Jeremy Lin Is a Long Way (Emotionally) From Linsanity

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When Marc Stein asked me to write this week’s newsletter, my first thought was “how fun!” My second thought was “there is absolutely nothing going on in the N.B.A. right now.” But if there is a discernible theme to this recent break in the action — after all, it’s been two entire weeks since one of last season’s All-Stars changed teams — it’s that players have been letting fans in on their emotions.

There was Anthony Davis, a new Laker, revealing on Sarah Spain’s terrific “That’s What She Said” podcast that he’s afraid of the dark — an affliction he blamed on too many scary movies as a kid.

There was Russell Westbrook, who feuded with some reporters in Oklahoma City, introducing himself to reporters in Houston by saying the thing fans should know about him is “that I’m a nice guy.”

Some corners of the internet mocked Lin for thinking his is a sad story despite being a Harvard-educated N.B.A. champion with more than $65 million in career earnings. But the speech, which probably resonated deeply for many players who felt pushed out before they considered themselves done, brought up two fairly significant questions. Is Lin really done? And if he’s done, what is the takeaway of his unusual career?

I wrote about Lin’s handshake with Landry Fields, and I expressed concern about the long-term viability of a slight guard whose transformation into a star had come not by shooting but by getting to the basket — a dangerous proposition when you are giving up 40 or more pounds to those guarding you.

After leaving the Knicks, Lin, who has often struggled with durability, succeeded in a few stops but never found the same level of basketball stardom. His career isn’t one you’d expect to be described in a Hall of Fame speech, but it was one that dramatically exceeded any reasonable expectations. And that’s before you talk about his role off the court.

Much has been written about the cultural impact of Lin being the league’s first Asian-American star. In the warm afterglow of the Raptors’ championship, Alex Wong provided one of the finest examples by digging in on representation and why Lin was able to resonate for so many people.

If Lin’s recent speech is any indication, his off-court role may only grow. To articulate the emotions of a professional athlete in decline with so much vulnerability, and to ultimately turn it into a positive message, was no less impressive than the crossover he used to blast by Deron Williams and put himself on the N.B.A. map back in 2012. The only thing that would slow him down on this path is the very real possibility that his N.B.A. career isn’t quite over.

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