Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Linsanity, stupidity, and the limits of one fan's endurance

There's a compelling scene in The Dark Knight in which Bruce Wayne decides to give up. The Joker has terrorized Gotham City so brutally and efficiently that its citizens have turned on Batman, their once-unassailable protector, demanding that he turn himself in. And Wayne – exhausted, bloodied, beaten – concludes that yielding and revealing himself as the Caped Crusader is the only possible solution against a foe as demented and inexorable as The Joker. But Alfred, his unwavering, loyal butler, disagrees. "People are dying, Alfred," Wayne laments. "What would you have me do?" Alfred's response:

"Endure."

Endurance has been the defining characteristic of New York Knicks fans for more than a decade. Ever since Jeff Van Gundy abruptly resigned in 2001, rooting for the Knicks has been a singularly grueling experience, a twisted Orwellian experiment in which the sports overlords sadistically push a fan base to its limits just to discover how much pain it can tolerate in the name of devotion to a fucking sports team. We've endured Isiah Thomas running the franchise like a nine-year-old hell-bent on acquiring the overpriced green properties in Monopoly (Steve Francis! Jalen Rose! Quentin Richardson!). We've endured Larry Brown browbeating rookies and shelving young talent in favor of "veteran leaders" like Qyntel Woods and Malik Rose. We've endured Jerome James' contract ($29 million, or $130,000 for every point he scored as a Knick). We've endured Renaldo Balkman's draft selection, Stephon Marbury's meltdown, Eddy Curry's Shawn Kemp-esque weight gain, Walt Frazier's insipid commentary, and countless other indignities.

To be fair, it hasn't been uniformly horrid. There were some jewels of varying luster buried amidst the wreckage (David Lee, Danilo Gallinari, Channing Frye), and the roster was usually at least talented, if utterly lacking in chemistry and coherence. The Knicks were never truly terrible, but that was part of the problem. In a salary-capped league, being mediocre is actually worse than being terrible. Even following the twin acquisitions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks appeared destined to remain suspended indefinitely in what my friend Brian calls "NBA Purgatory": not good enough to contend for an NBA title, not bad enough to bottom out and acquire blue-chippers through the draft. To wit, the Knicks haven't won a playoff series since 2000, but they also haven't made a top-five draft pick since Kenny Walker in 1986. Given that the Knicks play in hoops-crazed New York City (not to mention Madison Square Garden, basketball's Mecca), actively looting the franchise would never be an option, and once LeBron James spurned the Big Apple for South Beach, it became disturbingly plausible that my favorite team would keep churning out 40-win seasons for the next half-century. There was no hope in sight.

Then Jeremy Lin happened.

You know the story. How Lin had already been cut by two different teams. How he was sleeping on teammate Landry Fields' couch because he assumed he'd need to move to a new city in the immediate future. How an ugly 2-11 stretch for the Knicks – headlined by Toney Douglas' horrific point-guard play (in 17 January games, he shot 32% from the field and 24% from three) – led a desperate Mike D'Antoni to bring Lin off the bench against the Nets, only to see Lin erupt for 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists as the Garden crowd went berserk. How Lin ripped off six consecutive wins as a starter (mostly by himself, with Anthony nursing a groin injury and Stoudemire mourning the death of his brother), most memorably a 38-point bonanza against the Lakers on national television, not to mention an ice-water-in-his-veins game-winning three in Toronto. How Lin graced two consecutive Sports Illustrated covers, how the term "Linsanity" became irritatingly commonplace, how the media lustily seized upon the phenomenon and transformed Lin into a hybrid of Tim Tebow, Ichiro, and Michael Phelps.



You know all of that, but what you might not know is the precise way in which Jeremy Lin galvanized Knicks fans in a basketball sense. At its best, basketball is a beautiful game to watch; unfortunately, the Knicks' brand of basketball was rarely beautiful. Even in the Van Gundy era (when the team was actually good), the Knicks' philosophy centered more on defense and fortitude than elegance and ball movement. When pick-and-roll maestro D'Antoni took over, I nurtured the hope that he might bring some of the magic that made the Phoenix Suns the most exciting NBA team to watch since the Showtime Lakers, but other than some occasional flourishes (such as Chris Duhon's 22-assist game), the Knicks remained focused on individual ability at the expense of team play. No one epitomized this more so than Anthony, an extraordinarily talented scorer whose pet play – an isolation on the wing that featured him holding the ball for five seconds, then either burying a one-dribble pull-up jumper or driving hard to the rim – just happened to involve his four teammates standing motionless in designated spots on the floor, like extras in a movie.

Lin was different. He was always moving, always creating, always trying to make a play for a teammate. He had an uncanny talent for slithering his way into the lane and either (a) converting reverse layups on impossible angles, or (b) drawing shotblockers, then flipping up a lob to a big man for an uncontested dunk. He had exquisite court vision, especially on the fast break, constantly pushing the ball and getting teammates open shots before the defense could set up. His greatest allies were Steve Novak, a sharpshooting journeyman who morphed into a giant-sized Steve Kerr once Lin arrived, and Tyson Chandler, a defensive stalwart who embraced Lin's élan and became more involved on the offensive end than at any point in his career since he played with Chris Paul in New Orleans. In fact, immediately after Lin's tour-de-force performance against the Nets, I fired off an email to four friends who are fellow NBA diehards, quasi-sarcastically comparing Lin to Paul. He was that exhilarating.

He wasn't perfect, naturally, but even his deficiencies doubled as strengths. Defensively, he gave too much ground to penetrating guards, but he also had canny anticipatory instincts (at one point, he racked up 13 steals in a three-game stretch). His jumper was an absurd, Purvis Short-style rainbow, but it had smooth rotation, and he became a reliable closer at the free-throw line (in a game against Philly, he buried 10 consecutive freebies in the game's final six minutes). And of course, he turned the ball over constantly, including a ridiculous six-game span with at least six giveaways. But those mistakes derived from his relentlessly aggressive playmaking, and if I'm choosing a point guard, I'll always take a slightly reckless visionary who consistently generates opportunities for his teammates over a conservative floor general who makes the safe pass and never penetrates. (Trivia question: You know who finished in the top seven in turnovers each of the past eight years, including five different times in the top three? Steve Nash. Fuck turnovers.)

But truthfully, his weaknesses didn't even matter. Watching Lin was fun. Case in point: Before I wrote that aforementioned email, I'd hardly ever contacted my friends about the Knicks in years except to complain about their ineptitude. Lin changed that, and he changed my engagement with the Knicks' franchise. Rather than merely watching the team out of an inexplicable sense of duty (a concept that only makes sense in the cloistered world of sports fandom), I started eagerly awaiting the games. I was anxious to watch Lin, to see what remarkable, bizarre plays he might make. For the first time in years, I was happy to be a Knicks fan.

And for all Knicks fans, following Lin's ascendancy, one question became paramount: Given the team's precarious salary-cap position, would we be able to re-sign Lin? Mercifully, thanks to an obscure provision in the new collective bargaining agreement dubbed the Arenas Rule, the answer was an unequivocal "yes". So when the Knicks fired D'Antoni after a 2-8 skid that coincided with Anthony's return and replaced him with isolation guru Mike Woodson, I wasn't worried. (Technically, D'Antoni resigned. In reality? He didn't.) When Woodson immediately declared that Lin was "in a learning stage", that rookies should "sit and listen and learn", and that the offense would now run through Anthony and Stoudemire because they're "guys that have done it", I remained sanguine. Even when Lin tore his meniscus in late March and missed the rest of the season (which ended with the Knicks limply losing their first-round series to the Heat in five games), I was at peace. This season didn't matter. I was going to get to watch Lin lead the Knicks for at least the next three years. This was my reward for enduring The Isiah Era: to watch one of the most dynamic players in the NBA run my favorite team. Lin wasn't just a basketball player. He was the future. He was hope.

So when the Knicks ultimately declined to match the offer sheet that Lin signed with the Houston Rockets – instead trading for Raymond Felton, a 28-year-old player who last season shot 41% from the field, ranked 192nd in Player Efficiency Rating, and was widely despised by his own fan base – I wasn't just bewildered and disappointed. I was aghast. This was unfair. This was cruel. I'd been glumly rooting for the Knicks for the past 10 years, they had finally provided me with a blessed sliver of hope, and then, in a decision motivated by either spite or stupidity, they had snuffed that hope out.

I don't want to discuss the financials. If you really want to argue about the backloaded, poison-pill nature of Lin's offer sheet and the potential effect it would have on the Knicks' luxury tax, feel free to do so in the comments. I'll angrily counter with an excruciatingly detailed exegesis of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, including the potential trade value of expiring contracts, the spread provision, Lin's overall impact on the Knicks' organizational market value, and a number of other esoteric points that are terrifically boring and also utterly irrelevant to my main point. Jeremy Lin, as both a basketball player and a mythic savior, transcended typical cost-benefit analysis. Matching the Rockets' offer was a move for the future, for the franchise, for the fans. And that's why the Knicks' decision to let Lin leave was indefensible.

Who's to blame? The obvious target is owner James Dolan, the notoriously free-spending Cablevision CEO who suddenly decided to tighten his purse strings where Lin was concerned because his feelings were hurt. But I'm also willing to level some criticism at Woodson, an avowed believer in an isolation-heavy offense (or as I like to call it, "Barf Ball") that's utterly anathema to Lin's distinctive panache. And I can't let general manager Glen Grunwald off the hook either, given that, you know, he's in charge of all basketball-related decisions. Hell, at this point in Knicks' history, I wouldn't be surprised if ESPN unveiled a headline tomorrow that read, "Source: Isiah secret puppetmaster behind Lin decision, says Lin would be just another good guy if he weren't Asian".

Is Lin himself to blame, given that he voluntarily signed an offer sheet with a different team? Maybe minimally. I suppose it's true that he could have insisted on a sheet with less oppressive luxury-tax ramifications for Dolan, although the notion that a player should actively structure his own contract in order to help his employer save money is rather absurd. My belief is that Lin fully expected the Knicks to match any offer sheet that he signed because, well, that's what everyone in the fucking universe assumed (including Woodson!), so he signed one that paid him a lot of money. But maybe he secretly wanted to leave the pressure of New York. I don't care about his motivations. I just care that the Knicks had the opportunity to match ... and they didn't.

And that, above all, is why I can no longer root for the New York Knicks. In the end, the issue of blame doesn't matter. Jeremy Lin is gone from New York, and I am left feeling betrayed. I recognize that this is not a rational response. I have never met any of the Knicks' executives. They did not let Lin leave as part of an ongoing, vindictive strategy to persecute me. But rooting for a sports team is not about rationality. It's about passion, about enduring perpetual struggle for the slender prospect of victory, about overanalyzing arcane statistics with friends, about devoting countless hours of your time to a group of athletes whose actions have no tangible benefit on your existence. And it's about a perverse sense of loyalty, a willingness to continuously support your team regardless of its boneheaded decisions and lackluster performance.

But there comes a breaking point, and this is mine. Rooting for the Knicks has become a burden I can no longer bear. I just can't imagine spending the next three years watching 82-plus games per season and not seeing Jeremy Lin split the trap off the pick-and-roll, glide into the paint, and deliver a perfect lob pass at the last second for a wide-open dunk. I should have had that tantalizing possibility to look forward to, and I can't forgive the Knicks for robbing me of it.

What will I do? I can't give up on the NBA entirely – I love basketball too much for that. Thankfully, in the era of NBA League Pass, I can watch any team I want. I can tune in to see Lin work his magic with the Rockets, no longer shackled by Woodson's feed-the-hole edict. I can check out the magnificent Spurs, the one team whose execution resembles poetry more than any other. I can follow my various beloved Duke players, be they J.J. Redick on the Magic, Kyrie Irving on the Cavs, or Mike Dunleavy on the Bucks (or, if my father somehow gains control over the team's rotations, Kyle Singler on the Pistons). And yes, I'll probably watch a handful of Knicks' games here and there. But I'll no longer habitually set my DVR for every single MSG telecast. That time is past.

I realize that I could have had it worse. I could have been a fan of the Raptors, or the Kings, or any of the other NBA teams that lack the Knicks' financial resources and large-market ability to seduce marquee talent. As painful and pathetic as this past decade of Knicks' hoops was, I still watched some awfully good basketball players do some awfully impressive things. I just always hoped that the team would eventually overcome its persistent failings from a management standpoint. Now, I'm giving up hope.

And so I've finally found the limits of my endurance. The Orwellian experiment has concluded, and the sadistic overlords have won. If I were a hero like Bruce Wayne, perhaps I could endure this. But my spirit has broken. Jeremy Lin has left the Knicks. And now, so have I.

27 comments:

jdd said...

Boo fn' hoo...

Anonymous said...

Yeah seriously . Fuckin homo. "hurrrr they let go of a guy who got raped by beasts like Chalmers and Cole, I HATE THIZZ TEEEEEM!". Good. Get the fuck out. Go root for that slant eyed fuck in Houston, and when he winds up in the D-League in a year, dont come crawling back like a hoe. Lin got lucky. When teams started taking him seriously, he became a Vietcong verdion of Luke Ridnour. Nothing to weep and moan about.

Anonymous said...

@AnonymousAugust 8, 2012 8:26 AM
When life started to take you seriously... wait, that never happened yet!

Anonymous said...

Very well written. Strange to see my thoughts on someone else's blog. Thanks.

Kenoshi said...

Very well written article. Lin was Knick's future, but all the haters wanted him gone, because he's just not with the "in" crowd (*cough* CAA). I'm looking forward to the match vs Knicks, now that he's surrounded by fast moving athletic talent that's hungry for wins, not a bunch of fat overpaid prima-donnas.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's like you read my mind. Great piece.

Anonymous said...

Dude..someone never graduated from high school..sorry man for your loss in life..I'm surprised you could even read the article..do you even know who Orwell is?

Anonymous said...

BTW,
Is English your second language? Starting sentences with "go" is a dangling modifier..in English, we follow the pattern of Subject Verb Object. Please get back in school!

Nono said...

Such a great article. You have written exactly what I have felt on the issue. Too many people have looked at the issue of wins, or the issue of money. The best part of Lin though was that he was incredibly fun to watch. I don't think we are going to achieve any success in the next two years. Having Lin though would have been a great building block in the future once we got rid of Amar'e's contract. Instead we are now looking forward to fat Felton play.

Anonymous said...

FYI: Anon at August 8, 2012 8:26 AM is Asian and gay. Some ppl took Knicks not matching really hard :/

Jeremy said...

To those with positive comments, my sincere thanks -- glad you enjoyed the article. To those with negative, you're certainly entitled to disagree with me, but your credibility is undermined somewhat when you sprinkle in ethnic and homophobic slurs. Just something to think about.

Anonymous said...

Agreed..great article. Knicks management don't realize what they lost and Houston doesn't realize what they have (yet). People who are racists try to put other people down because they are insecure and don't anything to show for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Lol nobody is insecure. Grammar Nazis, suck a fat one. Youre gonna feel mad fuckin stupid when this wack, clumsy, overhyped gook gets exposed in Houston. He got his money. Now the league takes him seriously. Hes gonna be in a world of shit like Private Pile by the All Star break. Chinese version of Rudy, nothing more.

Kenoshi said...

Lol sure sounds insecure to me, unless one feels its absolutely necessary to swear up a storm everytime they talk about Jeremy Lin. Hey, I made money off Jeremy's rise in MSG, bought MSG stocks by 3rd game and made a handsome profit, all thanks to Jeremy, I definitely didn't feel stupid with that move.

Anonymous said...

You're gonna feel mad fuckin stupid when Lin does well in Houston. But you're already a fucking stupid, never mind!

Anonymous said...

Man, you make all intelligent Afro-Americans feel ashamed by venting your hatred unnecessarily. Save that hatred for someone who really screws you up -- yourself. I think you need to curb your jealousy before you can succeed in anything in life.

Anonymous said...

Man, if you feel so secure, come out and post under your real name, you coward. Why you gotta hate some Chinese dude? Like Ali said "I got nothing against the Vietcongs, because they didn't do nothing to me." Unless some Chinese people shot and killed you and your family for no reason, no reason to spew the hate. Man, you are a disgrace to your own race.

Anonymous said...

Save that kind of hate for KKK people who might want to actually harm you because of color of your skin. Leave JLin alone. Whether he plays great or sucks this year, he does not deserve your hatred.

KietChayrox said...

AnonymousAugust 8, 2012 8:26 AM. Your parents maybe are highly educated, but they did not teach you properly. Hope you feel great after pulling a KKK .

KietChayrox said...

..and where is the edit button? hahah.. maybe highly*

Anonymous said...

Broh,
You can't write. I can't understand your writing. Stop trying. Let me pretend to be you for a second.."You pretendn to bea Chris Paul or Camelo Anthony..bitch azz punkzie...they be hoes bitch ass...them and Steven A..you see Im sayin..". You are a riot dude..keep on writing those ridiculous things.
I'm Asian..I have a good job and a have a good/happy life so your racial slurs don't bother me. I hope you turn out your anger/rage/hatred into something more positive and don't end up in the pin. I actually feel sorry for people like you. You don't have much of a life so you have to put down other people to make yourself feel better.

Anonymous said...

This anonymous is a white male in his early twenties pretending to be black. He probably is from the midwest and is from a single parent family. He's probably had 3-4 stepdads, and a parent that has had substance abuse issues. He probably comes from a lower to lower-middle class background, and he is generally angry at life and himself. I hope he gets some help before something bad happens. I think it's funny that he get's so defensive about the grammar people...if he were really secure, he would just ignore it. I ignored the racial slurs and just laughed at his grammar because his posts were so ridiculous and funny.

Anonymous said...

Time for you to become a Rockets fan and support Lin, Parsons, Donatas, Lamb, White, Asik, and the other fine Rockets that will out-run any floor they stand upon!

LOVE what you wrote, hope you continue to write about Lin! Or write in general! Well put together and you echo the thoughts of many!

Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same way. Great article, and I've read almost all of them.

Jeremy said...

Thanks very much. And my Donatas Motiejunas jersey is already in the mail.

Anonymous said...

Nice one, I feel for ya.

The existence of The Idiot should be just ignored.

Lin is miles better than Luke Ridnour. How often does Ridnour dunk? This Blind Moron has seriously deficient eyes.

You mentioned you have a pervert sense of loyalty. This hardcore skunk has it way more, no matter towards Isiah or Dolan. We should all congratulate him. (or her?)

Lin's gonna have a bright future barring injury, a rare combination of courage, speed, craft, court vision and leadership. He's gonna be a franchise player. Of course, he'd need another one.

Um......getting the ball stolen means rape...... so if Luke Ridnour steals the ball from MJ, MJ got raped by beasts like Ridnour? Um......I'm sure there aren't any other beasts on the Heat team. Wasn't their defensive strategy focusing on Lin, I mean the team, not just the beasts.

Just like this imbecile, Lin was really entertaining. Of course, Lin's brand has true substance whereas this clown does not.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WDK6NCsxzo

inspirational jeremy lin mixtape :( makes me even more sad that he's leaving ny...