It isn’t Kobe’s taunts or humiliating viral videos that have made this the toughest year of Jeremy Lin’s life. It’s the feeling that, as hard as he tries, he just doesn’t fit in.
By Pablo S. Torre for ESPN The Magazine
BETWEEN THREE AND a million years ago, after an increasingly intimidating series of meetings with literary agents, I resolved to write a book about the ascension of Jeremy Lin. None of this was my idea. But publishers, like the rest of this planet in February 2012, wanted to hawk something — anything — branded with the word Linsanity. And I happened to be an Asian American in New York City with Harvard-induced debt and a few relevant Sports Illustrated clips.
It was terrifying. While everyone could already recite the beats of Lin’s rise — Harvard, undrafted, cut twice, D-League, brother’s couch, Madison Square Garden — nobody knew where the most cinematic sports story in memory was going next week, let alone next fall. So when the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent dropped 38 to defeat Kobe Bryant at a volcanic Garden, I mapped out the vantage points of his shocked parents and friends in the crowd. When rappers Rick Ross and Stalley Instagrammed Lin Sanity OG, a strain of weed they’d purchased, I sought out a review. (“Once it sits with you for a while,” Stalley emailed, “it brings out the creative juices that allow you to work diligently.”) When a hoodied Lin tried to sneak into a Harvard-Columbia game, I took notes while wedged between his electronics engineer dad, Gie-Ming, who first taught Jeremy the game, and Spike Lee.
By mid-March, of course, Linsanity’s biggest ally, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, would resign amid discord with Carmelo Anthony. By early April, the point guard himself would undergo knee surgery for a torn left meniscus, mercy-killing my panicked literary aspirations and hinting, finally, at where this story was going next. By now, 36 months later, my notes look like the monuments of a once-proud city, frozen in time. A sort of point guard Pompeii.
But my motive for revisiting these memories isn’t nostalgia, it’s ignorance. Since the Rockets signed Lin away from the Knicks in July 2012, then traded him to the Lakers two years later, he and I have exchanged a few friendly texts a season. But we hadn’t had a substantive conversation in years. As the league whispered What the hell is happening to Jeremy Lin? something hit me: I knew nothing about his interior life. Not anymore.
Not about what it’s like to approach unrestricted free agency for the first time since going undrafted. Not about slogging through what he will eventually call “as hard of a year as I’ve ever had to experience,” complete with on-court demotions and viral humiliations.
After I consult some of Lin’s old friends and coaches, in fact, a consensus emerges. Yes, they all worry about Jeremy. How could they not? They all saw that video wherein Bryant, having spent one practice daring Lin to shoot, declares, “You motherfuckers are soft like Charmin in this motherfucker!” And no, they don’t quite know what the hell is happening to Jeremy Lin either.