Heat win, but Linsanity hasn't run its course
By 02/24/2012 10:04:00
Miami Heat show Knicks who is still boss of the East
February 24, 2012
In Miami's 102-88 win rested all the ingredients for a Lin let down. Mario Chalmers, not one to simply cede glory to a good story, went on a mission of humiliation. He succeeded, spearheading an effort that kept Lin to eight points on a painful 1-of-11 shooting night. Lin finished with just three assists and a whopping eight turnovers.
The Heat swarmed Lin all game, throwing such ferocious speed and athleticism at Lin that the 23-year-old admitted afterward, "I can't remember a game where it was hard just to take dribbles."
Other factors probably play a role. This was Lin's seventh game in 10 nights, the Miami end of a tough back-to-back set for a player whose life has been utterly and totally upended since fame burst unexpectedly upon his life. Odds are he was emotionally and physically exhausted.
So the key question after Thursday's game isn't whether Linsanity is sustainable. It's what, exactly, Linsanity was sustaining in the first place.
There's a reason this was the biggest NBA regular-season game since March 19, 1995, when Michael Jordan returned from his first retirement after saying simply: "I'm back." There's a reason tickets for this Heat-Knicks game reportedly went for NBA Finals prices. A reason the Miami Heat told me Thursday that they'd received more VIP ticket requests for this game than any one Finals game last June.
There's a reason Jeremy Lin's presence brought out the absolute best in the Miami Heat — why the Heat took their game to a whole new level with bristling defense and an unbridled desire to crush New York despite this being the final regular-season game before a much-needed All-Star break.
A game, in normal circumstances, in which fatigue would be more common than such fury.
Only nothing about this game was common, and the Heat knew it and fed off of it. Lin has become not just a one-man phenomenon but a turning point for the NBA, the catalyst for the kind of perfect sports moment that comes along about once a generation for any given sport. Linsanity is the most recent version of a sporting moment — a confluence of hype, ability and timing — that allows a sport to reach out, grab the American public's attention and transcend its place in the culture.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did this to kick off the NBA's initial rise, and Michael Jordan completed it. Tiger Woods did it for golf in 1997 when 44 million people watched him win his first major at age 21 by 12 strokes, an event that reportedly allowed the PGA to renegotiate its television contracts on the spot, turned the game into a global sport and since has increased purse sizes by 400 percent.
These are rare, magical moments — some that last and ultimately end in all-time greatness (Bird-Magic, Jordan), some that later are soiled (the steroids-plagued 1998 home run race), some that become complicated combinations (Tiger) and some that shine brightest later under closer inspection (the Fab Five).
The fact is that Thursday's game was a Finals-atmosphere frenzy across the country for a regular-season NBA game being played in February. Linsanity has even drowned out the NFL Scouting Combine, which should be even bigger and more relevant this year given the drama surrounding Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Linsanity, like those other moments, can be a culture-shaping event, regardless of whether Lin lives up to names like Jordan and Tiger. Odds are Lin will not. That's not the point.
The point is that Linsanity right now is the singular focus of the sports world, a fact even more remarkable given that many worried this lockout-shortened NBA season would derail the renaissance LeBron and Co. started.
Let's be crystal clear: The Heat did not expose the fraudulence of Linsanity on Thursday night. They simply took advantage of the global platform Jeremy Lin erected overnight to show the basketball world that Miami's Big Three still compromise the NBA's greatest show.
Now is not the time for the NBA's prognosticators to question whether Jeremy Lin is for real. Now is the time for David Stern, the NBA, the players association and fans of the league to ride this wave as far into American — and global — pop culture and sporting hierarchy as they can.
Asked Thursday if Lin can be better for the league's global marketing than Yao Ming, Billy Duffy, who has represented Yao and Steve Nash, told FOXSports.com the following:
"I consider Yao Ming the Christopher Columbus," Duffy said. "Lin is more of a Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson. Back then, African-Americans had someone they could take great pride in seeing succeed. This is what Jeremy Lin represents for Asian-Americans. I say that because Asian-Americans are kind of faceless, no real symbols commercially, no major iconic figures. To have someone burst on the scene like this is phenomenal."
Billy Hunter, the executive director of the NBA Players Association, added this when contacted by FOXSports.com: "People are clamoring to see how he plays against the Heat because of the way the Knicks have played since he came on the scene. The Knicks have been looking for a point guard, and they found one. He's brought an element that not only has New York excited, but has really transcended to something that has been a boon for the NBA. You can see that with all of the anticipation for the Knicks game against the Heat."
The Heat could see it too, which is why they were amped to dominate. Lin, who now has started just 11 NBA games in his career, was certain to have an awful game at some point, and the Heat — the league's best team and incredible defenders — were the most likely team to make it happen.
"(It was) probably a combination of everything," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They are one of the best pick-and-roll defenders. They come at you real quick. I think it took him a while to adjust, and he didn't look like he had the legs. He played last night, and that happens. It happens."
Whether it happens to Lin so rarely that he sustains the play that has made Linsanity a landscape-changing moment (as with Bird-Magic) or so frequently that it eventually takes the shine off this magical sports moment (as time did with the 1998 home run race) is for now secondary to the most important factor.
The question isn't whether Lin can sustain his excellence.
The question is whether, with this moment suddenly at their disposal, David Stern and the NBA can capitalize in a way that can change the sport so thoroughly that Lin's long-term success is not that important a factor.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.