Late last week news broke that Jeremy Lin, star of New York’s short-lived Lisanity movement, would miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury that required surgery. This marked the official end to Linsanity, and the already-waning interest many casual basketball fans had in the fate of the 2011-12 New York Knicks.
Rather than mourning this loss, or hatching conspiracy theories to fill the sports pages once dominated by Lincredible headlines, I’d like to look back about two months to the height of Linsanity. It was the quintessential bandwagon-y sort of sports phenomenon we don’t get to see that often: short-lived, unsustainable, and exciting as all hell while it lasted.
On a Friday in February, I was celebrating the start of my thirtieth birthday weekend in Chinatown. A visiting relative offered to treat us to dinner at his favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city, a thank you for letting him crash on our pull-out couch while he was in town for a few nights.
It was about 7:15 when the three of us met up for pre-dinner drinks at Whiskey Tavern, a pub that seemed out of place among the Asian restaurants and fish stores that make up most of Chinatown. But it was loud and packed for the Knicks game.
The Knicks had been improbably led by Asian-American and Harvard graduate point guard Jeremy Lin for the past week or so. Now on a three-game win streak, they were on the verge of reclaiming their status as the hottest ticket in town as they hosted Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
During the week, the media had goaded the Lakers’ star to look ahead to the Knicks game. Classic Kobe, he replied with a caustic and dismissive “Jeremy Lin who?” response, downplaying the match-up as just another game on the schedule. After all, he’s a future hall of famer with five championship rings, and Jeremy Lin is…well, a guy who was sitting at the end of the bench about a week ago.
We stuck around for the first quarter of the game, had a couple of beers and a celebratory round of Whiskey Tavern’s specialty, the “pickle back shot,” then left the bar to head next door for dinner. Afterwards, we went back to Whiskey Tavern for the second half, just as Jeremy Lin was going off on the Lakers, eventually tallying 38 points.
Whiskey Tavern ohhhh-ed with every made basket. Onlookers shook their head Lincredulously with every spin move and teardrop and bank shot. If–no, when–they make a movie about Jeremy Lin, and they do the cutaway to crowded local bar (the one that every sports movie has), it will look a lot like Whiskey Tavern looked like that night.
New York hasn’t been this excited about the Knicks in a long time. With the recent success of the Yankees and Giants and even the Rangers this season, the Knicks were becoming the least relevant team in New York City. But Linsanity brought them back. The next morning after the Laker game, my girlfriend gave me my birthday present: tickets to see the Knicks at Madison Square Garden the following Friday, which she had the foresight to buy just before the previous night’s game. After Jeremy Lin’s 38 against the Lakers, the Knicks were officially the hottest ticket in town and, on this rare occasion, we had it.
Hundreds of articles were written about Jeremy Lin during the height of Linsanity. About how he’s a Tim Tebow-like role model, how he was an underdog looked over by several NBA teams because he played for an Ivy League school (or because he’s Asian-American), how he was a target for one ESPN headline writer (a “Chink in the Armor” moment of poor judgement cost said writer his job), how the Knicks’ top scorer Carmelo Anthony is going to have to move over for Lin, and how not even Linsanity could save the Knicks’ head coach’s job.
Jay Caspian Kang at Grantland wrote a piece about the future of Jeremy Lin from a basketball standpoint. It was an interesting read, but to be honest, I don’t really care. The rest of Jeremy Lin’s career could manifest in a number of ways, including a path that’s completely devoid of basketball–he’s got a freakin’ degree in economics from Harvard–but he’ll never recapture the excitement he created during the Linsanity era.
The lesson I’ve taken away from all of this is this: As satisfying to your ego as it may be to dismiss something as a fad, it’s incalculably more fun to get caught up in it. Every so often, go ahead and embrace the Linsanity, the Lincredible, and the Linpossible. There’s always room on the bandwagon.