more minutes at halftime.

All this from a player who wasn’t even in the team’s media guide yet.

I’m riding him like friggin’ Secretariat.

Mike D’Antoni to media reporters on his faith in Jeremy Lin

Game after game, Lin kept producing. He achieved his first NBA double-double vs. the Wizards on February 8th as he pushed the Knicks to victory.

Then came February 10th.

The Knicks were going up against the Lakers. The Los Angeles Lakers. This powerhouse of a team was led by none other than NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who at this point was pretty familiar with success, winning back-to-back rings in 2009 and 2010. Many people argue that Kobe’s peak lasted from 2006–10, and a prime Kobe wasn’t one to mess with.

With all this in mind, it’s unlikely that fans expected Jeremy Lin to trump Bryant. Sure, Lin had recently been on a nice streak of games for the Knicks, but this was Kobe we’re talking about, the same guy whose name is forever etched in NBA history for his 81-point game.

Before the Knicks game, Kobe claimed he had “no idea” who Jeremy Lin was:

What? No idea. I know who he is but I don’t really know what’s going on too much with them … I don’t even know what he’s done. Like, I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I’ll take a look at [the tape] tonight though. I appreciate the question, though.

You can’t blame him, but Lin got the last laugh.

On that day, Jeremy Lin outscored Kobe Bryant. On national TV.

Eyes were on J-Lin around the world as he put up 38 points and 7 assists against Kobe’s 34, leading the Knicks to a 92–85. This game was the beginning of a historical streak they call Linsanity, and even Bryant went back on himself, noting his competitor’s game:

I think it’s a great story. I think it’s a testament to perseverance and hard work. Good example for kids everywhere.

Brace Hemmelgarn/US PRESSWIRE

By this time, Jeremy Lin is riding on a high. His game-winning triple against the Raptors is notorious among NBA fans and seen as the absolute peak of Linsanity. Fans across the league were itching to see this awesome streak last for as long as possible . It was more than a “good few games”. People love underdog stories, and Lin was fulfilling that need for one.

Linsanity continued to rise up and up throughout February — during the 2 week prime, Lin averaged 22 points and 9 assists per game, pushing the Knicks to win after win. Nobody wanted to see it end. Mario Chalmers and the Miami Heat might have snatched some of the fun away from fans, but that wasn’t what put everything in reverse.

It was the injury.

A torn meniscus.

This happening now hurts […] all the players, we really put our heart and souls into the team and into the season, and to not be there when it really matters most is hard.

There were back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers with Lin on the cover. There was a shared love across the globe for the man whose career had been in limbo just months before.

The injury didn’t just hurt Lin, and it didn’t just hurt the Knicks.

It hurt everyone.

After the painful news that Jeremy Lin would miss the rest of the 2012 season, people believed that this injury signified the end of an era. If the Heat’s ruthlessness against Lin hadn’t derailed the hype train, then this injury certainly had. The Heat came back to haunt the Knicks in the playoffs, seeing them off in the first round with a 4–1 victory.

Linsanity was over for now, and Lin’s career in New York was also over — all thanks to a man named Carmelo Anthony.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In the season that followed Jeremy Lin’s dominant run of games, the Rockets gave him not one, but two offer sheets. The second came after reports that the Knicks would match the first offer sheet, which would have paid Lin $9 million in the final two years of the new contract. This new offer sheet lasted three years and paid him $14.8 million in the final year, a proposition which the Knicks just would not match.

This new cunning sheet meant that if the Knicks matched the offer, Lin’s contract would cost them $40 million in luxury tax, a painful hit, even for a player with such heavy impact.

As expected, the Knicks didn’t match the offer sheet, and painful goodbyes were said as Jeremy Lin headed to Houston.

I didn’t go back to them and ask for more money. It wasn’t like they gave me the choice to sign one of the two and I chose the one that would hurt the Knicks. I had one contract offer. That was it.

Jeremy Lin on the Rockets contract

However, once the deal was done, rumors started circulating that Carmelo Anthony was behind Lin’s departure. Articles suggested that Carmelo Anthony, the usual crown jewel of New York, was jealous of Linsanity, and in a way to “take back” his position in the hearts of every Knicks fan, he pushed Lin off the roster and forced Mike D’Antoni to resign. Amar’e Stoudemire doubled down on these rumors years later. Even if he didn’t mention Melo’s name, he didn’t need to — it was widely accepted as truth that Melo was the reason Lin left the Knicks.

Despite Carmelo’s questionable handling of the Lin situation, the guard continued to produce wherever he went for the next 5 years, recording stints with the Lakers, Hornets, and Nets. Ironically, J-Lin found material success with the Raptors in the form of a championship in the 2018–19 season — he may not have recorded any stats throughout the Finals, but a ring is a ring, and fans let the currently ring-less Carmelo Anthony know about it.

Despite the success, no team picked up Lin when he hit free agency that summer, and he resorted to signing with the Beijing Ducks for a year. That wasn’t where his passion was however, as he quit and announced his return to America to find his way back onto an NBA roster.

Upon this announcement, fan excitement grew as rumors of a certain team in San Francisco looking into signing Lin began to spread across the internet. Lin quickly shot down these rumors, but all was not lost, with the NBA champion signing with the Santa Cruz Warriors. If anybody thought Linsanity was dead, they were wrong — Jeremy Lin has lit up the G-League, averaging almost 18 points and 7 assists per game, not to mention the 29 points he put up in his first game with his new team.

Jeremy Lin did what nobody has done before. From sleeping on a teammate’s couch and fearful for his career, to blazing through the league on a historical run and an NBA ring, Jeremy Lin is the definition of the underdog’s champion.

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Sedem Anyiri

Avid Sixers fan and sports journalism fanatic.

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