Commentary

How do you like me now?

Originally Published: February 14, 2012
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Jeremy LinAP Photo/Jim MoneEveryone can see now how good a basketball player Jeremy Lin is. But there was a time not too long ago when almost nobody did.

It's bumper-to-bumper on the Jeremy Lin Bypass these days. Every single NBA team and every single Division I college coach who gives hoops scholarships passed on SuperAsian point guard Jeremy Shu-How Lin of the New York Knicks. And now they're paying the toll.

"Don't remind me," UCLA coach Ben Howland says.

Lin had a lower interest rate than CDs. He went unoffered coming out of high school and undrafted out of Harvard. Now the kid is Lin-fuego.

Flung from the end of the bench into the Knicks' starting lineup, Lin has had at least 20 points and seven assists in five straight games, all Knicks wins. He's been a one-man typhoon into the Knicks' sagging sails. His jersey is the fastest-selling in the NBA this week. Is anybody at Disney listening?

How could so many be so blind? How could they not see a Tiffany diamond at Goodwill prices? What was he? Linvisible?

Apparently, yes.

For instance, Stanford is literally across a boulevard from Palo Alto High School, where Lin led the Vikings to a 32-1 record and the CIF state championship as a senior. Yet then-Stanford coach Trent Johnson wouldn't walk across the street to sign him.

"We knew all about him," admits Johnson, now the coach at LSU. "But nobody in the Bay Area saw then what we're seeing now. … It wasn't like there was pressure on me to recruit him. There was zero pressure. None."

Across the bay lies Cal, where Lin desperately wanted to play. But Bears coach Ben Braun was Lindifferent. He passed.

"But hey, I passed on Steve Nash, too," concedes Braun, now the coach at Rice. "We just didn't extend Jeremy a scholarship. I love the kid, but we just didn't. … I don't feel too bad. At least I'm not the only one."

Jesse Evans does feel bad. He did the Jeremy Jilt when he was the coach at the University of San Francisco. Two years later, he was fired.

"Maybe I could've kept my job if I had Jeremy," laughs Evans, who's now a scout. "I thought he was a very good player; we just didn't quite pull the trigger. Wish we had."

Doesn't anybody go to Pearl Vision Center anymore?

Players this good don't just become. They are.

Linsanity began at Harvard, where he energized a Crimson program that is now nationally ranked. That's like a mule qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Doesn't anybody remember Lin lighting UConn's Kemba Walker up for 30 points and nine rebounds on the road? Hello?

"It's the Asian thing," says former NBA player Rex Walters, who's Japanese-American and wound up with Evans' job at USF. "People who don't think stereotypes exist are crazy. If he's white, he's either a good shooter or heady. If he's Asian, he's good at math. We're not taking him."

The other trouble is the way Lin plays. Like James Joyce, you don't get him in one read.

"He's one of those kids who makes the right play time after time after time," Walters says. "But it takes time to see that. It takes patience to see that. That's not how recruiting works. If the [recruiting] services don't have him in the top 100, the majors won't recruit him."

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireJeremy Lin's quiet consistency has always been there. But now the whole country sees it.
But what happened in the NBA? Why did nobody take him in a draft from which 23 of the 60 players are now flushed out? Why was he cut by Golden State and Houston this season? Why did he languish with four NBA Development League teams?

They were clueless then and clueless now.

"We should have kept [Lin]," tweeted Rockets GM Daryl Morey this week. "Did not know he was this good. Anyone who says they knew misleading U."

This weekend, Knicks UberFan Spike Lee texted new Warriors coach Mark Jackson his thanks for cutting Lin. But it wasn't Jackson's fault. It was Warriors GM Larry Riley's, who was trying to free up cap space in a failed run at Clippers dunker DeAndre Jordan.

Riley admitted to The New York Times "I have egg on my face."

We could start a Denny's.

Then again, the Knicks had this Nash play-alike under their feet and used him to warm seat cushions. Mike D'Antoni left him on the bench for 13 of his first 22 games this season. Shouldn't somebody be telling D'Antoni what time practice is?

Of course, nobody at the Knicks seemed to recognize genius when he or she saw it. Earlier this season, Lin tweeted, "Everytime I try to get into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I'm a trainer LOL."

There's more joy in this kid's story than a box of puppies. Millionaire execs being wrong. Harvard -- a place that has produced more presidents (8) than NBA players (4) -- being right. Asian stereotypes going bust. As the father of an Asian-American daughter, I love it.

But the best part is that Lin is a hoop hopes machine now. He gives every kid at the end of every high school bench, every college scrub who never gets a minute, every 13th man in the NBA … faith. Faith that someday, if he can finally get his chance, he can Shu them How.

Fortune lies in front of Lin like a golden highway now. And it should. He paved it. Congrats to him. Without his will and effort, the poor kid probably would be stuck running Goldman Sachs by now.


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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


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