Bill Simmons does his mailbag on who else, but Linsanity.
Q: Do you see how the Garden is electric with Jeremy Lin? He’s a legend in NY in less than 2 weeks. That’s what LeBron never realized. If he came to The NYK every single game would be like that. We as a city are so starved for basketball success that if he brought us a championship he would have been a Greek god in NYC just walking along with the mortals. I hate LeBron.
— KDubb, Queens, N.Y.
SG: You shouldn’t hate LeBron. You should hate the judgment/instincts/business acumen of his “advisors” (the numbskulls who pushed him toward Miami and/or didn’t talk him out of it); how he walked away from the single biggest basketball challenge (winning a championship with the star-crossed Knicks, which would have made him immortal); his bizarre choice to play with his biggest rival over trying to beat him (who does that???); the fact that he played in Madison Square Garden FOR SIX SEVEN STRAIGHT SEASONS without realizing there’s a different energy in that building (????); or this current NBA culture in which people look at themselves as “brands” instead of “basketball players” and make every decision accordingly (and ironically, no decision for LeBron’s “brand” would have been better than LeBron saving the Knicks).
Look, I love the Lin story — I can’t get enough of it. I have been following the NBA my entire life; it’s always the other leagues that had Fernandomania, Fidrych or Teeeeeee-bowwwwwwwww! Basketball isn’t supposed to have surprises like this. On a basketball court, talent always wins out no matter what game you’re watching. It happens at every level — whether you’re playing pickup, high school ball, intramurals, college ball, D-League, whatever. You always know who the best player is; you can always tell substance from sizzle; you can always differentiate the gamers from the frauds; and even when we have a late NBA bloomer (like, say, Bruce Bowen), it’s always someone who clearly had an elite skill, then figured out how to augment it with just enough other stuff to become a valuable player. People don’t come out of nowhere in the NBA. That’s why Billy Ray Bates was the go-to reference these past seven days — what else were you going to say? Even someone like Ben Wallace (a more modern example of a normal “late NBA bloomer”) excelled as a bench player for Washington before exploding for Orlando.
What’s happening with Lin right now? Unprecedented. I have never seen it before.
Q: Do you know what impresses me most about Jeremy Lin? The genuinely giddy reactions he inspires from his teammates. Watch the aftermath of his game-winning shot against the Raptors: Jared Jeffries nearly dislocates a shoulder with a flying hip-bump, Steve Novak inexplicably begins humping Linsanity’s leg, Tyson Chandler heaves him about two feet into the air. Not one teammate seems remotely jealous of his statistics, heroics, or instant worldwide adoration. And it’s not just any team rallying around his success; it’s the New York Knicks, the league’s most perpetually dysfunctional franchise (that doesn’t have Don Sterling’s greasy fingerprints all over it). Isn’t that more amazing than any shot he’ll ever hit in his life?
— S.K.E. Banerjee, NYC
SG: And that’s been one of my favorite things about Linsanity. The Knicks were going to miss the playoffs; even worse, it was genuinely depressing to watch them. Offensively, they looked broken — two ball-stopping forwards, no point guard, no shooters — and their coach was sitting glumly on the sidelines with one of those vacant “please, fire me, I’m not man enough to quit” looks on his face. Their fans were slowly starting to panic about Carmelo’s crappy season, especially with Danilo Gallinari (whom they loved last year) emerging as a star in Denver. If that wasn’t bad enough, anyone who lived in New York couldn’t watch the team because the MSG Network disappeared from their cable systems. There was just a general plague hanging over the team. You could feel it. Especially when you went to the games. Stuck at 8-15 without Carmelo and Amar’e, you could say they were — unequivocally — at the do-or-die portion of their regular season.
Then, Lin starts playing at point guard … and within a week, they’re acting like a 15-seed pulling off a March Madness upset (only game after game). And yeah, I know race is hanging over this story — sometimes that happens for phony reasons, sometimes it happens for real ones, and in this case, it’s real and should hang over it a little. But if Lin happened to be white or black, I’d like to think this story would be 85 percent as fun — it’s mostly about his style of play (wildly entertaining), the whole out-of-nowhere underdog thing (always our favorite type of story as sports fans), its effect on Knicks players and Knicks fans (basically, it’s turned both groups delirious) and the fact that it’s the Knicks (who have four generations of fans, play in our biggest market and needed a feel-good story more than just about any other team). You know what’s really amazing? That he saved the Knicks’ playoff hopes AND saved his coach’s job has almost been an afterthought.
(Also an afterthought: What about Friday night’s Lakers game, when Lin was staring at a mountain of hype, a nationally televised audience, that super-excited Knicks crowd and an almost certain letdown game … and instead, he rose to the occasion and enjoyed the best performance of his career? That performance single-handedly extinguished the “Is this a flash in the pan?” dialogue and made people recalibrate his NBA ceiling. Oh, and it ended up being the perfect ending to a sports movie that’s now on its seventh or eighth ending. He could have faded into Flip Murray-esque obscurity after that Lakers game and still lived off it for the next 20 years. Instead, it’s just a small part of a much bigger story. Incredible.)