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By Mike Yorkey Jesse Florea
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Mike Yorkey and Jesse Florea
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe NBA Goes Linsane!
Seven, Six, Five, Four ...
Any child who has picked up a basketball dreams of one day hitting a game-winning, buzzer-beating shot. Jeremy Lin grew up with images of hoops glory running through his mind as he dribbled a basketball on his family's driveway in Palo Alto, California. He'd shoot for hours, counting down from ten and releasing the ball just before the buzzer sounded. Sometimes Jeremy's shot would rip through the net with a beautiful swish. Other attempts would bounce off the rim and fall disappointingly to the pavement.
On those occasions, Jeremy would gather the ball, take his place on the driveway, and start the countdown again. His team just had to win.
Seven, Six, Five, Four ...
Even with all of Jeremy's practice and dreaming, he never would have dared to imagine what took place on February 14, 2012.
Through a bizarre series of what can only be explained as God-ordained events, the twenty-three-year-old found himself starting as point guard for the New York Knicks. Just weeks before, Jeremy feared he'd be cut by his third NBA team in two years. Now in a game against the Toronto Raptors, Jeremy held the ball at half court as the clock ticked down from eighteen seconds.
"Tied at eighty-seven, Lin with the ball in his hands," the TSN announcer said as the crowd at Air Canada Center rose to its feet. Jeremy had helped erase a 17-point second-half deficit for the Knicks. Moments earlier his three-point play on a double-pump, feathery four-foot jumper and ensuing foul shot had knotted the game 87–87.
With five seconds to go, Jeremy started dribbling toward Toronto point guard Jose Calderon. Jeremy moved the ball between his legs, spotted up about twenty-four feet from the basket, and launched a high-arching three-pointer.
Three, Two ...
"Lin for the wiiin," the announcer shouted. "Got it!"
The crowd erupted as the ball swished through the hoop, giving the Knicks a 90–87 victory. Jeremy nodded his head triumphantly and backpedaled down the court before getting chest-pumped by teammates pouring off the Knicks' bench. With that shot, Jeremy clinched New York's sixth straight victory and took the worldwide "Linsanity" craze to another level.
"I'm just glad it went like this so we can calm the Linsanity down," Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni joked after the game. Even though the Knicks were playing a road game, the crowd's reaction seemed more fitting for New York's Madison Square Garden. The hometown Raptors had lost, but the crowd stayed on its feet, cheering for the NBA's newest hero. Jeremy's box score on the night: 27 points (12 of which came in the fourth quarter) and 11 assists. Toronto fans, just like basketball fans around the world, were caught up in a wave of excitement surrounding a player who quickly came to embody hard work, hustle, and a rock solid faith in God.
But what some people missed on that February evening was the fact that D'Antoni chose not to take a timeout when New York got possession of the ball with less than twenty-four seconds left and the score tied. Conventional wisdom in the NBA says to call a timeout, draw up a play, and make sure the right players are on the court. Instead the coach put the ball in Jeremy's hands and trusted him with the outcome.
"He's too good to call a timeout," D'Antoni said to reporters after the game. "It makes it easy to a coach to be able to trust your point guard. He's smart enough, and I have faith in him." No, D'Antoni wasn't talking about Carmelo Anthony—perhaps the Knicks' most clutch performer, who missed the game with an injury. The coach's words weren't directed toward a wily veteran player who'd been in last-second situations hundreds of times. And he wasn't even describing a top-five NBA draft pick who was destined for basketball stardom since middle school. He was talking about Jeremy Lin—who was five feet, three inches in high school, failed to get drafted by any NBA team, and was making just his fifth start.
Obviously, Linsanity wasn't just sweeping the world; it was affecting his coach too.
In early February 2012, Jeremy was the last man coming off the Knicks' bench during garbage time; by Valentine's Day, his dribble drive through five Los Angeles Lakers graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, basketball pundits on ESPN's SportsCenter had run out of superlatives to describe him, and his number 17 Knicks jersey was the NBA's top seller.
He was called "Lincredible," a balm of "Liniment" for the NBA. And he moved from anonymity to stardom —even pop icon status—quicker than an outlet pass to start a fast break.
Nobody was saying that Jeremy was the next Steve Nash, Magic Johnson, or Jerry West, but the fact that Jeremy even made it onto an NBA roster was noteworthy for several reasons:
1. At 6 feet, 3 inches, he wasn't tall for a game dominated by humongous athletes who can jump out of the gym.
2. He came from an Ivy League school; Harvard University, which last sent a player to the NBA in 1953—the year before the league adopted a 24-second shot clock.
3. He was the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to ever play in the NBA.
The uniqueness of his story—his racial background, his Ivy League pedigree, and his undrafted status—caught the world's attention. But there was more to Jeremy—a deep reservoir of faith. Here was a polite, humble, and hard-working young man who understood that God had a purpose for his life, whatever that might be.
Jeremy sees himself as a Christian first and a basketball player second. In the midst of his wild, implausible journey with a leather basketball in his hands—he was trusting God.
"I'm not exactly sure how it is all going to turn out," Jeremy had said after his rookie season, "but I know for a fact that God has called me to be here now in the NBA. And this is the assignment that he has given me. I know I wouldn't be here if that wasn't the case. Just looking back, though, it's been a huge miracle [that I'm in the NBA]. I can see his fingerprints everywhere."
God's hand was certainly guiding Jeremy during his first handful of starts for the Knicks, where the young point guard accomplished something that not even Michael Jordan—Jeremy's childhood hero—could brag about.
Chapter TwoMiracle Near 34th Street
What do Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant all have in common? None of them scored more points or dished out more assists than Jeremy did in his first five NBA starts.
In fact, no player in recorded NBA history (statistics started to be kept when the NBA and ABA merged in 1976) had scored at least twenty points and tallied seven assists in each of his first five starts at basketball's highest level. Jeremy's scoring prowess also set an NBA record, as his 136 points were the most ever for a player's first five games as a starter.
In one short week—just a handful of games in a lockout-shortened season—Jeremy progressed from benchwarmer to the toast of the Big Apple as the Knicks' leading scorer, playmaker, and spiritual leader.
West of the Hudson River, he became the focus of a normally fragmented media universe and set the 24/7 social networking world on fire. Everybody was talking about Jeremy: sports talk shows, blog writers, TV shows, even late night talk show hosts and sketch comedy programs. Trying to figure out how many smartphones, laptops, and computers converged to create a tidal wave of tweets, touts, and online chatter would make your head spin faster than Jeremy's spin move to the basket.
The reason Linsanity went viral was simple: everyone loves an underdog story, and his improbable journey has all the ingredients of a Hollywood fairy tale.
Trailblazing Asian-American in the NBA.
Cut by two teams and riding the bench in New York.
Even the fact that he had been sleeping on his older brother Josh's couch on the Lower East Side of Manhattan was part of the lore. People imagined the poor guy huddled under a blanket in Josh's living room because there was no room at the inn.
More important to Jeremy than his personal statistics was the fact that New York started to win. Before Jeremy was inserted into the lineup, New York had lost eleven of thirteen games and sat near the bottom of the Atlantic division with an 8–15 record. All-star Carmelo Anthony sat out with an injury. And high-scoring forward Amar'e Stoudemire was with his family after the death of his brother. Even coach Mike D'Antoni had his job on the line as the proud Knicks franchise wasn't living up to expectations. (D'Antoni did end up stepping down as head coach on March 14.)
Then during a February 4, 2012, game against the New Jersey Nets, Carmelo encouraged D'Antoni to play Jeremy in the second half. After all, things couldn't get worse. Melo had competed against Jeremy in practice and appreciated his spunk and hustle.
Jeremy made the most of the opportunity by scoring 25 points to lead New York to a come-from-behind 99-92 victory. Over the next twelve games, the Knicks went 9-3 to even their record at 18-18 and get themselves back into the playoff picture.
"They're playing at a high level," Boston Celtics all-star Kevin Garnett said. "Lin is obviously taking over the world. That's dope. You always like to see someone succeed at what they love. He plays with a lot of passion, and he's [giving] them, not just the city, but that team—life."
Jeremy's passion showed as he dove for balls on the hardwood, drove into the lane against bigger and stronger players, and even shouted at teammates to keep pushing themselves.
Sometimes Jeremy's zest for the game got him in trouble. Not only did he score more points in his first five starts than any player in NBA history, he also committed a record number of turnovers. Jeremy averaged more than five turnovers a game, which isn't the kind of statistic point guards brag about.
Of course, there are different kinds of turnovers. Some players turn over the ball by making a weak pass or playing timidly. Jeremy's turnovers often resulted from his aggressive play in driving to the basket or trying to thread a pass to a teammate under the hoop. Those kinds of turnovers are much easier for a coach to forgive. Plus, Jeremy's aggressive play and excellent court vision frequently resulted in monster dunks or wide-open three-pointers for fellow Knicks.
"He can really create for himself and his teammates," Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson said about Jeremy. "That's why Knicks fans are enjoying basketball, because they now have an exciting team." Perhaps no player benefited more from Jeremy's presence on the court than fifth-year pro Steve Novak. Steve, like Jeremy, played limited minutes for the Knicks before the month of February. The excellent long-range shooter immediately gelled with the slashing point guard. Steve often couldn't create an open shot for himself, but with Jeremy collapsing defenses with his forays to the basket, Steve routinely found himself left alone and on the receiving end of a pass from Jeremy. Steve connected on nearly 50 percent of his three-point shots once Jeremy started playing and averaged nearly 12 points a game (which is much better than his career 3.6 point scoring average).
Jeremy's story became the feel-good hit of the 2012 season as he energized New York and revitalized his basketball dreams. Of course, none of this could've been possible if his parents hadn't come to the United States to chase their American dream.
Excerpted from Linspired by Mike Yorkey Jesse Florea Copyright © 2013 by Mike Yorkey and Jesse Florea . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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