by Keane Shum
I have a friend whose nickname is the General, so called because of his propensity to command us to drink shots and hit on girls. When we were kids, the General used to mail order VHS cassettes of every Bulls game from some shady outfit in France, because that was the only way he could watch Michael Jordan in Hong Kong. Not the Jordan who showed up on highlight reels and the annual Bulls Championship video, but the everyday Jordan, the one who showed up every minute of every game, whose genius was in every play, in the stutter step before the dunk or the shoulder fake before the turnaround. The General loves basketball, only slightly less than he loves his wife.
The General is also half-Taiwanese, half-American, and all point guard. In high school, he got cut from the team a couple times, and when he finally made it, he struggled at first. But injuries to other players got him into the rotation, and by mid-season, he was our starting point guard, our floor general. So when a certain Taiwanese-American point guard blew up last February after getting cut from a couple teams and struggling to stay on the Knicks’ roster, the General went, shall we say, Linsane. He, like me and millions of others, couldn’t get enough Jeremy Lin: We scoured YouTube for every highlight or interview, we signed up for NBA League Pass, we ordered jerseys online and asked our friends to bring back t-shirts from New York.
“He has God on his side,” the General said during the game against the Wizards when Lin dunked for the first time. “This guy, if he stays at even half this level, is going to be around a long time.”
That was 15 months ago. Things change. There is a new Pope, a new Chinese president, even a new iPhone. And last Monday, when the General forwarded me a breaking news alert about Tim Tebow being released by the Jets, he appended two simple words to his email:
It is not quite the end of days for Jeremy Lin. His season is over, but there are still legions of fans, still tens of thousands of hits for every game reel uploaded to YouTube, even whole songs and music videos still being made about him. All things considered, Lin had a half-decent season, starting all 82 games, slowly improving his jump shot each month, even dropping 38 on the Spurs once.
But the General, who the other day called Lin a magician because he disappears in the spotlight, tells a hard truth. Patrick Beverley, the Rockets’ replacement point guard in the Playoffs after Lin was sidelined with a chest contusion, can flat out play. Even before Lin got hurt, Beverley often spelled Lin in late-game situations, is a better on-the-ball defender against the League’s quicker point guards, and costs the team a lot less than Lin. Eight million dollars less. Sitting behind Beverley is Aaron Brooks, a former Most Improved Player who only a few years ago averaged 20 points a game running point for the Rockets.
Which is why if Lin doesn’t seriously improve game this summer, he may find himself not just on the bench, but out of a job. If by November he hasn’t figured out how to stay in front of his man on defense or consistently hit outside shots or stop forcing homerun passes, this ship sails. The magician disappears. Daryl Morey, the stats-geek general manager of the Rockets, is not one to hold on to overvalued assets. He can do the math as well as I can: In the 83 minutes Lin actually did play in the Playoffs, the Rockets were outscored by 64 points. Suddenly Lin will be just another overpaid flameout bouncing around the League, worth more to teams as an expiring contract than as even a backup point guard.
You can’t let that happen, Jeremy. You just can’t. You can’t make me go back to the pre-Linsanity days, when I would get laughed at on the playground for wearing your jersey, when you were averaging one bucket a game and sleeping on Landry’s couch. Don’t make me listen to Stephen A. Smith call you overrated again, don’t make me cringe because it’s becoming true. I don’t want to go back to being that guy who likes the Asian kid only because he’s Asian. I thought those days were over.
Chest contusion? I don’t doubt it hurts, but you don’t have to let people know that. You don’t have to fire up bricks and show your hand. Can’t push through the fancy bounce pass down the baseline? So don’t. Lemons into lemonade. If injury limits your play, play within your limits. Play controlled, make the easy pass. Play defense. Play defense. Play defense.
Enough with the Sundance documentaries and cutesy YouTube cameos and 60 Minutes interviews, all of which I watch. I watch them all. But you know what I’d rather watch? I’d rather watch you score more than 7 points and hand out more than 4 assists in a Playoff game. I’d rather watch you win a Playoff game that you actually play in. I’d rather watch you in an All-Star game, and I’d rather watch you record double-digit assists more than nine times in a season when you started at the point in all 82 games for the League’s second-highest scoring team.
No more distractions, no more fan-crazy trips to China and Taiwan this summer. I respect your religion, but you will lose your platform if you lose your job. God may be on your side, but he’s not going to increase your range or lateral movement. And don’t think you’re above playing in a summer league; get some reps in, remember what it’s like to lead a team. Find a way, every day this offseason, to work on your game, to be in the gym every second of every minute that Asian kids all around the world are grinding through test prep classes and staring out the window into the summer sun, wishing they were outside shooting hoops.
When the General emailed me last Monday, I told him he was a hater. He denied the allegation.
“I want to believe in Linsanity again,” the General said.
Me too. See you next season, Jeremy. We’ll still follow every game, win or loss, every pass, assist or turnover, every shot, make or miss. We’ll follow you to the end, Jeremy, but you got to make us believe again.
Keane Shum is a lawyer in Hong Kong. You can read more of his writing at keaneshum.com.