McALLEN, Texas -- In his latest inadvertent turn of teaching, Jeremy Lin inadvertently teaches the real size of Texas.
Even after umpteen trips to Dallas and Houston and Austin and San Antonio and El Paso, Texas turns out to be even larger than perceived and probably even larger than indicated on maps. Clearly the cartographers have been omitting sizable chunks of it, perhaps to avoid dissuading tourists.
As NBA camps went abuzz in October 2012, could it really be true that to find Jeremy Lin oftentimes, you had to aim south-southwest from Houston through six more hours of Texas? So they said. Could you really wind up in a city with two convention centers, so that you briefly end up at the old one and think Lin has gone really rustic? Apparently. Could that really have been Lin over there on a training table in the corner of the McAllen Convention Center, behind another mall of 21st-century chain stores, just a little drive from the Mexican border?
If we watch sports for every feeling, from joy to entertainment to inspiration to disbelief to horror to contempt for the repugnant rival down the road, the greatest of these would be disbelief, and last winter Lin supplied an American-sized helping of that. Maybe disbelief gets its last turn with this story arc here, with the very idea that in the autumn after the loud New York winter, you could find Jeremy Lin in the Rio Grande Valley before the story veers back up to Houston for the real season.
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Is he the face of the Rockets franchise?
"I've played, I think, 50 career games," he said. Oh, yeah. Thanks for reminding. Anyway, he does lead the world in disbelief-to-games ratio.
Let's retrace, for it's just such pure joy to retrace: Overlooked by all top Division I programs from Palo Alto High School, undrafted from Harvard, released by Golden State last Dec. 9, claimed by Houston on Dec. 12, released by Houston on Dec. 24 after two preseason cameos, claimed by New York on Dec. 27, one minute on Dec. 28, two minutes on Dec. 29, four minutes on Dec. 31, zero minutes in nine different games in January and crescendo: the best five-game start in NBA history in February, a 26-game stretch of wonder and jersey sales. Should the young actor/dancer Kevin Yee ever expand upon his impressive first draft of "Jeremy Lin: The Musical," he ought to wedge all of that into the lyrics.
So here the world-famous Lin and the Rockets trained in "the valley," as you hear people call it, in Texas' 20th-most-populous city (about 130,000), abutting Mexico but with very little cross-cultural feel among the anywhere-in-America chains. A late-morning practice had ended. A sprinkling of media had intruded. In the back corner, in a little cavern beyond even that, Lin lay on a table, a physiotherapist stretching his 6-foot-3 frame here and there. At one point, his head sort of dangled over the edge, so a plucky cameraman moved over to aim down so that Lin's face would seem to fill the entire frame.
Well, that is a great face.
A Taiwanese reporter, Lisa Cho, in from Taipei via stops in Tokyo, Detroit and Houston, was teaching some Taiwanese Hokkien to Lin's charming teammate, the second-year NBA forward Chandler Parsons. Parsons, in turn, repeated it to Lin. Lin could not understand Parsons' version, so he said to Cho, "Can you say it, instead of him, 'cause I can't understand him."
Bantering with Parsons, on whose couch Lin slept a few nights in Houston this past September, Lin decides the Houston Rockets have to "get a Chinese name" for Omer Asik, their 7-foot Turkish signee. So if we may practice disbelief for just a mite longer, here: Rockets, Mexican border, Taiwanese translations, prospective Chinese names for a Turkish center and Jeremy Lin, speaking about his whole big cannonball-splash of fame.
"Really, I just got here," he said. "I just pretty much got to the league, too."
Of the strange vapors of renown, he said, "There's positives and negatives for sure. The positives are that you've got a platform if you want to say something or do something or promote a cause." He lauds this as "unique," and he stops there.
"And the negatives?"
"The lack of privacy. You're always living in the spotlight. I think that it takes getting used to. It comes with the territory. It's just learning to be thankful because people care about what you do and want to grab a picture with you."
While he speaks in generalities and offers no examples, the best anecdote thus far has come from Will Leitch's GQ cover story on Lin, with an odd melancholy ringing from the tale of Lin's trip to the neighborhood outdoor court this past offseason, a trip interrupted and ultimately scotched by a gathering mass of photo-seekers. He and fellow players trudged back home.
He claims to avoid reading about himself, which usually would sound like blah-blah-blah, except his reason is fresh: He fears it might invoke complacency and cost him edge. Yet all told, "I'm a pretty lighthearted person," he said.
"I can't relate to his off-the-court stuff," said the established eight-season veteran Kevin Martin, "but on the court where it mostly matters, I can tell he's ready. He's hungry."
"He's just an unbelievable person," Parsons said at the Rockets' media day in Houston. "Everything he got last year, he never once asked for. He's so humble. He just took advantage of his opportunity, never once asked for it. Guys embrace that and respect that and love to be around him."
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In his inadvertent teaching, Lin has helped unearth a quirk in human nature: the runaway love people feel for the idea of a well-off athlete sleeping on somebody else's couch. The many who love this apparently feel no concern for the possible physical side effects of sleeping on couches, but then, in their defense, Lin remains only 24 and two months, so perhaps his body can adapt. To the New York-area sofas of his brother and then-teammate Landry Fields, Lin briefly added the Houston davenport of Parsons after tweeting a request Parsons verified as "a real tweet" and Lin warily pegged as "overblown."
He is a young man of overblown couch-surfing requests.
Any worthy Jeremy Lin musical should not forget the Maine Red Claws. On Friday night, Jan. 20, 2012, in the NBA Development League game in Portland, Maine, Lin scored 28 points, took 11 rebounds and gave 12 assists to lead the visiting Erie BayHawks to a 122-113 win over the Maine Red Claws. As of 21 days later, he had scored 25 on the Nets, 28 on the Jazz, 23 on the Wizards and 38 on the Lakers, with 32 assists in that mix. Remember Maine, even if the Red Claws' defense long has been a concern to many Americans.
So after the summertime minuet with the Rockets offering and the Knicks not matching, Lin landed on a training-camp roster chockablock with Rs, 1s and 2s in the "NBA Experience" category. Houston finished two games out of the No. 8 playoff spot last season, then rebooted. Second-year coach Kevin McHale began by saying, "We just have so many unknowns."
Veteran-veteran guard Shaun Livingston -- seven years! -- said, "We'll have to outwork teams." Guard Toney Douglas said, "We'll be committed, play defense." McHale said, "We're going to have to play with pace." Parsons said, "It's good for us that we're so young, it almost feels like an AAU team." Lin likens it to college. It's the motley kind of fresh collection of which Martin counts as the geezer at 29 and Parsons winds up saying, "I think I could be a good voice for all these young guys that haven't been here before …
"… even though I'm only 23 years old."
At practice in McAllen, the staff had run through a litany of stuff it wouldn't have to tell an older team: the eight-second rule, the throw-in in the last two minutes, the 0.3-second rule about final shots, "a lot of stuff that's just foreign to them," McHale said. He soon added, "We're just getting to know these guys."
Lin, the starting point guard and the famous face (especially in a city with a large Asian-American population), lost 10 pounds in the offseason, calling it "a cleaner and more efficient body combination." The preseason seemed to count toward his continuing recovery from the meniscus tear in the left knee that stalled his Knicks season after March 24. Having played a shortened, bunched-in season, he awaits the more languid 82 games with their lengthier gaps. He makes frequent use of the word "learning." He calls the system "a really good system for me: free-floating, creative, spread out."
"I really do think we're talented," Lin said, and, "If we can absorb information quickly, I think we'll have a chance to do some cool things." And: "I think people aren't sure what to expect from us. They aren't expecting much from us, and I think that's perfect."
Wherever the Lin arc goes next, any musical must include a lampooning of the entire basketball evaluation process all through the tiers. It should have busy college coaches watching insufficient video snippets and making hasty high school visits. Zany NBA tryouts with their three-by-three and one-on-one for a sport that remains five-on-five.
Obliviousness to such values as expert screen-reading. Maybe a quiet racist remark here and there. And definitely, for ultimate laughs, the Rockets player who told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that he didn't even remember Lin from those 12 days last December.
McHale's stay around the league, of course, has run so long and so varied that he points out when he entered the NBA, there were few televised games and no Internet, such that you almost start to look back and picture tumbleweed. He's accurate about 1980-81, but information overload has blurred the memory. You figure that if McHale joined in the Lin-stoked disbelief, then the disbelief must have been legitimate.
McHale joined in the disbelief.
"I really liked him," McHale said of Lin's 12-day stopover last December. "We were just in a spot," with guaranteed money for point guards Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn. "He was a great kid. He came in every day: 'What have I got to do?' … When he had his success, I was happy for him."
Come Jan. 28, the Knicks lost 97-84 in Houston, but Lin had a decent showing (20 minutes, nine points, 3-for-9 field goals, three rebounds, six assists, three turnovers). "He had a good fourth quarter in the Toyota Center," McHale said, "and it kind of started coach D'Antoni thinking about him." Lin visited McHale after that game. Then, three more games: six minutes, zero minutes, seven minutes.
"Then," said McHale, "he kind of goes on this meteoric rise that was just kind of crazy. He was doing stuff, just kind of one of those hard-to-explain kind of things. Being in the league 30 years, I don't know if I've ever seen something like that." And when on the road, the veteran's veteran McHale found his way to sports bars just to get further looks at this raging cause of disbelief, just like the rest of us.
Maybe no one has explained it sufficiently. Maybe no one has captured its singular wonder. Maybe it belongs in its own file, perhaps near the Mark Fidrych file. Maybe now, McHale suggests, we start veering into normalcy. "As in all things in life, there's a happy medium," the coach said. "He's a lot better than that guy who got let go twice, but I'm not sure he's …" -- and then McHale held his hand as high as he could, which is pretty high even while seated.
Continuing: "We're going to rely on him a lot to run the offense, make plays and be efficient for us, so he's going to have a lot of responsibility. ... As long as we don't wear him out and run him into the ground, he'll just start building up from here."
That's fair. From the height of the winter to the base of the country to the start of this season, Lin might be headed toward somewhere in the middle. It may be a muddled middle, and it may be an excellent middle. He will start building up from here, and one way or another, we may have come to the end of a disbelief once as big as all Texas.