Jeremy Lin-derella And The NBA's Black Swan Theory

Call him Lin-derella if you want but the Knicks new point guard may be the NBA's Avant-garde ...Or not. Either way, similar to Tom Brady or Kurt Warner's meteoric rises in the NFL, Jeremy Lin has changed the fortunes of the Knicks franchise and may be here to stay.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, long-term NBA storylines are as predictable as what Donald Trump's hair. Two weeks ago, the NBA was all abuzz about the Lob Angeles Clippers. Dwight Howard’s trade saga and the religious debate over whether stem cells could be used to repair Lebron James’ "clutch gene."

However, in a surprising twist that not even M. Knight Shyamalan's interference could ruin, an undrafted second year, four-time D-League call-up who was just days from being cut has suddenly become the NBA’s surprise 2012 Va-LIN-tine and is plastered on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Nobody thought he’d ever become an active contributor in an NBA rotation much less have a league-wide impact in two weeks during February.

While he was torching the Lakers for 38 on Friday night, the Atlanta Hawks players were in the locker room asking for Lin updates and started yelling when told he had 22 points and 5 assists. After struggling for most of Sunday night against Ricky Rubio’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Lin hit two-game winning free throws.

Last night, on the day his SI cover jinx should have taken effect Lin topped himself against the Toronto Raptors. Lin led New York back from a large first half deficit and then scored the final six points, which culminating in him rocking a sagging Jose Calderon to sleep with the dribble as the hourglass ticked down before calmly squaring up and delivering a dagger from behind the arc with half a tick remaining.

There’s no other explanation for Lin’s emergence besides the possibility that Lin is New York’s real life Peter Parker/Spiderman. As I’m typing this he’s probably web slinging into a burning building to rescue a family of four.

Let’s put this in perspective for a moment. Lin’s 109 total points surpassed Allen Iverson's 101 for the most by any player in his first four starts since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger. Not including the 25 points he scored off the bench against New Jersey, Lin has also scored 136 points in his first five starts surpassing Shaq’s NBA-record 130 points in his first five starts.

With that said, it’s time to step onto a ledge overlooking a bed of rocks and jump the shark.

In the title of his 2007 book, Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term, "Black Swan". It was defined as a metaphor that captured the concept of surprising world events which have a major impact. These events are described as extreme outliers such as major scientific breakthroughs and historic moments of large magnitude and consequence in history. The advent of the Internet and World War I are referenced as Black Swan Events.

The term stemmed from the Europeans’ discovery of black swans in Australia. Much like NBA-caliber Asian point guards, they were presumed not to exist and remained undocumented until their discovery in the eighteenth century.

In sports, individuals such as Randall Cunningham, Tom Brady, and Kurt Warner were equally unpredictable but shaped the future of the NFL. Cunningham was the father of the NFL's scrambling quarterback revolution.

Thirteen years ago, unknown, undrafted backup Kurt Warner relieved injured starter Trent Green in the final pre-season game before the 1999 season. What followed was the most magical championship season in NFL history and the dawn of a Hall of Fame career. All Warner did was win Super Bowl MVP and the first of his two league MVP’s.

Two years later, Tom Brady’s Black Swan Event occurred when starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a collapsed lung after getting sacked by Jets linebacker Moe Lewis. the New England Patriots were 0-2 when Brady made his first start. The Patriots responded to a 10-3 loss to the Jets in the first Sunday since the NFL returned after 9/11(another Black Swan Event) by posting 44 in a win over the Colts. Brady went 14-3 that year, won three Super Bowls and has appeared in five total.

Jordan’s shot in the 1983 championship game was an NBA’s Black Swan Event. After that shot, Jordan said he was never again nervous about another game-winning shot. Jordan wasn’t a complete unknown but nobody foresaw the skinny UNC freshman becoming the greatest player in NBA history.

Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s most recent black swan.

Already, his last name has sparked enough puns to become the Rosetta Stone of a new language and he's re-energized the Knicks fan base. Even though Lin sat out practice on Monday, he’s the anti-Iverson in nearly every way. He’s unselfish, California-raised, went undrafted, Harvard educated, unheralded in high school and he’s Asian.

For many Asian Americans, I imagine watching the Asian Sensation play at this level must be like biting into a York Peppermint Patty. There aren’t any Asian skill position players in the NFL. Yao Ming and "The Chairman" Yi Jianlian were rare because of their height but Lin’s impact is different. At 6-3 he’s roughly the average height for an NBA point guard and more identifiable to the average Asian than a 7-4 giant.

In 2007, the Lakers drafted 6-9 point guard Sun Yue from China but Yue babysat the bench for much of the Lakers championship run during the 2008-2009 season and is currently starring for the Beijing Olympics. Ironically, his last NBA stint ended after he was cut by the Knicks in 2009. Stereotypes say that Asians aren't supposed to have great vision and the ability to stop on a dime, deliver lightning quick crossovers, accelerate and glide to the hoop.

If someone told me four years ago there'd be either a Taiwanese-American Knicks point guard taking the league by storm and a black man in the Oval office I'd say Obama was more likely. If you told me there'd be both, I'd call you Stephon Marbury because it would be crazy talk.

Conversely, Lin’s high school coach believed he might have been overlooked by colleges because of his ethnicity (along with his scrawniness at the time).

As a senior at Palo Alto High in 2006, Jeremy Lin was the San Francisco Chronicle’s basketball player of the year. The point guard who would go on to become a New York Knicks sensation also had zero scholarship offers.

But his high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock, said he never thought Lin’s being an Asian American might have caused college coaches to stay away because the Central Coast Section of about 125 schools typically produces only three Division I college players in a five-year period.

Diepenbrock’s perception changed the next year, he said, when 10 Division I coaches scouted a black Palo Alto player whom Diepenbrock described as someone who "could have been a nice junior college player."

"That’s when I’m going, there might be something to this here," Diepenbrock said. "If [Lin] was African American or Caucasian, it might have been a different deal." via LA Times

Will Lin’s emergence change the tide by convincing basketball scouts to take Asian American guards more seriously? Will more Asian point guards begin emulating Lin and aiming for the pros? Who knows? That’s why it’s a theory. Whether Lin sparks a sea change that causes a slew of Asian-American point guards to invade college basketball remains to be seen.

Despite receiving MVP chants from MSG crowds Lin was never named Ivy League Player of the Year. Amazingly, Lin has been better in the fourth quarter. Through the first three quarters, Lin is averaging 18.6 points. He’s averaging 13.6 points per game in the fourth. He's also averaging nine assists per game. In Amare Stoudemire’s first game back, he flourished on the court with Lin. Stoudemire went 5-for-10 shooting on passes from Lin and was a pedestrian 3-for-12 shooting in other situations.

On the downside, Lin as committed 30 turnovers in his first five starts, the most for a player in his first five starts since turnovers became an official statistic in 1977-78. Despite his turnover woes, Tuesday night was Lin’s sixth straight 20-point, 7-assist night tying Walt Frazier and Michael Ray Richardson’s franchise records.

Three weeks ago, Stoudemire was allegedly on the trading block, the team was a colossal failure of free agent spending and it was just a matter of when, not if, Mike D’Antoni would be fired. Much has changed in the post-Lin basketball universe. The last time New York advanced to the NBA Finals they shocked the NBA as an 8-seed during a lockout-shortened season. If Carmelo Anthony returns at full strength, the Knicks may finally have the pieces they need to become legitimate Eastern Conference title contenders and possibly repeat history.

Jeremy Lin is no Magic or Michael but I’m not so convinced that this Lin-derella story has a midnight curfew.

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