In February 2012, the National Basketball Association witnessed a phenomenon that came to be known as Linsanity.
At the center of this craze was Jeremy Lin, the 6’3” Asian-American, Harvard-educated, undrafted point guard of the New York Knicks. Over a three-week stretch in the winter of 2012, Lin became the biggest thing in the Big Apple — and the Cinderella story of the NBA. Determined and cerebral, the second-year playmaker turned the basketball world on its ear. Signed as a backup off the waiver wire two days after Christmas 2011, Lin joined a Knicks team decimated by injuries. After coming off the bench and delivering a breakout performance in the first week of February, he worked his way into the starting lineup. Playing both ends of the floor with abandon, Lin blew up, averaging 20.9 points and 8.4 assists per game in February.
Lin infused Madison Square Garden with excitement. Driving to the rim, draining threes and dishing, he led a Knicks squad – taking the floor without their two best players — to ten wins in a thirteen-game stretch. B.L. [Before Lin], they were handing out tickets in front of Madison Square Garden. A.L. [After Lin], the Garden was packed every night. The value of the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Knicks, rose by $250 million in the first month of Linsanity. It reached $600 million by season’s end.
“No player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time, in any sport.” – then-NBA commissioner David Stern.
The Associated Press called Lin “the most surprising story in the NBA.” Sales of his No. 17 jersey increased by more than 3,000 percent in the span of one month. Lin made the cover of Sports Illustrated – two weeks in a row. The waiver-pickup became an international superstar. Nike and Adidas introduced Lin-related athletic apparel, while the audience for NBA games on television and online in China rose nearly 40 percent over the previous season.
Born 31 years ago this month in Torrance, California, Jeremy Shu-How Lin grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Despite leading Palo Alto High to a state championship and earning Northern California Player of the Year honors as a senior, he received no scholarship offers. Lin enrolled at Harvard, where he was a three-time All-Ivy performer. Undrafted out of college, he played in the NBA Summer League in 2010, then signed as a free agent with his hometown Golden State Warriors.
The first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, Lin developed somewhat of a cult following in the Bay area, particularly among Asian-Americans. However, he saw little playing time and was waived by the Warriors. After a stint in the Chinese League and being cut by the Houston Rockets, Lin was signed as a backup by the Knicks in late December 2011. “Just how long the Knicks plan to keep Lin is unclear,” reported ESPN. “His contract is not guaranteed, so the Knicks can waive him at any time prior to February 10 without having to pay the remainder of his contract.”
Lin played only garbage minutes in his first month with the Knicks. On February 4, after losing 11 of 13, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was desperate. Looking to turn things around, he gave Lin – who had logged just 55 minutes all season – 36 minutes of playing time. Facing All-Star guard Deron Williams, Lin responded with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds in a 99-92 win over the New Jersey Nets. “This night, it just hasn’t really sunk in yet to be honest,” Lin told the gathered media afterward. “It’s like I’m still kind of in shock about everything that happened but I’m just trying to soak it all in right now.”
In his 12 starts before the 2012 All-Star break, Lin averaged 22.5 points and 8.7 assists per game. He was immediately given a roster spot in the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend, a never-before-seen rise to superstardom.
Two nights later, Lin made his first career start. Playing without Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, who were out of the lineup, he torched the Utah Jazz for 28 points with eight assists. Lin’s first signature moment came against the Washington Wizards February 9, when he sliced up John Wall with 23 points and ten assists in a 107-93 victory. It was Lin’s first double-double. D’Antoni stated that he intended to ride Lin – still not in the Knicks media guide – “like freakin’ Secretariat.”
It’s hard to say when Linsanity really started, but February 10, 2012, might be it. On a Friday night in the Garden, Lin poured in 38 points against Kobe Bryant in a 92-85 Knicks win over the Los Angeles Lakers. By Valentine’s Day, Linsanity had reached fever pitch, when his game-winning three beat Toronto at the buzzer. It was the apex of his career and the highlight of the Lin legacy in the Big Apple.
Lin became the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and have seven assists in each of his first five starts. Following a loss to the Hornets that ended a seven-game win streak, the Knicks hosted the Dallas Mavericks in a Sunday matinee game at MSG. Lin was unconscious. The prayerful point guard turned in a 28-point, 14-assist, five-steal effort in a 104-97 victory over the defending world champions.
The madness ended with the resignation of D’Antoni the morning of March 14 following a stretch in which New York lost 9 of 12. That night, the Knicks drubbed the Portland Trail Blazers by 42, but Lin scored only six points while committing six turnovers. Lin left a game against Detroit on March 24 with an injury. It turned out to be a torn meniscus, and the Knicks announced on March 31 that the 23-year-old point guard would undergo surgery. Few could have imagined at the time that Lin would never play for the Knicks again.
In January 2013, Linsanity, a 90-minute documentary about the rise of Jeremy Lin, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a sold-out audience.
Lin’s torn meniscus would eventually heal, but the divide between some of the Knicks veterans and the upstart point guard who had garnered so much attention would not. Linsanity created resentments within the team that were greater than most realized.
In 2011-12, Jeremy Lin played in 35 games for the New York Knicks, averaging 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game. The New York Times called him “the Knicks’ most popular player in a decade” who “has saved the team’s season.” At the end of the season, Lin became an unrestricted free agent, and the Knicks indicated they would match any other offer up to $1 billion. In the summer of 2012, the Houston Rockets inked Lin to a three-year, $25 million offer sheet. Although they held the option to retain Lin’s services, the Knicks did not match the offer and parted ways with their former floor general. Lin became a Rocket.
Just days before the start of the 2012-13 season, Houston obtained James Harden, and Lin was relegated to a backup role. He spent two years in Houston. Since Linsanity, he has bounced around the league, playing for six teams in seven seasons. A tireless worker and devout Christian, he has yet to regain the magic of those three weeks in February 2012. Mr. Lin, who celebrates his 31st birthday August 23, began last season with the Atlanta Hawks before moving to Toronto, where he won a world championship earlier this summer as a member of the Raptors. Jeremy Lin is currently an unrestricted free agent.