He wasn't supposed to be able to handle the preternaturally quick point guard from Kentucky. Not this little guy. No way. No how. He didn't have the physical skills. He didn't have the reputation. And, certainly, he didn't have the background. Right?
But this Asian-American point guard proved all the doubters wrong. And the rapturous rabble at Madison Square Garden adored him for it. The love affair was short-lived, however, as this player would conclude his career with the New York Knicks after just three games, deciding to further his education and pursue a career in engineering.
Fear not, Knicks fans. We're not talking about Jeremy Lin, the suddenly superlative point guard who outclassed former Kentucky standout John Wall on Wednesday night and has taken the NBA by storm in his past three games. Nope, we're talking about the first Asian-American hoopster to earn the adulation of the New York basketball crowd. We're talking about Wat Misaka, the first non-white player in the BAA (the forerunner to the NBA).
While playing for the University of Utah in the 1947 NIT championship, Misaka shut down highly-touted Kentucky guard Ralph Beard at the Garden. Misaka's air-tight defense proved decisive as the Utes eked out a two-point win to take the NIT crown. Beard would later be described by Bob Knight as "the Michael Jordan of his time." In large part due to the impression he made while defending Beard during his trip to the Big Apple, the Knicks selected the Japanese-American player in the 1947 BAA Draft.
More than 60 years later, the game's next Asian-American player showed up yet another phenom who had starred at Kentucky. On Wednesday night in Washington, the matchup was Lin vs. Wall. While the 5-foot-7 Misaka managed to effectively take Beard out of that NIT final, he never managed to cross up the three-time consensus All-American quite like this.
Although this latest Knicks game took place in Washington there was little doubt about the reaction back in New York. In fact, the support for Lin in D.C. was even hard to ignore. With his third standout performance in three games, the Harvard grad from Palo Alto has not only become a Twitter sensation, but also given Knicks fans hope that they may have found the missing lin(k) for this struggling offense.
And, wouldn't it be something if the player that saved this roster constructed of mismatched Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini parts was plucked off the scrap heap for a cost several times less than James Dolan has doled out to settle sexual harassment lawsuits against his prized advisors?
In short, yes. Yes, it would. But, we digress.
Reflecting back on his '47 battle with Beard at the Garden, Misaka told The New York Times in 2009 that "They cheered for the deprived and the unfortunates."
While Misaka was referring to the New York crowd's love of an underdog, "deprived" and "unfortunates" were words that could easily have been applied to various parties at MSG when New York coach Mike D'Antoni turned to Lin late in the first quarter of the team's recent game against the Nets. At that point, the Knicks had lost 11 of their previous 13 games and already trailed in that contest. Having played more than seven minutes in just one game to that point, Lin seemed a longshot to change the team's fortunes. Nevertheless, the 6-foot-3 guard seized the opportunity, scoring a career high 25 points in leading the Knicks to a much-needed win. After the buzzer sounded at MSG, the public address system blared "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam and his teammates, coaches and opponents raved about the play of the unheralded second-year pro.
"The biggest thing is, he's got a point-guard mentality," D'Antoni gushed to reporters after the game. "He has a rhyme or reason to what he's doing, and you can kind of play off that."
With Lin installed as the starting point guard for the Knick against the Jazz, he picked and rolled and dished and drove the team to another win. Leading a squad without Carmelo Anthony (injured early in the game) and Amar'e Stoudemire (away from the team due to the death of his brother), Lin posted sterling numbers and again fans cheered and tweeted his praises, even chanting "M-V-P" for him at the end of the game. Lin's 28 points and eight assists represented the most prodigious output by a player in his first NBA start since Isiah Thomas went for 31 and 11 in his 1981 debut. And, yes, that's the same Isiah later entangled in the aforementioned harassment case.
"Indescribable," Lin said after the win. "I don't think anyone saw this coming, including me."
Including Wednesday night's win over the Wiz, the Knicks have reeled off three straight wins for just the second time this season and have a positivity about them that they haven't had since a late-season surge last year. From a strategic perspective, Lin's emergence has been a godsend for the rudderless team trying to force Anthony into an ill-fitting point forward role. Tyson Chandler's production has increased markedly during Lin's explosion and three-point marksman Steve Novak is even showing signs of being a viable weapon now that the team's spacing and ball movement have improved.
Unlike Misaka, who did distinguish himself on the national stage at the collegiate level, Lin's rise might seem totally out of the blue to fans not accustomed to watching Ivy League basketball or studying the end of the Golden State Warriors' bench. Despite being a standout high school player in California, Lin was not offered a scholarship at any of the high-profile West Coast basketball schools that he'd hoped to attend. Offered playing time but not a scholarship (per Ivy League rules), Lin traveled across the country to play at Harvard. Again, he excelled on the court, becoming the first Ivy League player to record more than 1,450 points, 450 rebounds , 400 assists and 200 steals. And, again, he didn't attract much interest as he looked to get to the next level. Undrafted after graduating from Harvard in 2010, Lin used a standout performance for the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team against.. you guessed it.. stud Kentucky guard John Wall... to propel himself into the Association. Sound familiar?
Funny thing happened on the way to the Bellagio... Jeremy Lin and John Wall faced off in the fourth quarter of the Wizards-Mavericks game in Vegas and pretty much played each other to a standstill. That's right. An undrafted Harvard, SMAHRT kid, point guard went toe-to-toe with the number-one pick in the NBA draft and sort-of held his own. --Zach Harper, Hardwood Paroxysm
Shortly after his attention-grabbing outing against the No. 1 pick in that year's draft, Lin inked a two-year deal with his hometown Warriors. Playing behind Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, he didn't make much of an impression despite the fact that Bay Area's Asian-American population was eager to rally behind the son of Taiwanese immigrants. Waived by the Warriors a few week's before the current lockout-shortened NBA campaign got underway, Lin hooked on with the Houston Rockets just a few days later. But he wouldn't last in Houston either, getting released on the eve of the regular season (which also happened to be Christmas eve) so the team could sign Samuel Dalembert. As Linsanity swept the nation two months later, Rockets GM Daryl Morey would admit he had made the wrong decision on Lin.
At the time, Rockets guard Kevin Martin described the Dalembert acquisition as "our Christmas gift." Looking back, Knicks fans may feel the same way, as New York swooped in on Dec. 27 and signed Lin to a non-guaranteed contract.
Upon joining a star-studded but dysfunctional Knicks team with the season already in progress, Lin took the most affordable accommodations that he could find in New York: He crashed on his brother's couch. Even as his name was becoming one of the hottest trending terms in the Twittersphere, the 23-year-old Lin was spending his night's on the couch in his brother's one-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side. On Tuesday, the Knicks guaranteed his contract.
"I'm not really sure," responded Lin when asked about improving his living situation while appearing on 95.7 The Game on Thursday. "I don't know if I want to shake things up just yet. I'm looking for a place."
Having already become the subject of an NMA animated video and been compared to sports-culture bellwether Tim Tebow, there is little doubt that Lin is a full-blown sensation. ESPN is promoting the upcoming Knicks-Lakers game as a battle between Lin and Kobe Bryant and television stations in China are even picking up Knicks game. It remains to be seen if Lin will be able to maintain playing at such a high level or if he'll even have the chance after Anthony and Stoudemire return to the team from their respective absences. Nevertheless, everyone is enjoying this Linsanity for as long as it exists.
Enjoy some of the best expressions of Linsanity during Jeremy Lin's sudden rise:
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