Two weeks ago, Jeremy Lin was a nobody, practically the last man on the New York Knickerbockers’ roster, reportedly days away from getting released (again!) from his third National Basketball Association (NBA) team in less than two years as a professional, after starring at the unlikeliest of colleges, Harvard (and after being rejected by three excellent colleges in his native state of California), and going undrafted by any NBA team.
Today, he is the most talked about NBA player, bar none.
Unless you’ve been in a cave somewhere, you should already know that Lin is the star starting point guard for the Knicks, having led that heretofore woeful (but proud) team to seven straight wins beginning on February 4, going into tonight’s game (Friday, February 17) against the New Orleans Hornets. He came, as the cliche now goes, out of nowhere. And he’s made his teammates better along the way, his highest basketball achievement.
He is definitely somewhere now, the celebrity stratosphere that transcends Madison Square Garden where the Knicks play their home games.
President Obama, hoopster-in-chief, is following Lin’s amazing play. So apparently are Donald Trump, the never-shy, egomaniacal billionaire real estate magnate and TV reality host; and Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate who has found a lucrative life as a publicity-magnate celebrity herself. If he can unite Democrat Obama and right-wing Republicans like Trump and Palin, hey, maybe the kid has other-worldly powers that should be explored.
And there are rumors swirling around the Internet that Kim Kardashian (no description necessary) wants to date Lin!
There are numerous other incidents of Lin being the topic of discussion on the pop-culture media machine: On Thursday’s Today Show on NBC, for example, host Matt Lauer asked a celebrity panel of Star Jones, Donald Deutsch, and Nancy Snyderman whether they were Linsane, and each enthusiastically shouted out their positive responses.
No question Jeremy Lin is the It guy of the moment, someone everyone wants a piece of, so to speak.
That we live in an age where so-called reality TV and sports stars are more famous than most politicians, teachers, scholars, scientists, philanthropists and other do-gooders is not a new observation. The newness about Jeremy Lin’s sudden celebrity is the fact that there’s never been a young Chinese American man to soar into the celebrity stratosphere. Never.
There are plenty of white men and women and black men and women who are in this other universe, far removed from the hoi polloi, shielded from us common folk by electrified fences, security cameras and beefy bodyguards, stalked excessively by the paparazzi, exposed endlessly on gossip websites and tabloid publications, comforted perhaps by their obscene wealth and exalted status (and drugs and alcohol), believing they are better than us.
Jeremy Lin is now in that same heady and intoxicating space. Will he stay the same humble guy or will his head swell beyond recognition? Will he abandon a relatively simple, and anonymous life style (he’s already moved from his brother’s couch to, we hear, subletting a Trump building apartment), and adopt something flashier, more flamboyant and arrogant?
I don’t know the young man — he is all of 23 years old — and have learned a lot more about him and his modest family background the way most of us have, mostly over the past two weeks (although I have casually followed his basketball career since his Harvard days).
All I know is that the temptations of fame and fortune are powerful and seductive — his Knicks contract is reportedly for about $788,000, a lot of money to most of us but by NBA standards is like a minimum wage, given its world of $100-million plus contracts even for mediocre players.
Maintaining a sensible balance in his now Linsanely senseless universe will be his biggest challenge ahead, more so than continuing to show the world that he can shoot accurately, distribute the ball to his teammates efficiently and maybe propel the Knicks to the playoffs.
What might help him keep a cool and humble persona is his Christian faith and his deep family values. This video clip, shot when he was a member of the Golden State Warriors team last year, provides clues to his core values.
He spoke to students at Lincoln Elementary School (yeh! my alma mater!) in Oakland, California’s Chinatown. His appearance was facilitated by Playworks, the Oakland-based national nonprofit organization that helps low-income schools like Lincoln encourage students to exercise well and take care of their physical health. (Full disclosure: My son is on the Playworks headquarters staff.)
I don’t mean to sound like an uptight parent or anything because, as I have confessed in two previous blogs about Linsanity, I remain Linsane. I just want Jeremy to sustain his basketball success, while not getting fully sucked up into the unreal — and unsustainable — celebrity stratosphere.