|Lin has the Knicks all smiles now, and that should continue when Carmelo Anthony returns. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- There was no dramatic, last-second shot this time; no teammates mobbing him as he strutted back down the court. This episode of Linsanity was comparatively tame. Almost normal. Almost a basketball game.
Jeremy Lin had watched the replay of that moment in Toronto -- his dagger 3-pointer over Jose Calderon that expanded his legend even more -- but only once.
"We had a game tonight," he said.
Someone else watched it: President Obama, who is "very impressed and fully up to speed" with Lin's sudden, incredible rise to success and stardom, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.
"Wow, the president," Lin would say later, after his career-high 13 assists helped the Knicks blow out the Sacramento Kings -- who weren't up to speed and with whom nobody was impressed -- 100-85. "Can't get any bigger than that."
Well, unless your name is Jeremy Lin.
But even on a night when Lin, the overnight sensation, needed to do nothing extraordinary to lead the Knicks to their seventh straight victory since he came off the bench and scored 27 points against the Nets 11 days ago, his story found another way to transcend sports, all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It seems nothing can derail this skilled point guard and the growing camaraderie and unselfish play he has inspired, not to mention the cultural phenomenon that goes with it
Nothing except a storyline that, presumably, will not make the cut in the White House press briefing Thursday.
Now that Lin proved his talents and impact to be quite real and satisfying even with mere mortal production of 10 points, 13 assists, five rebounds and six turnovers, prepare for the page to be turned to the next chapter in this raucous, inexplicable ride. And it is a chapter that I wish had not made the book, but these are not my decisions.
For the last 5:44 of this blowout -- garbage time, the time when Lin used to sit on the edge of his seat and hope he'd get into the game -- Lin sat with a warmup shirt on and a towel in his hands. After an exhausting string of 35-plus minutes in six straight games in 10 nights, Lin's work here was done. He settled in toward the end of the bench to watch the final minutes fade away, ideally situated between two very important people.
Amar'e Stoudemire was to his left, and Carmelo Anthony to his right.
Anthony was in a suit, having missed his fifth straight game with a groin injury. And with Anthony doing some running Wednesday, he could return Friday night at home against the New Orleans Hornets. The nattering is so loud about what that will do to the Knicks' chemistry and free-flowing, unselfish offense that it's as though people are not only predicting doom, but rooting for it.
This is a reality of New York and of the NBA -- drama, always drama -- that Lin will have to learn, and fast. For a Harvard-educated point guard who has transformed his team's attitude and fortunes so effortlessly, this dynamic of the star potentially poisoning the brew must be a whole lot more difficult for him to read than the options on a pick-and-roll.
"He's a lethal scorer," Lin said. "He can come off pick-and-rolls, too, and that gives me a break. We're probably going to be on opposite sides of the floor and so we can swing-swing and put the defense in different situations. And we can be more dangerous, too."
So the 23-year-old with 45 games and six career starts on his resume clearly has been thinking about this supposed destruction Anthony will orchestrate when he comes back. He's figured out everything else so far, so why not this?
"I think it's complete nonsense," Tyson Chandler said. "... Now we have a natural point guard ... and it'll put Carmelo back in his natural position, put STAT [Stoudemire] back in his natural position, myself, Landry [Fields], and it just makes things easier. We're gonna be more of a threat, because I don't see them helping off Carmelo. And if they do, he's one of the best in the world at somebody closing out to him and finishing."
Other than the involuntary reflex that tells us strife and superstar discontent is always around the corner in the NBA, where is this coming from? Anthony publicly posed that question earlier in the day, telling Stephen A. Smith of ESPN that the criticism felt like a "slap in the face."
"It's a tough situation," Anthony said. "I'm human at the end of the day, so it's like, 'Damn, where is this coming from?'" I know I'm not a selfish player. People around me know I'm not a selfish player. I do everything I can to make people around me understand I'm not a selfish player."
Never mind that Anthony had encouraged D'Antoni to give Lin a shot in the second half of that game against New Jersey on Feb. 4 when the Knicks were trailing. Never mind that, if you go back to the highlights of that game, it was Anthony and Lin who'd spontaneously shared a celebratory moment -- a hands-together bow. The natural instinct is to look for signs that Anthony somehow is unhappy with Lin's success, and is wary of what the ball movement and team play will do to his instincts to "get his."
Where is this coming from? I have an idea.
Everything you love about the way the Knicks play under Lin's direction -- unselfishly, jubilantly, without regard to who gets the credit -- is the antithesis of what we have been trained to believe the NBA culture is all about. Many of us have lived through the Michael Jordan era, the Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant era, and the AAU era that brought us transcendent and virtuoso acts like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and yes, Anthony.
They're all stars who've spent their whole lives getting their own shot, often thrilling us with the results and getting torn down as too timid if they deferred to somebody else. People have paid a lot of money for a long time to be entertained by such people, and have gone home disappointed when they haven't delivered. It's all Jordan's fault, in a way, and now Bryant's. They've spoiled us, made us want something that seems impure compared to basketball in its less macho form.
Except that now, Lin has reminded the basketball-watching public how beautiful and easy the game is when it's played correctly, when all five players on the floor are involved and working in concert to set screens, cut to the basket and keep the ball moving until somebody -- doesn't matter who -- gets the best look. And in celebrating that, it makes us realize how vapid and mundane the alternative is. The Kings, whose offense consists of Tyreke Evans dribbling and driving to the basket all night -- getting his 19 points, the 6-for-14 shooting be damned -- provided a pretty apt contrast Wednesday night.
Which brings us to this collision of eras -- the Lin era, in which the Knicks are 7-0 and playing with "ridiculous" camaraderie, Lin said -- and the superstar era, in which Anthony hasn't necessarily done anything wrong but hasn't participated in anything as gripping as what the undrafted, unlikely hero wearing No. 17 has done.
And so the visceral reflex -- like the Garden crowd booing the Kings' Isaiah Thomas every time he touched the ball just because his name is mud around here -- is to associate what you like about what you're seeing with what you hate about what you've seen before.
Personally, I think Anthony will be fine. He's done nothing to anybody here, has played hurt and has tried to accept the superstar responsibility that has been ingrained in him by the basketball culture he grew up in. He's a smarter basketball player than he gets credit for, has played with a top-flight point guard before (i.e. Chauncey Billups in his prime) and can put the ball in the basket like few people on Earth.
Can he have a realistic adjustment period to fit in with this point guard and this team that is playing like an entirely new team in the past 11 days? Wouldn't it be fair to give it a chance to work before assuming that it won't?
"It'll just take time for him to get back out there and kind of quiet the critics," Stoudemire said. "We have no worries about Carmelo. He's a phenomenal player and he's gonna fit right in with us. ... Once we get all our guys back, we're gonna be hard to stop."
Only one thing can stop the hand-wringing over Anthony's return, a doom-and-gloom mentality that is silly, really, but entirely expected if you think about it. Carmelo Anthony and stars like him have created a monster, Jeremy Lin has built a machine, and never the twain shall meet, the theory goes.
Can they work together? Why don't we just wait and see?