Five years ago this month, with the Knicks floundering at 8-15, Jeremy Lin came off the bench in a home game at Madison Square Garden against the then-New Jersey Nets and scored 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting in 36 minutes, leading the Knicks to a 99-92 win, the first of seven in a row for New York. Lin, who went undrafted in 2010 after four years at Harvard University, had just been claimed off waivers in late December and was in jeopardy of being waived before his breakthrough performance against the Nets. Instead, one of the greatest narratives in sports history happened.
Here are the best moments from the Linsanity era.
The original Linsanity game
As referenced above, this was the origin story of Linsanity. The Knicks, at the time, were underperforming under head coach Mike D'Antoni, who would resign just a month later in March and be replaced by Mike Woodson. Even after Lin's breakout performance, no one could have predicted this would be the start of a two-week stretch that would be the most exhilarating ride for sports fans and send Madison Square Garden and the city of New York into a frenzy.
"I'm going to ride him like freakin' Secretariat"
Two days after Lin's performance against the Nets, he erupted again at home against the Utah Jazz, going for a career-high 28 points in a 99-88 win over the Utah Jazz. The path was cleared for Lin to run the show in New York, after Carmelo Anthony exited the game in the first quarter with a strained right groin. Lin played 45 minutes in the win, and D'Antoni -- desperately searching for some sort of spark -- was not shy about how he was going to see how far Lin could take the team.
"I'm going to ride him like freakin' Secretariat," D'Antoni said after the game.
A career-high 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers
Two days after the win over Utah, Lin went for 23 points in a win at Washington. By now, his story was dominating headlines in the league. With the Lakers coming to the Garden on Friday night, in a nationally televised game, everyone was asked about the sudden rise of the Knicks point guard. But not everyone was buying into the hype. Before the Lakers-Knicks game, Kobe Bryant shrugged off a question about Lin, saying: "I don't really know much about what's going on with him." Those comments perhaps fueled Lin, as he took center stage at the Garden on Friday night, scoring a career-high 38 points in a 92-85 win over the Lakers.
The legendary Lower East Side couch
The New York tabloids couldn't get enough of the Knicks point guard during Linsanity. The news cycle got so crazy that Lin had to deny one report which suggested he was dating reality star Kim Kardashian. The one factoid that the tabloids latched onto in telling Lin's rise to stardom was that he had spent his time in New York sleeping on his brother Joshua's couch in his Lower East Side apartment, before upgrading to teammate Landry Fields' couch.
Pregame routine with Landry Fields
Another media obsession was the pre-game handshake routine between Lin and teammate Landry Fields. Being from Harvard and Standard respectively, the routine was branded as a nerdy handshake, involving Lin flipping through a book (which, as a devout Christian, he later clarified as the act of flipping through the Bible) and taking reading glasses and putting them in their pockets. It was, if nothing else, a different take on some of the pre-game handshakes we've been used to seeing.
Back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers
Lin's rise also meant magazine covers and writers being asked by book publishers to churn out Linsanity books in record time. The most iconic covers came via Sports Illustrated, who featured Lin on its cover in back-to-back weeks, an unprecedented move by the publication for any athlete not involved in a major sporting event like the NBA Finals (where Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki had previously graced back-to-back covers). It helped cement the scope of the Linsanity storyline.
The rise of merchandise and fan signs
Not quite back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers, but another sign that Linsanity was the new craze was through the sale of Knicks merchandise and specifically Jeremy Lin jerseys, which sold out relatively quickly during that time period. The Lin puns were also out of control among fan signs, including "VaLINtine's" references, LIN-derella story, All I do is Lin, Lin, Lin t-shirts and Super Lin-tendo. Also worth noting: five years after Linsanity, Jeremy Lin Knicks merchandise is still available and for a very affordable price in the clearance section of the NBA online store.
Valentine's Day game winner in Toronto
As Linsanity rolled through to its second week, everyone tuned in not just for the spectacle, but with the question: When will this end? On Valentine's Day, Lin provided another iconic moment for the highlight reels. On the road, with the game tied in the final seconds, he held the ball near mid-court, dribbled towards the three-point line and hit the first game-winner of his career. At that point, you had to ask: Exactly what else was going to happen to push this to another level?
28 points and 14 assists against the Dallas Mavericks
Sunday, Feb.19, 2002, was Lin's last great moment on the national stage before the end of Linsanity, as he scored 28 points and dished out a career-high 14 assists in a home win over the Dallas Mavericks to help the Knicks reach .500 at 16-16. In late March, Lin suffered a small meniscus tear in his left knee and missed the remainder of the season and the playoffs. He went on to sign with the Houston Rockets in the offseason.
Linsanity in New York was short-lived, but also one of the most exciting eras in NBA history.