The quick and easy answer to why we have fallen in love with Jeremy Lin is this: The New York Knicks were terrible, and now they're not anymore. But it's much more than that, as Lin has become a full-blown phenomenon, with catchphrases (Linsanity!), nicknames (the Harvard Hurricane), fan clubs and signs in the stands, and he's even affected ticket prices and availability at the Garden. The point guard that the Knicks have oh-so-needed has made the team watchable again, and turned them into a winning team that plays basketball the right way, which means good, old unselfish play. With Lin's penetrating and ball distribution, the team now resembles a 1970 Knick-like offense, as opposed to the watching-paint-dry, stagnant game they were playing. Even when he scores 38 points, as he did on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, it comes in the flow of the game.
What is it about Lin that has caused such a frenzy? The unassuming Ivy Leaguer combines the out-of-nowhere folk hero-ness and intelligence of an R.A. Dickey, the instant dominating, game-changing ability and productivity with the same likable personality of a Victor Cruz and the rock-star-sensation happening of a Friday-night-at-Shea-in-1985 Dwight Gooden start. That's all. He's Tim Tebow, Mark Fidrych and Fernando Valenzuela all rolled into one. Sure, fans like a superstar, who comes with pedigree and accolades following him everywhere he goes. Wayne Gretzky was famous across Canada when he was 11 years old. Tiger Woods appeared on That's Incredible! when he was five. But there's something special about the athlete who takes the off-the-beaten-path road to the top, like Dickey's knuckleball odyssey or going undrafted like Cruz or coming from the CBA like John Starks. They don't come with the arrogance and entitlement of the player who has been pampered his whole life and groomed for stardom from day one. We love the underdog, the good story, the guy who hustles and has to work harder than everybody else.
We also love surprises -- not "Honey, the kids aren't really yours" surprises, but opening up a present on Christmas morning and unwrapping the greatest gift in the world but it's something you never even knew existed. Lin might as well have jumped out of the crowd last Saturday night in the game against the New Jersey Nets and exclaimed to Mike D'Antoni, "I used to play point guard at Harvard. I can do better than these guys. Put me in." There's a sense that a guy like Lin is just like us (well, not like me, as when I lived in Boston I wasn't even allowed to step into the town of Cambridge let alone attend Harvard). If he can do it, maybe we can, too. Of course we can't, but that doesn't stop us from dreaming. And the Jeremy Lin sensation has occurred naturally, organically. There was no pre-thought-out presentation or hoopla, as when Carmelo Anthony arrived at the Garden, and his introduction seemed to have been directed by Steven Spielberg.
Is Lin for real? Will he last? Or will this all eventually disappear into thin air? The good news is that he's not just on a hot shooting streak or hitting home runs as a September call-up (remember Mike Jacobs when he arrived in Queens back in 2005 or Kevin Maas with the New York Yankees in 1990?). He has the floor sense of a savvy veteran, and that's not luck. He's making his teammates better, his play is infectious and it's even carrying over to the defense. His unselfishness has rubbed off on the whole team. He just seems to know what he's doing. He's confident, and he has ice water in his veins. Lin's had success at every level he's played at, but he was always overlooked, for whatever reason, so success in the NBA shouldn't be such a shock after all.
He's probably the Knicks' point guard of the present and future, but, of course, you never know. And it remains to be seen how Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire will fit in with their new floor general. So let's enjoy the ride. Two weeks ago, Jeremy Lin was sitting at the end of the bench, and now he's captivated the basketball world and has done everything but salsa. Until recently, we never knew he existed, and now he's been unwrapped and is the greatest gift a Knick fan could have ever gotten.