Jeremy Lin was in Shanghai this month on a marketing tour, surrounded by adoring throngs in Houston Rockets red. Then he got word that he was being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He made a quick trip to Los Angeles for a physical and returned immediately to China to finish his obligations.
Word had travelled quickly.
“Everybody was wearing only yellow,” Lin said this week at an introductory news conference with the Lakers, referring to the team colors. “I was like, 'Wow, that was fast.'”
Lin is hoping for an equally rapid transformation after the Rockets sent him to the Lakers to clear cap space in an ultimately failed attempt to lure free agent Chris Bosh away from the Miami Heat.
Lin, in the final year of a contract that will pay him $15 million – about half of which will count against the salary cap – is hoping that after being replaced in Houston’s starting lineup last season he can establish himself as something more than the crossover cultural sensation that hit New York two years ago. “I’m not trying to recreate Linsanity,” Lin said. “I’m not trying to be that phenomenon that happened in New York. I think I just want to be myself, more than ever.”
And so Lin, dressed in a blue suit, did not shrink when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, wearing slacks and a polo shirt, chided him for being overdressed by Los Angeles’ casual standards. He stood, smiled and relaxed. Just what the Lakers have in mind for Lin is unclear. They have yet to hire a coach, though Byron Scott has been interviewed three times.
They also have a remade roster built on short-term contracts. The Lakers picked up Carlos Boozer on an amnesty waiver claim, drafted Julius Randle and brought back Nick Young and four other free agents who were on the worst team in franchise history.
With Kobe Bryant – soon to be 36 and coming off Achilles tendon and knee surgeries – and the Lakers starting their third consecutive season with a new coach, expectations have been tempered.
Given Los Angeles’ sizable Chinese population, Lin is expected to remain a popular figure. A sign came recently when a 72-year-old retired Chinese-American schoolteacher, who happens to be an avid Lakers fan, went on Craigslist to offer Lin a spare room, according to The Torrance Daily Breeze.
The Lakers are also gearing up for a substantial increase in media interest from China, where Bryant is already quite likely the NBA’s best-known player.
That sort of following recalled his early days with the New York Knicks. Lin, one of the few Asians to play in the NBA, became a national sensation when he was picked up off waivers from Houston, dropped into the moribund Knicks’ line-up and transformed into a nearly unstoppable offensive force – all while sleeping on his brother’s couch on the Lower East Side.
The highlight was Lin’s 38-point performance in a nationally televised victory over the Lakers at Madison Square Garden.
Asked if the trade sparked any memories of that game, Lin said: “It hasn’t until I got asked 500 questions about it in Asia. I didn’t think of that at all when I first heard of it, but I’ve replayed that game in my head a few times in the past couple weeks.”
Lin parlayed that brief period into a three-year, $25.1 million free-agent contract with the Rockets – and a photo shoot in GQ. Though Lin continued to improve his 3-point shooting – he shot a career-best 35.8 percent last season – and his ability to play without the ball, he was replaced as a starter by Patrick Beverley, a superior defender on a team with few good ones.
He suffered another indignity earlier this summer when the Rockets, in a free-agent pitch to Carmelo Anthony, showed Anthony in a display with him in a No. 7 Rockets uniform, which at the time happened to belong to Lin. (He will wear No. 17 with the Lakers.)
Lin said his roller coaster ride – from being a fringe player to a sudden star to one searching for his niche in the NBA – had seasoned him. Yes, he would like to start – just like anyone. But what is important, he said, is making the most of his opportunities, in whatever form they arrive.
“After my year in New York, I wanted to stay on that path, I wanted to be a starter and that was something I really kind of cherished,” Lin said. “I really appreciated it because I was on the other end of being cut and getting waived, and maybe held on to it a little too tightly.”
He relishes the possibility of learning from Steve Nash, who is 40 and coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the Lakers. One of Lin’s regrets about leaving New York was not getting the chance to play with Nash, who considered approving a trade to the Knicks two years ago, or Jason Kidd, another likely Hall of Fame point guard.