Falling in Love with a Basketball Player

Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks went under the knife last week to fix a meniscus tear in his knee. I would have visited him there if I knew the hospital he’d gone to but as it happened I didn’t. Also I don’t know him.

What has happened here is that I have fallen in love with Jeremy Lin. It’s an unrequited love, of course, and it’s from afar. Some would call it puppy love, or hero worship. Whatever it is, I have, until this injury put him out for the rest of the season, taken every opportunity to watch him play basketball. I watched him on ESPN, on MSG and on CBS. I didn’t care about who the Knicks were playing. I didn’t even, and have never, even cared for the Knicks. Every moment he was out there on the court I stared at him adoringly. I could not take my eyes off him. The little Chinese-American guy with the shiny hair and the number 17 on his jersey.

“Give it to Jeremy. Get it off to Stoudemire!” I’d instruct him, always unnecessarily, because he had eyes in the back of his head and off it already had gone to Stoudemire who fired a three-pointer.

Lin, a Harvard graduate standing six foot three, had come from nowhere. He got rejected in the draft. He rode the bench for two years with other teams. He won a spot for the Knicks after they claimed him off waivers because they needed another back-up guard on the bench. And then he was called in to play guard in a game when the regular guard got hurt. And with him in, quite suddenly, this down in the dumps second class team went on a seven-game winning streak, most of the time winning by wide margins and, on several occasions when Lin, in the final seconds, threw the ball for a swish at the buzzer.

It seemed a miracle. But it was not. Lin’s appearance on the court created a dramatic change in the play of everybody else for a reason. And soon, it came out.

The coach at the time, Mike D’Antoni, had over the past two years been building a team involving teamwork and fast play. There are only two ways to be successful in the pros in basketball. You can do this zippy thing. Or you can have one superstar who everybody gets the ball to. The superstar shoots. The points pile up.

The owner of the Knicks, James Dolan, who knows very little about the game at this level in my opinion, decided to go for the superstar right in the middle of D’Antoni’s attempts to build a teamwork squad. This superstar was Carmelo Anthony. Dolan hired him with a huge bundle of money. He would be playing him from now on.

Trouble was that Anthony alone could not win ball games. He’d score lots of points. Usually about 35 during a game. But unless he had support from his coach and all the other players, it went for nothing. The Knicks, when Lin began to play, were way down in the standings.

There was another factor. Not only was the other guard injured, but so was Anthony. Anthony would be out for about two weeks. So Lin came in, and, as he said after the second soaring victory, he kept handing the ball off at high speed to the other players for spectacular scores. It was infectious. The rest of the players loved it. The coach loved it. There was a level of enthusiasm on this basketball court not seen in years. Nothing could stop this team. And nothing did, until Anthony got well.

When Anthony came back to play, he did not participate well with the zippy game. He’d get the ball. He’d shoot. Lin could do nothing about it. In very short order, all the Knicks were standing around flatfooted. The Knicks lost eight of their next ten.

D’Antoni had been screaming at Anthony. Play the game. Play the game. Anthony played only his own game. And it didn’t work.

As the losing streak continued, reports surfaced that D’Antoni told Dolan that he wanted permission to trade Anthony when the season ended. Dolan told him he could not trade him. D’Antoni then said he could not win this way and he resigned. Just walked out.

An assistant coach named Mike Woodson now took over temporarily, and he had a talk with Anthony. Whatever it was he said greatly affected Anthony. He agreed to play this small ball. In the days that followed, Anthony’s total points per game dropped by almost half. But the Knicks were flying again.

One particular play, after they dismantled one team and another, stands out. The other team was coming down the court with the ball. They tried to penetrate to the basket and Lin stole the ball. Suddenly, all the Knicks were racing down court in the opposite direction. Lin saw Anthony halfway down and though pursued, was ready to make the layup. Lin threw the ball to Anthony who went for the basket but then, in midflight, with a defender after him, sent it off sideways to Stoudemire charging in from off to one side. Swish. Lin to Anthony to Stoudemire. And the three of them met at center court and were doing these deliriously happy back bumps with one another. Such back bumps were taking place not only there on the court but in the stands, and in living rooms all around the New York Metropolitan area.

The Knicks were now so good it seemed a dream. They won eight out of the next nine since the coaching change. They had climbed back to inch their way into the bottom strand of the playoff list. They’d likely make the playoffs.

But then, Lin got injured and had to be taken out. In some ways, it seems it was bound to happen. In the early undefeated run, Lin occasionally charged around the seven-footers guarding him to the basket. His quickness (forget his passing off ability) was remarkable. But soon, the other teams found a way to double team Lin, blocking his way. This coincided with the return of Anthony. After that, Lin embarked on a much more aggressive strategy. He’d charge through both of those guarding him, and he’d draw a foul. He was running into seven-foot people, he was this little guy, but, although he was sometimes hit so hard as to send him to the floor, he was learning how he could defeat the rough and tumble doubleteam. And defeat it he did.

Maybe it was just too much for his body to be crashing into much larger people like this all the time. I don’t know. We’ll have to see how it works out.

The Knicks the next night were easily defeated. Lin is out. Stoudemire is out. The fairy tale seemed over.

But then the team went on what is so far a four-game winning streak. They are playing the Lin game, but without Lin.

There’s a part of me that thinks that next year he will be back, but he won’t be able to repeat his miracle. He’ll fail. Get back to the bench. Get traded.

That would just be awful. I can’t let that happen. If I watch next year and send him miracle vibes, perhaps he will do all this again.

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