New York – Jeremy Lin, a bench-warmer two weeks ago, now has basketball fans worldwide in a state of “Lin-sanity” and a spot on the Sports Illustrated magazine cover after a fairy-tale NBA run to stardom.
The first US-born NBA player of Taiwanese and Chinese heritage has left his coach awestruck and his New York Knicks teammates merely stunned, while spectators and legends alike sing the praises of the 23-year-old point guard.
Lin was already making history even before sinking a game-winning three-pointer with half-a-second remaining to lift the Knicks over host Toronto on Tuesday, giving the New York squad their sixth victory in a row.
“Just watching him, you are in awe,” said Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. “He knew that shot was going in.”
Lin, a Harvard University economics graduate who was untaken in last year's NBA draft, was cut by Golden State and Houston before grabbing a spot on the Knicks bench.
With Amare Stoudemire absent following the death of his brother in a car crash and Carmelo Anthony sidelined by a groin injury, the Knicks turned to Lin on an emergency basis and he responded in amazing fashion.
“He's the greatest story in sports right now,” Knicks teammate Jared Jeffries said of Lin. “He was five or six days from being cut and now he is a catalyst for a team that's playing as good as anybody in the NBA.”
The Knicks would have had to pay Lin for a full season or release him within a few days. Now they have their first player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated since 1999.
“He continues to impress every night. Every game he plays better,” Jeffries said. “He does more and more to help us win basketball games. You can't ask any more of a kid coming into this situation.
“Right now his confidence is at an all-time high and our confidence in him is just as high.”
Lin produced the best five-game starting debuts in modern NBA history, his averages of 23.3 points and 7.4 assists surpassing such legends as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal, who tweeted his Lin love on Wednesday.
“Linderrella story of the year,” O'Neal said on Twitter. “jeremy lin has lingle handedly played lensational lincredible I'm linpressed all he does is Lin Lin Lin.”
Lin has become a huge NBA moneymaker in just over a week. The stock price of Knicks owners Madison Square Garden group has risen. Lin jerseys are being sold as fast as they can be manufactured at the NBA Store in New York.
Viewership ratings for Knicks games have skyrocketed, especially over the Internet and in Asia. Resale prices for Knicks tickets in an upcoming homestand have leaped 60 percent, with courtside seats costing thousands of dollars more thanks to “Lin-flation.”
There was concern that Stoudemire's return on Tuesday might diminish Lin, but that was not a problem for the forward, who enjoyed a similar tandem while in Phoenix with All-Star guard Steve Nash.
“I don't know what's going on but Jeremy is playing great. He has done a phenomenal job,” Stoudemire said.
When Lin pulled up for his winning jumper at Toronto, he was unafraid of taking the team's fate into his own hands.
“I just tried to take (the game clock) down as low as I could,” Lin said. “I figured I was not going to be able to get inside with their defense the way it was. I'm thankful that my coaches and teammates trusted me with the ball.”
D'Antoni warned that Lin's fans around the world and especially in New York should enjoy the player while they can.
“He's a marked man now,” D'Antoni said. “He's not going to sneak up on anybody anymore.”
Lin's popularity in Asia is the highest of any NBA player since the retirement of former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming of China.
“I talk to Yao after every game,” Lin told the New York Daily News. “He has taken me out to eat every time we're in the same city. He's obviously a role model and a big brother to me and we keep in touch all the time.”
Lin tries to deflect the praise even as he earns it.
“The amount of fun we've had, it's just, you look around and everyone's smiling,” Lin said. “There's a new energy. Everyone's excited. That's the thing. It's not because of me. It's because we're coming together as a team.” – Sapa-AFP