Why Jeremy Lin Is Not Yao Ming, Never Will Be, and That's Perfectly Fine
The comparison between Jeremy Lin and Yao Ming is easy, almost (and probably) too easy to be particularly useful or fair.
Yes, both are of East Asian descent and both play(ed) for the Houston Rockets. But that's pretty much the extent of their congruencies.
Linsanity is an American-born phenomenon, an unlikely underdog story incarnate. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Lin came up through the basketball world with little fanfare. He led his Palo Alto High School team to a California state championship, but didn't garner a single athletic scholarship for his efforts.
That didn't deter Lin from shining on the court at Harvard, though the 6'3" scoring guard still went largely unnoticed as a pro prospect, to the point that he wasn't picked during the 2010 NBA Draft.
Yao, on the other hand, was about as can't-miss as they come. If anything, he would've been a severe disappointment had he not developed into some semblance of a superstar.
Simply put, Yao was born to be a basketball savant. His parents both played for the Chinese national teams, his father standing 6'7" and his mother 6'3". Together, they constituted the tallest couple in China at the time and gave birth to a baby boy who, at 11 pounds, was twice the size of the average newborn in his native land.
All of which was by design. His parents had been brought together as part of a program by the Chinese government to breed and groom athletes to compete internationally.
It's no wonder, then, that Yao grew to be 7'6" and came to dominate basketball in China as nobody ever had. He picked up the game at nine, joined the Shanghai Sharks junior team at 13 and cracked the senior squad at 17.
At 21, Yao was making a mockery of the CBA, averaging 32.4 points, 19 rebounds and 4.8 blocks while leading the Sharks to their first-ever Chinese championship in 2002.
And whereas Lin went undrafted, Yao wouldn't have been allowed to leave his home country had the Houston Rockets not agreed to select him with the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. With that, Yao became the first international player to go atop a draft without having logged any time at an American college or university.
For all of his Harvard schooling, Lin would be hard-pressed to equal the stack of accolades Yao piled up during his relatively brief tenure in the NBA. Yao was selected to eight All-Star Games in eight seasons (thanks in no small part to international voting) and was an All-NBA performer on five occasions.
The latter of which is made all the more impressive by the fact that Yao came up during a "Golden Age" for big men. He went toe-to-toe with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar'e Stoudemire and Dwight Howard on a nightly basis and did far better than simply survive the competition. At his size and with his shooting touch, Yao was a nearly-indomitable force when healthy.
Like Yao, Lin finds himself ensconced in a renaissance at his position. The current crop of point guards in the NBA is as deep and as talented as any the league has ever seen.
Unlike Yao, though, Lin has yet to prove that he belongs in any "best of" discussion. The New York Knicks lost both games last season in which Lin was matched up against 2011-12 All-NBA point guards. Lin put up solid numbers against the San Antonio Spurs (20 points, four assists, three rebounds, three steals), but was torched by Tony Parker for 32 points and six assists on the other end.
The same goes for Lin's lone appearance against the Boston Celtics, wherein he accounted for 14 points, four rebounds, five assists and six turnovers, while Rajon Rondo ran roughshod over him for a monstrous triple double (18 points, 17 rebounds, 20 assists).
And that's without mentioning how Lin was manhandled by Derrick Rose (32 points, six rebounds, seven assists) and Deron Williams (38 points, four rebounds, six assists).
In his defense, Lin was, for all intents and purposes, a rookie last season. He saw a total of 285 minutes of playing time across 29 games during the 2010-11 season with the Golden State Warriors.
As far as the Yao comparison is concerned, it's not as though the big fella didn't have his fair share of dog days against punishing pivots; for all his skill, Yao was never the strongest of centers, and took some time adapting to the more physical style of play in the NBA.
Nor can anyone claim that Yao held up well under such consistent duress. He was plagued by foot problems throughout his career, dating back to his days in the CBA. He survived his first three NBA seasons largely without incident, but went on to miss 86 games between 2005 and 2008. Said injuries forced him to sit out the entirety of the 2009-10 season and call it quits after finding his way into all of five games in 2010-11.
Lin has been no paragon of health, either. His breakout season was cut short by a knee injury in March, one that required surgery and from which he has yet to fully recover.
Healthy or not, Lin isn't likely to ever be the sort of singular talent around which a team can fashion a championship contender. He projects as a solid starting point guard who can put the ball in the basket, but currently lacks the defensive acumen, the consistent shooting accuracy and the careful stewardship of the rock to be an elite, franchise-caliber floor general.
Yao, on the other hand, was gifted enough to have Houston pin its title hopes to him. He and Tracy McGrady had the makings of a dynamic inside-out duo, and may well have lifted the Rockets back to the top of the Western Conference if not for a rash of injuries.
(And T-Mac's own transgressions as a terrible teammate.)
Not that the Rockets are (or should be) counting on Lin to be such a cornerstone. GM Daryl Morey gambled on Lin as a role player with international marketing appeal while collecting assets in preparation for a run at a true star.
One that he and the Rockets now have on their hands after snapping up James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder this past weekend. Harden's arrival doesn't portend an immediate turnaround from Houston's bottom-of-the-West expectations for the 2012-13 season, though the mere presence of The Beard means that Lin won't have to shoulder the burdens of scoring, making plays and leading the team from the back court all by his lonesome.
If anything, it'll be Lin following Harden's lead from this point forward.
Which Jeremy Lin ever top Yao Ming's legacy with the Rockets?
That should be just fine for both Lin and the Rockets. He won't need to carry the weight of the world on his fragile frame, as Yao once did, for the Rockets to grow into a successful outfit in the years to come. Lin need only provide steady play at the point and be a face for the team in China for his $25.1-million contract to pan out as a worthwhile investment.
Any All-Star selections earned, either by performance or by global popularity, will be icing on the cake. And all the better if Lin's Houston residency reopens the NBA's superhighway to China and renders the Rockets a destination franchise for all those brand-conscious ballers out there.
The only comparison between Lin and Yao that the Rockets care about regards wins and losses. Houston reached the playoffs five times during Yao's tenure but came away with but one playoff series victory.
If Jeremy Lin can top that before his days in Space City are done, then he may well be considered an even greater success than his lazy-comparison predecessor, stats and awards be damned.
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