Twenty-four years ago, Public Enemy warned a nation of millions not to believe the hype. And yet, the evidence is overwhelming that sports fanatics and gatekeepers of pop-culture like GQ Magazine have bought into the spectacle of Jeremy Shu-How Lin. Hook, line and sinker.
J-Lin ignited his ascension into the upper stratosphere of flash-in-the-pan superstardom, while New York Knicks’ super fan Spike Lee sat courtside at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza. But the next phase of Linsanity hinges on life after Lin’s public breakup with Madison Square Garden.
Thanks to Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s public mea culpa, by way of a sadistically ingenious back-loaded free agent contract, Houstonians have hedged their bets on the hope of filling the void left by Yao Ming. They're looking for Linsanity 2.0. But will their faith be rewarded? Is Lin built for all of this? Despite a reluctance to feed the hype meter, JL’s teammates believe, that given the chance, he can prove that he’s no one-trick pony.
“I think he can't really focus on the hype that he created,” said Shaun Livingston, who dealt with his own premature hype before an injury halted his career. “He just needs to focus on what got him to be successful. He has to focus on the court stuff and have the mentality to play hard through mistakes. That's the kind of freedom he had under D'Antoni. That builds confidence. That builds swagger. If he continues to play through his mistakes and play as hard as he can, he can definitely get back to where he was during his Linsanity run in New York.”
No one saw it coming. Not even Lin himself.
Before February 4, 2012, Lin had been maligned to being just another fringe NBA player, barely clinging to a roster spot. Two teams — the Golden State Warriors (Dec. 9) and the Houston Rockets (Christmas Eve) — had cut him in a span of 15 days before the Knicks claimed him off waivers.
After the Knicks floundered for 23 games, head coach Mike D’Antoni, in a fit of desperation, called on his third-string PG, who’d just spent three days with the Knicks' Development League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks, to run his offense. And like a Taiwanese-American version of Rudy, Lin took center court at MSG and torched the Nets’ Deron Williams for 25 points and seven dimes for the W. Lin followed up his breakout performance by dropping 28 points on the Jazz, including an off balance, buzzer-beating 3-pointer. His head swaggin’, blue-tongued trot back down court spawned one of the most GIF’d moments on the Internets.
Lin capped off his trifecta of SportsCenter worthy games with a 23-point outing against the Wizards. It was the kind of story that out Disney’d Disney.
The clincher for Linsanity was his performance against the Lakers. Lin went all Rucker on Kobe and Co. for 38 points, vaulting him into the Hero Ball HOF. Bean feigned ignorance of Lin’s exploits before the game, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, Lin had the Mamba's full attention.
But then things came to a screeching halt.
The Linsanity train ran all over Carmelo Anthony’s ego. Fans rallied behind Lin and treated Melo like a disaster waiting to derail the team’s momentum. This was despite the fact that it was Melo’s recommendation that D’Antoni pluck the PG from the end of the bench in the first place. Something was definitely rotten in the Big Apple. But everyone was spared the airing of grievances when a knee injury abruptly ended Lin’s season in March. Knicks’ fans were then forced to ride with Melo the rest of the way and look to the future where James Dolan would lock in the 6-3 phenomenon for years to come.
Lin knew the ride was over when he read about the Knicks’ signing of Raymond Felton. And it wasn’t because of basketball reasons; it was all about the Benjamin’s.
Lin fell for the banana in the tailpipe that was executed by Morey. There’d be no matching of his Rockets’ contract. That’d be ridiculous. There’d be no more forays into the lane in front of the Knicks’ faithful. There’d be no more Lin puns on the front pages of the New York Post or the New York Daily News. There’d be no more widely inappropriate sexual invitations from fans. He’d have to take his Linsanity elsewhere.
Planet Lin would have to orbit in Space City.
One of the first people to make sense of things was The Great Wall of China, Yao Ming.
No stranger to the legions of Chinese and Asian fans jumping on the NBA bandwagon globally, Yao understood what it meant for another Asian pro baller to land in Houston. For one, the Rockets play in the Toyota Center. The operative word being Toyota. After Yao retired, there were copious amounts of Asian fans with no countryman suiting up in the L. Asian media outlets, displaced since Yao’s departure, would lie in wait, waiting to swarm like bees to make their own scrum around Lin.
With Lin in the fold, the transfer of the remaining Asian fan contingency would be seamless and would mean the successful prolongation of Linsanity. And, more importantly, Houston is a team in need of saving. Maybe, Lin could do it again. Maybe he could revive another floundering team. Maybe he could bring back the magic he’d shown against the Nets, the Jazz and the Lake Show.
The jury is still out on whether or not Jeremy Lin will morph into the franchise player the Rockets need, but Houstonians are optimistic to the point of overzealous infatuation. They can’t believe their luck. They’ve got their own superstar. Sure, Lin is good and maybe he can be very good. But superstar? Didn’t Denver feel the same about Tim Tebow?
The legendary Chuck D said it best: Don’t believe the hype, it’s a sequel.