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      The Linsanity Defense

      February 9, 2012
      From the column 'The Mercy Rule'

      It's a favorite trope among certain types of sportswriters—the young ones who use hair product and drink Red Bull, not the older ones who wear Hawaiian shirts and mainline Miracle Whip—to compare various NBA basketball players to one pickup game archetype or another. This is generally not a good look, considering how mighty a stretch it is to find parallels in the professional ranks for such actual familiar pickup game archetypes as Doug the Guy in Black Jeans and Timberlands Who Only Takes Threes or Clammy Ray Cutoffs, the Peevish Hungover Combo Guard. That it's not impossible—those are Stephen Jackson and DeShawn Stevenson, respectively, and you're welcome—doesn't make it wise or fair.

      And so it won't be wise or fair when Jeremy Lin—the Chinese-American, ultra-evangelical Harvard graduate who has gone from fourth-string point guard to the most popular basketball player in New York City/on the internet (he has his own hilarious rap song) over the past week—gets a playground analogue of his own. This is not just because Lin, a professional athlete who is assuredly better at basketball than anyone you've ever met, is much more than Jeff the Chinese Guy Who's Wearing Handball Gloves For Some Reason, or whatever comparison winds up around his neck. It's because Lin, for all his scrupulously humble swagger and sudden and inexplicable brilliance, is first and foremost a recognizably NBA character. And not just any NBA character—maybe the best kind.

      This would probably be the place to mention that none of this can last. Lin scored 25 points off the bench against a lousy Nets team on Saturday, then started and scored 28 against a better Jazz team on Monday, but as creative and gutsy and generally awesome as he has been on offense—and his blue raspberry Ring Pop-tongue swag is unstoppable right now—he's also Jeremy Lin, and as such almost certainly no better suited to defending elite point guards or facilitating a pro offense than every NBA GM deemed him to be when he went undrafted two years ago, or when two teams cut him in a fortnight less than six weeks ago. And this would probably be the place to mention that it doesn't really matter if this lasts.

      It might matter to the Knicks and their fans if Lin's baffling brilliance continues for another few games or weeks, but fundamentally, the Knicks don't really matter, certainly not cosmically but also not in the NBA's Eastern Conference, and their success barely even matters to their fans, who exist in a weepily deluded psychodrama of their own devising. Whoever their point guard, the Knicks remain a noxious dry-drunk billionaire's fantasy team—he even wrote a song about them with his noxious dry-drunk billionaire vanity blues band— and their ceiling seems limited as long as this particular goateed pile of unearned entitlement is running the show. But, as long as Lin is running the show on the court, the Knicks have a shot.

      Not a shot at winning a ton of games, necessarily, or maybe even at making the playoffs. But players like Lin—and here's the real archetype to fit this goofy, out-of-nowhere dude, the Jesus juice'd Harvard man blush-laughing amid those joking-but-sort-of-not MVP chants at Madison Square Garden—can at least do for fans what the bloated, corporate NBA and stagnant, graceless, top-heavy superstar-driven teams like the Knicks can't. Which, simply, is remind us of why we like basketball.

      Played right, which is to say played generously and wildly and well, basketball is—and pardon the sports-journo jargon—just the fucking best, one moment of surprise and intricacy and hair-trigger virtuosity after another, payoff after payoff. Better still, it's open enough that anyone, even some understatedly/undeservedly brash undrafted free agent surrounded by end-of-the-bench doofs and limping stars, can find a little transcendence for himself if he can just get in where he fits in. In doing this, Jeremy Lin has brought home and brought to life the happy truth in those inevitably off-base playground comparisons, which are really just another way for people writing about basketball to express how much they'd rather be playing it. However long he gets to be on top, Lin has spent the last week reminding everyone how much space there is in the game for joy and surprise. Whether he wins another game for the Knicks or not, he's already done a lot.

      Previously - Meet the Super Bowl’s Sociopaths

      @david_j_roth

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      Topics: sports, basketball, jeremy lin

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