'Make me believe in Linsanity again'
Sidelined during the play-offs with injury, time is running out for Asian point guard who has cheaper, better players nipping at his heels
I have a friend whose nickname is the "General", so called because of his propensity to command us to drink shots and chase girls. When we were children, the "General" used to mail-order VHS tapes of every Bulls game from some shady outfit in France because that was the only way he could watch Michael Jordan in Hong Kong.
Not the Jordan that showed up on highlight reels and the annual Bulls championship video, but the everyday Jordan, the one who showed up every minute of every game, whose genius was in every play, in the stutter step before the dunk or the shoulder fake before the turnaround. The "General" loves basketball, only slightly less than he loves his wife.
He is also half-Taiwanese, half-American, and an all-point guard. In high school, he got cut from the team a couple times and when he made it he struggled at first. But injuries to other players got him into the rotation and by mid-season he was our starting point guard, our floor general.
So when a certain Taiwanese-American point guard blew up last February after getting cut from a couple of teams and struggling to stay on the Knicks' roster, the "General" went Linsane.
He, like me and millions of others, could not get enough of Jeremy Lin: we scoured YouTube for every highlight or interview, we signed up for an NBA league pass, we ordered jerseys online and asked our friends to bring back T-shirts from New York.
"He has God on his side," the "General" said, during the game against the Wizards when Lin made his first dunk. "This guy, if he stays at even half this level, is going to be around a long time."
That was 15 months ago. There is a new pope, a new Chinese president, even a new iPhone. And last Monday, when the "General" forwarded me a news alert about the Jets releasing Tim Tebow, he appended two words: "Lin next?"
It is not quite the end for Lin. His season is over, but there are still legions of fans, tens of thousands of hits for every game reel uploaded to YouTube, even whole songs and music videos still being made about him. All things considered, Lin had a half-decent season, starting all 82 games, slowly improving his jump shot each month, even dropping 38 on the Spurs once.
But the "General", who the other day called Lin a magician because he disappears in the spotlight, tells a hard truth.
Patrick Beverley, the Rockets' replacement point guard in the play-offs after Lin was sidelined with a chest contusion, can flat out play. Even before Lin got hurt, Beverley often spelled Lin. He is a better on-the-ball defender against quicker point guards and costs the team a lot less than Lin - US$8 million less. Behind Beverley is Aaron Brooks, a former most-improved player who only a few years ago averaged 20 points a game for the Rockets.
So if Lin does not seriously improve his game this summer, he may find himself not just on the bench, but out of a job. By November, if he has not figured out how to stay in front of his man on defence or consistently hit outside shots or stop forcing homerun passes, this ship sails. The magician disappears.
Daryl Morey, the stats-geek general manager of the Rockets, is not one to hold on to overvalued assets. He can do the maths: in the 83 minutes Lin played in the play-offs the Rockets were outscored by 64 points. Suddenly Lin will be just another overpaid flameout, worth more to teams as an expiring contract than as even a back-up point guard.
You cannot let that happen, Jeremy. You just can't. You cannot make me go back to the pre-Linsanity days when I would get laughed at on the playground for wearing your jersey, when you were averaging one bucket a game and sleeping on Landry's couch. Do not make me listen to Stephen Smith call you overrated again, do not make me cringe because it is becoming true. I don't want to go back to being that guy who likes the Asian kid only because he's Asian. I thought those days were over.
Chest contusion? I don't doubt it hurts, but do not let people know that. You do not have to fire up bricks and show your hand. Can't push through the fancy bounce pass down the baseline? So don't. Lemons into lemonade. If injury limits your play, play within your limits. Play controlled, make the easy pass. Play defence.
Enough with the Sundance documentaries and cutesy YouTube cameos and 60 Minutes interviews, all of which I watch. But I'd rather watch you score more than seven points and hand out more than four assists in a play-off game. I'd rather watch you win a play-off game that you play in. I'd rather watch you in an All-Star game.
No more distractions, no more fan-crazy trips to China and Taiwan this summer.
Find a way, every day this offseason, to work on your game.
When the "General" e-mailed me last Monday, I told him he was a hater. He denied the allegation. "I want to believe in Linsanity again," he said.
Me too. See you next season, Jeremy.
We'll follow you to the end, Jeremy, but you got to make us believe again.
Keane Shum is a Hong Kong-based lawyer and NBA fan