Why Jeremy Lin Has Become the NBA's Most Polarizing Player

Marshall Zweig@ihavethewriteContributor IIDecember 26, 2012

Walking on air? Or waiting for a fall? How do you see Jeremy Lin?
Walking on air? Or waiting for a fall? How do you see Jeremy Lin?David Banks/Getty Images

Was Mother Teresa overrated?

Is the sun a flash in the pan?

Sublime or ridiculous. That's how Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin is perceived by much of the public.

Some were so moved, so inspired, so captivated by Linsanity that all these months later the emotion of Lin's incredible February 2012 run still holds them captive. In the eyes and minds of these ever-grateful fans, Lin seemingly has a lifetime free pass.

Rough patches are ignored. Scoring droughts are explained away. On-court struggles? Figments of our imagination. They watch Lin's game, but they don't really see Jeremy Lin the player. All they can see, all they will see, is Jeremy Lin the phenomenon.

180 degrees away, there are the Lin cynics. For them, Linsanity was a statistical anomaly, an aberration, a blip on our cultural zeitgeist radar screen that was barely relevant to basketball. They were certain Linsanity would end, and when it did, they felt validated.

This bunch can be described as the folks who didn't cry at Rocky, who fell asleep during Rudy and who threw popcorn at Hoosiers.

Displaying the same steadfastness Lin's devotees demonstrate when they ignore his tribulations, Lin's critics fail to grasp the enormity of what Lin accomplished, and refuse to acknowledge the potential he frequently flashes. 

As evidence, watch this clip from the Christmas Day game against the Chicago Bulls. Lin dazzles with a graceful, athletic layup—at which point, the broadcaster amazingly finds reason to criticize him:

Most fans fall into one camp or the other. There are precious few 'tweeners.

These two circles, these diametrically opposed points of view, have made Jeremy Lin the NBA's most polarizing player.

The Lintrigue began when Linsanity began to show its cracks in late February of 2012, then derailed in March of 2012.

Those casual fans who didn't understand the ins and outs of the New York Knicks offense offered a simple reason for this: Water seeks its own level. There was a reason Jeremy Lin went undrafted, was cut by multiple NBA teams, and had spent most of his career fighting for a roster spot. Lin was simply not as talented as Linsanity had made him look. 

In other words, the end of Linsanity came because it was bound to come eventually.

Fans who watched Knicks' games and possess a deeper understanding of an NBA offense knew that Lin fit Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-moving, pick-and-roll offense perfectly, much like Steve Nash had fit D'Antoni's same offense in Phoenix.

When Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony returned, however, he wanted—and got—the offense to run through him with isolation plays.

Much like the two perceptions of Lin, the two offenses were diametrically opposed. Lin's skill set was not a great match for Anthony's preferred offense. Later, when coach D'Antoni left, Lin lost his champion and NBA mentor.

The decline of Linsanity, in these fans' eyes, was brought about by external factors, not Lin's own shortcomings.

Thus began the dischordant Linterpretations of Lin's play.

The fans who were sure Linsanity would end closed their minds when it did end, disregarding not only the reasons for the decline, but also the moments this season—including the last four games—when Lin has looked his old Linsane self.

The fans who were so taken by Linsanity saw a transcendent talent, and when Lin's play resembled anything other than magnificence, they sought reasons to explain it away—and have continued to seek reasons this season.

So who's right? Who's seeing Lin accurately?

Both. And neither.

Lin's rabid critics must understand that statistically, Linsanity was as remarkable a run as the NBA has ever seen, and coming from an undrafted 12th man, it was a staggering accomplishment. Look below at how Lin's first seven games compared to these three Hall of Famers: There's no denying the numbers.

Further, from an emotional standpoint, Lin was as powerful an underdog story as you'll ever find in sports.

But most importantly, the offensive changes the Knicks implemented dictated that Lin's play had to shift away from his strengths. It was the same in Houston, where Lin was convinced he would be running a similar style to D'Antoni's, only to have the offense completely revised when the Rockets acquired James Harden.

Simply put, Linsanity was real—as were the reasons for its decline.

What Lin's fervent fans must realize is that Lin's skills are very specific. When faced with situations which aren't in Lin's wheelhouse, he struggles with adapting. In his defense, Lin has started just over a half-season's worth of games. Nevertheless, it's rare that superstars adapting to offenses struggle this much, or for this prolonged a period, or for not one period but two—after Anthony's return to the Knicks, and after the Harden trade.

The good news for the still Linsane: Lin over the last four games has looked, as strange as this label sounds on a guy who's started fewer than 50 games, like his old self.

He appears to have remembered why opposing defenses feared him in the first place, and revived his attacking style while maintaining his unselfish attitude. In the process, Houston is on a four-game winning streak and has often looked imposing in those games.

The critics will continue to wait for Lin to fall from grace, as they did during Linsanity. If it happens, if Lin falters again, there will be no talking these jaded folks out of their point of view. And if Lin keeps succeeding, he will get no credit from this camp.

For these two inharmonious groups, though, there is one simple way to end the dissonance.


Let the Lin devout gush. Let the Lin haters disparage. It's all just talk.

If Lin keeps playing well, and the Houston Rockets continue to win, everyone will be cheering.



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