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Jeremy Lin opens up to GQ about New York, his race and improving

By Zach Harper | NBA writer
Can Jeremy Lin prove himself in Houston? (Getty Images)

Regardless of what you think of Jeremy Lin as a player, he's definitely a lightning rod when it comes to basketball discussion.

During his initial historical run and month of reviving a spiraling New York Knicks franchise, he became the topic on every outlet's tongue and the argument for everybody's favorite game of “Overrated or Underrated.” What Lin was doing was truly remarkable, considering he didn't even have a chance at being an afterthought; he simply wasn't thought of at all in the NBA discussion.

Then he exploded onto the NBA scene, took the biggest city in the league by storm, and helped get the Knicks heading in the right direction. After a season-ending knee injury kept him from finishing the season, he became a restricted free agent and went on a rollercoaster ride of soap-opera proportions in getting his new deal.

Even though his new contract (three years, $25 million) was under the “up to $1 billion” limit the Knicks set for the organization, New York acquired Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade and let Lin head off to Houston. In the November edition of GQ Magazine, Will Leitch caught up with Lin and received some very candid thoughts from the new point guard for the Rockets.

Lin is already exhausted by the time we get on the West Side Highway, and he'll actually pass out on me before we successfully navigate the nightmarish traffic and drop him on ESPN's doorstep. But for now, he's just bummed to be leaving so soon. He misses New York, its people, its fans."You can't ask for a city or a fan base to embrace somebody more than they embraced me," he says. "I know it's kind of silly to talk about it with only two years under my belt in the league, but going in before free agency, I was like, 'I want to play in front of these fans for the rest of my career.' I really did. I really wanted to play in front of the Madison Square Garden fans for the rest of my career, because they're just unbelievable."

I respect the candor Lin has when he's speaking about New York. This was his first NBA home that truly mattered to him and it helped make him a global icon, in a way only one other city in the NBA (Los Angeles) could have done.

You just have to wonder if Lin's comments could end up backfiring. There isn't anything wrong with what he said, but there generally doesn't have to be something wrong for a fan base or for teammates to take it the wrong way. Lin wanted to stay in New York and play for the Knicks. He was set on it and most everybody thought it was going to end up that way.

In the blink of an eye, Lin was a member of the Rockets and he has no problem expressing his feelings about what New York meant to him. But if he doesn't play well and the Rockets struggle with him running the show, will the backlash come his way?

A lot of people seemingly want him to fail and prove he was a 15 minutes of fame type of fad. It would confirm their suspicions that he was popular more for his race than for his game. Lin knows this and knows he's in a high-pressure spot to prove he's worth the money and the coverage.

"If I can be honest, yes. It's not even close to the only reason, but it was definitely part of the reason." And it didn't end with Linsanity. "There's a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of Asian-Americans that are out there today, and the fact that I'm Asian-American makes it harder to believe, even crazier, more unexpected," he says. "I'm going to have to play well for a longer period of time for certain people to believe it, because I'm Asian. And that's just the reality of it." It's not all that dissimilar from what Yao Ming went through. "When Yao came out his rookie year as the first pick of the Draft, you have Charles Barkley saying, 'If he scores seventeen points in a game, I'm going to kiss a donkey's butt,' " Lin says. "If you do it for long enough, I think you would get the respect."

"I just need to focus on improvement on my end," Lin says. "I totally hear and agree with people who are like, 'He still has to learn. He's not established enough. He hasn't done it long enough.' I agree with them. I mean, obviously I don't always agree with everyone who says, 'He's at most a backup point guard,' things like that. I'm trying to find a balance. I'm not like the next Michael Jordan, but I'm also not what everyone saw me as before I started playing in the NBA, either."

What's refreshing is Lin knows his place in the NBA and the NBA culture. He knows he's a guy who exploded on the scene and hasn't really earned much yet. He knows what his detractors are saying about him and even agrees with them to a degree. However, he's using those critiques to motivate himself and avoid complacency in his career.

It's really up to him on whether his naysayers end up being correct or if his comments about missing New York and Knicks fans end up coming back to haunt him in Houston.

If he plays well, he's in the clear and gets to capitalize on a position none of us expected him to be in. If not, this Linsanity craze will only attract more lightning. And lightning hurts. The more you know. ...

 
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