Why Jeremy Lin is gutwrenching

One week ago today, Jeremy Lin played his first game. Well, not really his first game, but his career started Saturday. That game came against the New Jersey Nets, who nearly locked up an upset against their cross-region rivals in Madison Square Garden for the first time since March of 2010, until Linsanity, Super Lintendo, and a million other puns that roughly translate to “how the f*** is Jeremy Lin doing this!?” took over in the fourth quarter.

I thought the Nets game was a fluke. I thought Lin took advantage of the Nets’ weak pick-and-roll coverage (which he did), exploited the holes the Nets allow at the rim (which he did), and after that brief bout of Nets destruction would immediately fall back down to earth (which he resoundingly didn’t). And, while watching the Nets-Pistons game last night, yet another uninspiring, uneventful, ultimately meaningless blowout loss, I found myself continually switching over to MSG at the hint of a commercial, to watch the Jeremy Lin show take off against the Lakers. And he didn’t disappoint, not even someone who has
no business liking Jeremy Lin.

Because, really, how can you not like Jeremy Lin? You may not like the uniform he’s donned, but there’s a certain magic in an undrafted rookie, previously cut by two teams, leading by far the most unsuccessful big-market franchise to four consecutive victories in spectacular, unflappable fashion, from their weakest position on the floor. Even if you hate that one of those came against the Nets, I can’t help but admire not just success, but league-wide shock in the face of fully tempered expectation.

I wish I hated him. I wish I couldn’t stand what he’s done. But I just can’t. I find the hysteria a little disturbing, if only because of things like this, but he’s done nothing but play fantastic basketball. Coinciding with the Nets’ recent slide, he’s relegated the New Jersey franchise to unquestionably second-class status in the region yet again. That I hate. But not him for doing it.

Here’s a list of players that at any point this season went on four-game streaks of 23+ points on 50% shooting or better each game: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Jeremy Lin. And Lin did it in his first four major-minutes games. He may never be a star, but he’ll never lose what he’s done this past week.

Tonight, the Nets take on the San Antonio Spurs, setting off a conscience war between my Nets fan side and basketball fan. I’ll be in the Prudential Center, cheering on with my dad in one of the upper sections. The tickets were a birthday present to him. And yet, deep in my stomach, there’s a pang of regret that I won’t be glued to my television, watching Jeremy freaking Lin take on Ricky Rubio in the battle of ridiculously fun young point guards and their now-ridiculously fun teams.

Nets players and personnel know that this isn’t the team they want, and it isn’t the one the fans want. It’s an awkward situation for an awkward franchise, waiting since the summer of 2010 for the other shoe to drop. Outside of Deron Williams and MarShon Brooks, the Nets haven’t had anything close to the excitement that Jeremy Lin brings the Knicks — and the national hysteria over Lin understandably far outstrips them both.

If the Nets display any type of cohesion, if Shawne Williams and Anthony Morrow start hitting his open looks, if Kris Humphries starts playing above the rim offensively, if Johan Petro sits, if MarShon Brooks looks like pre-broken toe MarShon Brooks, if the entire team suddenly stops leaving open looks at the rim to teams like the Pistons, then perhaps I won’t consider our patronage a sunk cost. But unless the wildly unexpected happens — perhaps more wild than Jeremy Lin breaking the NBA record for most points in a player’s first three starts since the NBA-ABA merger — I’ll probably be focusing more on the ticker than the court. And I hate that. But not Jeremy Lin, no matter how much I wish I could.