Relishing his time away from spotlight
The distance from the Staples Center court to the chartered bus waiting on Chick Hearn Court is about 120 yards, and Jeremy Lin makes his way at an easy pace, virtually unimpeded.
There are no television cameras in his path, no protective team officials trailing him, just Lin and two reporters making the easy stroll up the ramp. He is relaxed, smiling.
This is life post-Linsanity. For the first time since he burst onto the scene in February with the Knicks, Lin, now a member of the Houston Rockets, looks like just another eager young prospect, diligently working to find his way in the NBA.
“It’s really, really low-key,” Lin said after the Rockets’ shootaroundlast Sunday. “And it’s really peaceful. When I walk around, I don’t wear a hat or glasses or anything -- unless I want to.”
It is easy to forget -- after all the frenzy and the furore and the fanfare -- that Lin is only 24, with 34 starts to his credit, and a vast, unscripted future before him. Those three weeks of brilliant basketball last season (followed by three weeks of merely solid basketball) made Lin an international sensation. But they did not define him, and they will not represent the final word on his career.
When the Knicks declined to match a three-year, $25 million contract offer Houston made to Lin last summer, he was effectively freed from the burdens of his unwieldy fame. He is a star in the Hollywood sense, but not in basketball terms, and the move to Houston has allowed him to focus more squarely on his development. And there is much developing to do.
Through the first nine games of the season, Lin was averaging 10.9 points and 6.7 assists -- solid, but not eye-popping or pun-worthy, and far from the 18.5 points and 7.6 assists he averaged as a Knicks starter. He was shooting 35.5 percent from the field, also a decline from last season.
In New York, the slow start would set off a panic and an endless stretch of back-page headlines. In Houston, it is merely taken as a sign of a young player on a young team in search of an identity.
For the modest, soft-spoken Lin, it is surely a healthier environment. As much as he enjoyed his turn on the Broadway stage, Lin is not naturally inclined to seek the spotlight. He turned away countless interview requests and endorsement offers last season, and he recently acknowledged that he “went into a shell” during the height of his fame.
“I think the beautiful thing about this opportunity is there’s less of a spotlight,” Lin said. “There’s room to grow, room to improve, growing pains, things like that -- the stuff that has to happen with each player. I’ve only started 30-something games in three years in my whole career. There’s a lot of sophomores out there with more experience than me. I’m going to have to go through a lot to get better.”
The Rockets are going through their own considerable growing pains. After making a furious run at Dwight Howard, and missing out, the Rockets turned over nearly the entire roster, rebuilding around Lin, James Harden and Omer Asik. They are 4-6 after Sunday night’s loss against the Los Angeles Lakers.
This is Lin’s third year in the NBA, but his first as the opening-night starter, and there have been some predictable bumps along the way. He had a near triple-double -- 21 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists -- in a victory over the Atlanta Hawks. But he air-balled a 3-pointer in the final seconds of a loss to the Miami Heat.
He was benched for the entire overtime period in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Lin dished out 10 assists against the Lakers last Sunday, but he missed 7 of 9 shots from the field in a 119-108 loss.
The memories were thick as Lin prepared to face the Lakers. His 38-point outburst against them at Madison Square Garden was one of the highlights of last season. The Lakers are now coached by the former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who, Lin said, “changed my career.” D’Antoni, who is recovering from knee replacement surgery, postponed his Lakers debut in favour of two more days’ rest; he said he hoped to coach on Tuesday night, when the Lakers host the Nets.
Given the bond between them, it is conceivable that Lin would still be a Knick had D’Antoni held onto his job beyond last season. Lin did not disagree.
“If he was still there, honestly, I would guess that I’d have a higher chance of being there,” Lin said. “But I think the decision at the end, it was a management decision.”
At his peak, Lin looked like an All-Star, and at his low points, like an overmatched bench player. Neither image was accurate, but Lin has evoked extreme responses from the moment he began his rise on February 4.
As he reached the top of the loading-dock ramp, Lin smiled and chuckled at this odd reality. “It is funny, with so much media and stuff, it’s kind of like zero or a hundred,” Lin said. “But I know realistically it’s going to be somewhere in between.”