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One year ago today, on Feb. 4 2012, Jeremy Lin came off the New York Knick bench and completely turned the NBA on its ear. The previously unheralded D-League call-up entered a contest against the then-New Jersey Nets with his team already down 10, and completely took over the game. Lin finished with 25 points in the 99-92 Knick win, offering seven assists and five rebounds along the way. Smartly taking a cue from Lin and adding to his resume as one of the great scribes in NBA history, the New York Times’ Howard Beck nailed the moment:
At some point in this frantic and peculiar season, a less likely, less expected story may arise from the chaos. But it will be difficult to beat a night when an undrafted prospect from Harvard took over Madison Square Garden, outshined three of the N.B.A.’s biggest stars and ignited an instant love affair with New York.
It happened Saturday night, although even the 17,763 in attendance might still doubt what they saw.
Understand that the disappointing Knicks had entered the contest having lost 15 of its first 23 games, with then-coach Mike D’Antoni fighting off firing rumors while struggling to find a mix between the team’s well-compensated frontcourt of Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony. What started out as a team built to fight for a good playoff seed with a defending champion center in the mix had devolved into something terrible, and Lin was the magic spark that turned the Knicks into … well, respectable. But at that time this was even a stretch.
As we know, and documented at the time, Lin went on to put together a brilliant month of play. Two days after his Net domination, he was leading the Knicks’ website. Later in the month, he’d scored consecutive Sports Illustrated covers, an incredibly rare feat. Soon it was revealed that Lin, previously a minor league call up living contract to contract, had been both sleeping on his brother’s couch in New York, and that of then-teammate Landry Fields. By the end of the month, President Barack Obama was referencing him in his attempts at re-election in the face of a challenge from Former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney.
Things fell apart after that. Lin tore his MCL and would be lost for the season. Once assumed to match any offer for his services, the New York Knicks declined to match Houston’s contract offer for the restricted free agent, a move that may have had more to do with ownership hubris and ego than the oft-referenced “basketball reasons.” Landry is no longer with the team. The couch has gone missing. The Knicks, somehow, are better than ever.
For a month, though, in the midst of overall what was a terrible 2012-13 NBA regular season directly influenced by the lockout? Lin ran things.
He gave Knick fans what they had deserved for too long in the wake of Dave Checketts and Jeff Van Gundy leaving the franchise in 2001, and somehow nearly made a month’s worth of play in the year’s shortest month the story of the season. LeBron James’ ascension to champion ended all that, but not before Jeremy Lin made the New York Knicks fun again. In a role that so many – from Isiah Thomas to Stephon Marbury to Eddy Curry to Amar’e Stoudemire Carmelo Anthony to Mike D’Antoni – were all once charged with.
A year later, everyone is in happier places. But it was something special, and significant while it was around.
Happy Anniversary, Linsanity.