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A Eulogy For Jeremy Lin

I’m not going to say I knew him his whole life. Up until February 4th, 2012, I didn’t really know who Jeremy Lin was. When he averaged 13 points and 4 assists in during career at Harvard, I still had no idea who he was. I was more interested in Greg Paulus, Kyle Singler, and Gerald Henderson than Jeremy Lin. When he signed with the Golden State Warriors, I heard about him in passing. He’s some Asian kid playing for the Warriors. Still, nothing registered. When my hometown New York Knicks picked him up shortly after Christmas 2011, I read his Wikipedia bio, but nothing more. I wasn’t even really a Knicks fan at that point. I attended their last playoff win in 2001, but my 7 year old self didn’t fall in love like many kids do at their first game. I watched Knicks games on television at college every once in a while, and rooted for them when they played, but my NBA fandom was like this: I was going to wait until the Nets moved to Brooklyn and got me excited, or until the Knicks got good. I was going to hop on whatever bandwagon came riding up first, buy a seat for life, and not budge. This was my lifelong fanhood that was at stake—I wasn’t going to blindly pledge to either team.

In a fantastic twist of fate, I landed a couple Knicks-Nets tickets at MSG on February 4th. I took my buddy Rohtas along with me, and his obsession with the Knicks was contagious. If I was going to sit through a game with Rohtas, I had to root for the Knicks. At MSG, I bought a Carmelo Anthony jersey—my first piece of Knicks merchandise. After throwing down $80 for a jersey, I was literally invested in the Knicks cause.

Early on in the game, Carmelo got hurt. Going into the night with a 7-15 record, Coach Mike D’Antoni, fearing a loss to the Nets would cost him his job, went all Lin, and gave the gangly Jeremy Lin his chance to run the point. As a 19 year old Chinese-American, I was glued to Jeremy’s every move. I cheered every basket, rebound, and assist he made like I would celebrate a goal in soccer. My shouts of “It’s the Year of the Lin,” “That’s my Chink Balla!” and “Kung hei fat choi motherfuckers!” rained down onto the court after every one of Jeremy’s moves. I remember being enthralled after he scored 10 points, ecstatic when he topped 20 points, and euphorically foaming at the mouth when he ended the game with 25 points after sparking a 4th quarter comeback.

After the game, I scoured the MSG concourse for any vendors selling his jersey. They had Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas, and Landry Fields jerseys printed, but no Lin 17 shirts. I had to rep my new favorite athlete and my new favorite team immediately. I went to the NBA Store the next day in hopes of scoring any Lin merchandise. Nothing was there, but people had been customizing $300 Knicks jerseys with Lin’s name and number all day. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was hooked and needed a little retail therapy.

The Knicks went on to win 10 of their next 13 games, hitting the tipping point when Jeremy scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. The day before the game, Kobe scoffed at the notion that he’d personally be guarding Jeremy. After Jeremy torched Derek Fisher, and traded baskets with Kobe in the 4th en route to a big Knicks win at MSG, I’m sure Kobe wished he had paid a little more attention to my man. Rohtas was at that Laker game, and he said that the Garden was buzzing like it was a playoff elimination game. In a way, this was Jeremy’s elimination game. Four games and three starts into Linsanity, Jeremy still had more doubters than lovers. If he had shat the bed against Kobe Bryant with the world watching, Linsanity would’ve been tempered to just Jeremy Lin, Knicks starter. Nothing is Linsane about being a starter on a team below .500.

Instead, Jeremy took himself, his expectations, and my pride to heights I’ve never felt as a sports fan. A week after the Nets game, I purposely showed up late for a test so I could go and buy the last Lin jersey at Paragon Sports in Union Square (I ended up getting a C+. I’ll take it.) I was at his 28-14-4 performance against the defending champion Mavericks (After the game, I told an ABC reporter outside of MSG that I was Jeremy’s third-cousin removed. I don’t even know what that means. My interview ran that night on the 6 o’clock news. No, I am not actually Jeremy’s third-cousin removed). To this day, I still don’t understand how he nailed that 3-pointer over Dirk Nowitzki. I’m waiting for Sports Science on ESPN to figure that one out for me. Since I was born (and became a fan of my respective teams. I wasn’t wearing a Yankees cap out of the womb) my Yankees have won five World Series titles, my Packers have won one Super Bowl, Michael Schumacher won everything, and Liverpool FC has been successful. None of those championships and wins mattered as much as Jeremy’s two month run at the top of the sports world.

That’s why it hurts losing him so much. He mattered more.

It wasn’t just that he was good. It wasn’t just about the wins, the worldwide hysteria, and his underdog story. Jeremy Lin mattered to me, because he was doing all of those things as a Chinese-American kid. He’s just like me. (Technically, he’s Taiwanese, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s Chinese.) I’ve never been able to identify with anybody like that before. I’m a bi-racial kid, but I usually don’t self-identify. Being half-white doesn’t give you the White Privilege in America that’s afforded to every other white man—it only gets you sideways stares at family weddings or gatherings featuring my “Block” side of the family. I look Asian. I don’t look white. I don’t look like them.

The “Lew” side has brought me personal shame. During baseball games, everyone teased me and compared me Ichiro or Hideki Matsui. Actually, I hit righty. While I was pitching in an All-Star game once, the announcer compared my unorthodox motion to Hideo Nomo’s. No. I based it off of Black pitching great Bob Gibson’s windup, and I like Huston Street. They called me the “Blazin’ Asian.” My friends usually just call me J. Block. At school, I was picked on viciously for being Asian, despite living in a town that falsely prides itself on diversity. No, I do not have squinty eyes. My penis is the same size as yours. I’m actually bad at math. Fuck you Carlos Mencia. I’ve been conditioned to be self-ashamed when faced with other Asians. I’m embarrassed when I see an Asian mother struggle to order a hamburger at McDonalds. I’m disgusted when I see nerdy Chinese kids in matching outfits play on their Gameboys at dim-sum. They’re all playing into the stereotype that I was ridiculed for, and I used to blame them for it.

Jeremy Lin changed all of that.

He made me proud to be Chinese.

He made me proud to be me.

It takes a long time for everyone to get comfortable in their own skin. Some people never get used to themselves. Everything is cool when you’re a kid, and then puberty blows everything up. We get fat, skinny, tall, wide, muscular, acne-scarred, ugly, pretty, handsome, busty, or just lame. I became Chinese. Jeremy Lin made that okay for me. I’ll gladly self-identify in a world where Jeremy’s playing basketball.

Jeremy related to me in a way that Yao Ming never did. Yao was from China; I’ve never been to China, and he couldn’t have been more different than me culturally and physically. Yao was over seven feet tall. He looked like a basketball player. He was always going to be one. After all, what’s a seven foot Chinese kid going to become in a country where he’s a full two feet taller than the average man? He was built to play basketball. Jeremy, however, could be just another American man. I’m sure that his six foot three inch, 200 pound build is more imposing in person, but on an NBA court, he looks like a college freshman. He got knocked around like one too. Drive after drive, he’d get hit at levels only Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose know, and he’d get back up after every fall. Jeremy’s got five inches and 50 pounds on me, but I figured that if he could go out and dominate a Black man’s game, then I can hold my own in pickup games at NYU. At the very least, I could carry myself with more confidence. Want to call me “Young Jeremy Lin” anytime I play ball? That’s what I want to hear.

Even in totally random situations, Jeremy’s affected me. I was in the hospital this past weekend with an intestinal problem (I’m fine now). While I was sitting in bed in agony, all I could think of was this picture that Jeremy put on his Facebook after his knee surgery in April.

If Jeremy could be in the hospital and stay strong, then so could I. That seems like what a kid on one of SportsCenter’s “My Wish” segments would say, but that’s how I felt. Every time I play beer pong, write an article, or play a video game, I often shout “I do it for Jeremy Lin!” as if Jeremy is somehow being empowered through my nonsensical chants. He inspires me to live my life.

During Linsanity, I wasn’t the only person in my family who became Linsane. My father, who hates basketball, began watching Jeremy’s games after work instead of watching Glee. All my mother could talk about was Jeremy, and she’s clueless about sports. Even my 84 year old Chinese grandmother watched Jeremy play on TV. These people could’ve cared less about LeBron’s playoff redemption, which was arguably the sports story of the 21st century. My family stopped and watched Jeremy and only Jeremy, and millions of other families around the globe did too. He became a worldwide icon, and my personal hero.

I’ve been heartbroken by athletes before. Brett Favre coming out of retirement twice to play for the hated Minnesota Vikings was treacherous. Fernando Torres, after declaring his undying love for Liverpool FC for years, burned us out of nowhere and forced a move to the empirical Chelsea FC. Jeremy’s broken my heart today, but unlike Favre and Torres, I won’t harbor any ill-will towards him. He’s a Houston Rocket now because he wanted to get paid after the Knicks gave him every indication that they’d hand him a blank check. Jeremy did what every other 23 year old with a limited resume and a chance at the jackpot would do. He took the money, and still should’ve been a Knick. I’ll never forgive the Knicks for letting Jeremy go. My brain and I had a meeting about becoming a Nets fan, but I’m too loyal of a person to do that. I was at MSG for their first playoff win in over a decade against the vaunted Miami Heat. There’s a different energy and passion that Knicks fans give that building, and I want to be a part of that for the rest of my life. I won’t, however, be giving the Knicks a single penny as long as Jeremy is playing NBA basketball.

We all have that one friend who we accept and deal with just because they’re around. By all accounts, they suck and they’re a total snake, but we still call them up to hang out. The Knicks are now that friend to me. Jeremy Lin, however, isn’t my friend—he’s my idol, and idols don’t just wear uniforms.

“I love the New York fans to death. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career.”

We did too Jeremy.

RIP

Linsanity

February 2012-July 2012

“To know Him is to want to know Him more.” 

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

What Just Happened Here? Jeremy Lin Leaves the Knicks

The clock has just struck midnight, and Jeremy Lin’s Cinderella Story with the New York Knicks has come to a bizzarre ending. The Knicks have refused to match the Houston Rockets’ offer sheet of 3 years/$24 million. It’s a shocking move for a team that apparently was prepared to match any offer up to $1 billion.

Much has been made of the “poison pill” part of the deal, which is Lin’s $15 million salary in his third year. Through a loophole, only $8 million of that would count against the cap for the Rockets, but the Knicks would have to pay the full $15 million. Thanks to the contracts of Carmelo Anthony, Amare “My Contract Expires In 36 Months” Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler, the Lin deal would add up to a combined $75 million owed to those players alone. After another $20 million to fill out the roster with interns and ilegal immigrants, the Knicks would be way over the salary cap and deep into the luxury tax penalty. Once luxury taxes are applied, that $15 million third year for Lin would actually be closer to an unprecedented $60 million out-of-pocket cost. A steep price for a player who didn’t even have enough minutes last year to qualify for any league categories.

Despite that astronomical cost, every argument against resigning Lin can be put to bed. Let’s break it down.

ARGUMENT #1: HE’LL COST TOO MUCH
$60 million is a lot, but it’s not like the Knicks couldn’t afford him. They’ve spent more money on players than any team this decade, and have thrown money around like an elementary school food-fight. This is the first time in Knicks history (from what I know) that money has been a problem in obtaining a player. Not cap issues, or balancing salaries in a trade—pure money.

That being said, let’s give the Knicks the benefit of the doubt. They’ve finally drawn a line in the sand. They want to be fiscally responsible for once. There’s nothing wrong with smartening up. The problem is, this instance isn’t smart. It’s an another example of the Knicks being near-sighted. There are two ways to avoid owing that $75 million to four players in 2014-2015. These aren’t secrets either—they’ve been thrown around on the radio, television, and in columns the past three days. These ways have been used repeatedly before to get teams out of cap trouble.

1) The expiring contracts. Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Lin would all have expiring contracts going into the 2014-2015 season. Expiring contracts are just as valuable as solid rotation players—they’re both trade assets. Teams are always looking to trade bad contracts for other bad contracts, or to take on bad contracts because they’re expiring. After 2015, these players would be off the books. In short, they’re tender trade bait. Teams sign players to huge deals knowing well that they’ll probably get traded at the end of the contract for cap relief. Trading just one of these mega-deals in 2014 would save the Knicks tens of millions in cap and luxury tax dollars. It would happen too.

2) The “stretch provision.” Worried about Lin being a bust and still having to eat that $60 million poison pill in 2014? That doesn’t need to happen. The stretch provision would allow Lin to be waived on the cheap. Instead of that $15 million counting against the cap immediately (trigging those luxury taxes), only $5 million would. The provision allows the salary to be dispersed over the remaining years left on the deal plus one: $5 million would be paid in 2014, $5 million in 2015, and then another $5 million in 2016. The cap hit would be minimal, and the tax penalties would be practically nullified.

BUT… Should Lin reach his potential, and ascend to top 10 poing guard range, he’ll pay for himself on the court alone. Nate Silver used John Hollinger’s PER rankings, and converted that metric into dollars. He figured that one win costs about $1.63 million on the open market. A good player should produce about 10 wins per season to be worth $16.3 million. Silver then calculated the value of the top 40 point guards in the NBA using his numbers.

If Lin performs like a top 10 point guard, he’s worth about $60 million over those three years in wins alone—roughly $10 million less than his out-of-pocket cost—a difference that can be made up in his merchandise sales and TV ratings that he would bring in anyway. Not only that, but he would only cost $10 million total the first two years, which would actually make him $30 million underpaid. If the Knicks move either Anthony, Stoudemire, or Chandler to clear cap space in 2014 and cut the luxury tax bill, he would actually come out of the deal as an underpaid point guard.

With those two outs, and an examination of Lin’s potential on the court worth, the poison pill argument is null and void. Moving on…

ARGUMENT #2: HE’S AVERAGE AT BEST

26 starts is an extremely limited sample size, but what he did statistically in that time has only been done by some of the best the NBA has ever seen. The NY Times studied this in February. Since 1985, out of the 41 players who’ve averaged 20+ points, 6+ assists and over 50% shooting in four or more consecutive games, only nine players are considered “average,” while the bottom tier of players consists of Pooh Richardson, Jay Humphries, and Lionel Simmons.

Lin is in rarified air with that list. To call him average would be going against history. Beyond that, an average player doesn’t just throw up 38-7-4 on 57% shooting against a team like Lakers. Against Kobe, it was Lin’s first big test, and he seized the moment in a way that only elite players can do. That doesn’t happen to Raymond Felton on a random February night. Average players just don’t go out and do what Lin did.

Not only did he fill in a fantastic box score, but his also teams won. He dragged the Knicks into the playoffs with his winning streak. He made ran a great pick-and-roll with Tyson and Amare, created Steve Novak’s career renaissance, temporarily saved D’Antoni’s job, and became the team’s alpha-dog. He was the only player the Knicks had last year who played like a proper point guard and made his teammates better. Him not being at least an above-average player would be a historical fluke. Now who exactly wants to bet against history? (This question is obvious and stupid because the Knicks just did.)

ARGUMENT #3: RAYMOND FELTON IS BETTER ANYWAYS

No… Just… No. If I need to actually explain this, then you should stop watching basketball. Let me do it anyway.

In isolation situations last season, Lin scored a quarter of a point more (ranking 65 spots higher—3rd vs. 68th), shot 10% better, and turned the ball over two times less than Felton.

In pick-and-roll situations last season, Lin averaged more points per play, had a higher field goal percentage, and got to that line nearly three times more than Felton.

Lin ranked third in the entire league in field goal percentage off the dribble (minimum 90 shots), just behind Stephen Curry and Steve Nash.

Lin held opponents to less points per play and a lower shooting percentage last season than Felton (.82 PPP for Lin compared to .86 for Felton, and 38% for Lin compared to 42% for Felton).

Statistically, Lin blows Felton out of the water. Would Felton work better with Amare and Carmelo? The argument is that Amare and Felton ran the pick-and-roll so well two seasons ago, but the fact is, Lin runs pick-and-rolls better than Felton PERIOD. There is no aspect on the basketball court that Raymond Felton is superior to Jeremy Lin in.

By this point, unless you’re either Stephen A. Smith or the Knicks, you know that Lin is a no-brainer to be resigned. I could only think of two possible reasons why the Knicks didn’t resign Lin:

1) Dolan was mad. Knicks owner James Dolan had a grudge against Lin for making his wallet work a little bit with the backloaded contract, even though we proved that he wouldn’t have to pay those luxury tax dollars in 2014 if the Knicks made a few realistic moves. Dolan has been known to hold grudges, and he probably didn’t like that Lin asked for all that money in the first place after the Knicks gave him his big chance. This is how he’s repaying me? Lin re-payed you with the reinvigoration of your entire franchise on and off the court. Now pay him back.

2) They genuinely believed he wasn’t good. Although we proved that he’s going to be at least an above-average player, and that he’s an upgrade over Felton, the Knicks didn’t think so. The Knicks can’t say he wouldn’t be worth the money, because we proved that in no way could money be an object. The Knicks must’ve been watching a different Jeremy Lin than the rest of us.

Lin is officially a Houston Rocket, so it’s worth noting what the Knicks missed out on. Should Lin sniff Linsanity levels, he’s the difference in the Eastern Conference. Right now, the Knicks could either finish as either the two seed or the eight seed. The team did nothing last year to help project them for this year. They were in flux all year long, and now their biggest catalyst is gone. After this offseason, they have more questions than answers. Can Melo’s hero ball translate into wins? Who will play at shooting guard? Can anyone stay healthy? Is Amare “My Contract Expires In 36 Months” Stoudemire a basketball player or a contract deadweight? What’s Mike Woodson’s purpose in life? These are all questions that could’ve had answers if Lin had resigned. Lin has the potential to be the reason the Knicks can leapfrog the Celtics, Pacers, Nets, Sixers, Hawks and Bulls.

Just his signing would ward off the inner-city threat of the Nets. The Nets are on the rise, and the Knicks are trending down right now. Beyond New York City, Lin would continue to establish his world-wide popularity. The Knicks had a chance to get every Chinese kid in their jersey, and they blew it. The international branding opportunities he provides cannot be underestimated. There aren’t many players in the NBA who would make the casual NBA fan—even a non-NBA fan—drop whatever their doing just to watch play. There’s LeBron, maybe Durant, Lin, and that’s it. Case in point: My father, mother, and grandmother don’t follow basketball. My father actually hates the game. Did they all watch all of Lin’s games though? Yes. Did he watch LeBron’s dominant NBA Finals? No. Lin’s a living phenomenon.

At the end of this mess, Lin is a player who has a high reward, and a very low risk. He can be tossed to the curb with almost no damage (relative to his cost), just as quickly as he’s taken over the NBA. Let me repeat: worst case, he’s gone with no financial damage done in two years. Best case, he leads the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks let the biggest difference maker they had walk away, all because of either a grudge or a misevaluation of his overall ability and worth. Knicks coaches and executives will have to explain themselves eventually, and unless an explanation as complete and thorough as the 9/11 Commission Report is given, the Knicks won’t win this argument. The likeliest reason however: the Knicks are the Knicks. For any NBA fan, that should mean enough.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Why NOT Keep Jeremy Lin?

Everyone was expecting Jeremy Lin to stay with the New York Knicks. Everyone in the organization was, Lin was, and the Houston Rockets were probably as well. But two things the past 24 hours have changed that: 1) Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet with the Rockets changed from a 4 year/$24 million deal, to 3 years and $25 million, with the 3rd year paying him $15 million—an insane amount for a player with 25 career starts, and 2) The Knicks acquired point guard Raymond Felton—Amare Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll buddy from 2010. ESPN is reporting that the Knicks are now planning to let Lin walk.

The problem with Lin’s new offer sheet isn’t the overall contract, but that $15 million salary in year three. The Knicks would be severely over the luxury tax threshold, and would have to pay the league an extra $15 million in taxes for Lin’s contract. The Knicks could easily ride out the $9 million first and second years of the contract if Lin plays at his Linsane level, since his marketing machine would make up the luxury tax costs. But the Knicks believe that $30 million in the 2014-2015 season is simply too much, especially if he doesn’t pan out.

But why are the Knicks bothering to think about that third year this much? When, in the history of the NBA, have GMs thought about the consequences of a contract three years down the line? When have the Knicks ever thought about the consequences of anything? This is the same team that gave Amare “My Contract Expires In 36 Months” Stoudemire a FIVE year/$100 million contract, even though his knees were a problem, he plays zero defense (the Knicks had to pay injury-prone Tyson Chandler $58 million to provide defense cover for Stoudemire), and he’s a fraud of a player. The only reason Stoudemire became the player he is because of Steve Nash, and the Knicks have been pairing him with Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, and Jeremy Lin (who actually ran the pick-and-roll better with Chandler than Stoudemire). Every forward who’s ever left Nash has instantly become less effective elsewhere (see: Diaw, Boris and Marion, Shawn). They signed Stoudemire because they didn’t want to leave the summer of 2010 empty handed (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Boozer, and Joe Johnson were all up for grabs). Now that’s the short-term vision that we’re all used to! For the Knicks to suddenly be worried about money and cap issues down the road is unlike them, which would actually be a good thing 99 times out of 100. Lin is that 100th time.

In the NBA, there always seems to be ways to beat the cap. The Knicks are worried about committing a combined $75 million to Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Lin in 2014-2015, but that’s a bridge that should be crossed in two years—not now. Furthermore, it’s a bridge that can and will be crossed. One of those four would just have to be traded by then. Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Lin would be carrying expiring contracts into that season. NBA GMs operate in a world where expiring contracts equals valuable trade bait. There’s always another GM who’s willing to take on the bad contract of an overrated big-name player, especially if it’s an expiring contract. Bad contract swaps for salary cap relief are commonplace. It’s not implausible that one of those four players would be traded within the next two years to enough salary cap space so James Dolan doesn’t lose sleep over paying Lin’s luxury tax.

The Knicks already have one of the highest payrolls in basketball. It’s obvious that they’re trying to compete for a championship now. By biting Lin’s bullet, they give themselves a three man rotation at point guard, and more flexibility at the 2. Iman Shumpert will be out until December, Landry Fields is gone, leaving JR Smith as the only shooting guard on the roster. Lin could easily slide in at the 2 for 15 minutes a game with either Jason Kidd or Raymond Felton running the point in a dual point guard lineup. Lin established himself as a pick-and-roll playmaker who is always looking to score first—a dual point guard lineup can work with his scoring ability, Kidd’s smarts, and Felton’s decent outside shooting. If they’re serious about toppling Miami, they need to hoard all the talent they can.

Realistically, this Knicks team—with or without Lin—isn’t a championship caliber squad. At best, they’re fighting with the drudge of teams after Miami in the Eastern Conference for seeds two through five. Since they’re not going to compete for a title, why not have some fun in the meantime? Bringing Lin back creates more short-term buzz for a team that can’t rebuild for another three seasons. In short: Donnie Walsh’s cap-clearing antics of 2008-2010 to become a contender in 2010-2012 were in vain. The Knicks are fucked, so they might as well take high-risk, high-reward option in Lin and hope that he becomes that piece that makes the Knicks better than Chicago, Brooklyn, Indiana, or Boston, but still a little worse than Miami.

The Knicks are trying to out-smart themselves here. For a historically dumb organization, that’s the wrong move.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49