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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Lin faces the rookie grind as an entire community watches on


Posted Oct 23 2010 12:09AM

OAKLAND, Calif -- The noise started the moment Jeremy Lin rose from his chair and jerked the royal-blue tear-away sweatpants off at his hips, cheers and whistles and applause building with each step before he even reached the scorer's table as excitement pierced the dullness of another exhibition contest, a lot of fans clearly having paid more attention to the Warriors bench than the Warriors game.

An undrafted rookie who may not crack the rotation, a combo guard on a team with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis destined for big minutes, and he has the place on a string. Lin hasn't shown if he can play in the league and could be looking at stretches in the D-League, but incredibly popular here. It's because he is one of them: a local, an underdog realizing a dream, who is more tough than athletic and, yes, an Asian-American. So he so much as stands up and the blood pressure spikes around Oracle Arena. This is all so great.

This is all so wrong.

He has stepped into a world he did not prepare for and does not want, and the burden appears obvious. It's not just Lin either. A coach with decades of experience as a player and working on the bench -- Keith Smart -- is also feeling the pressure. Smart knows a thing or two about peer pressure, he can hear the fans cheers as well, so imagine life for a soft-spoken 22-year-old who wants to fit in as one of the guys and prove he can earn his way on the roster. Instead, he gets a second quarter of driving the lane and dishing to no one and the crowd groaning, and a second quarter of loud cheers for swishing free throws that got the Warriors within 38-33 of the Trail Blazers, and a fourth quarter of crowd noise rising in anticipation when he gets the ball for out on the perimeter in garbage time.

"We're on the road, I put him in the game, and the crowd is the same way," Smart said. "Every place he goes, he's going to get that."

It's not just the angle, then, of the kid on the team he grew up rooting for 35 miles down San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto. That might account for a lot of the attention around Oracle Arena, but if Lin is already getting it out of town, that's different.

It's the ethnic angle. Lin was born near Los Angeles, but his parents are from Taiwan and spoke Mandarin and English as Jeremy grew up in Palo Alto, and welcome to the potential marketing machine. He is unique enough as an Asian-American rising to rare basketball prominence. But to have it happen in the Bay Area, home to a large population with an Asian background means that whole one-of-the-guys thing was gone before it started.

He was an undrafted rookie who had a press conference after signing. Lin and Stephen Curry, coming off a second-place finish for Rookie of the Year and a gold medal in the world championships, get more interview requests than any Warrior. Team officials, already concerned about protecting him and trying to keep his focus on basketball, routinely deny interview requests. People have approached him about being the subject of documentaries. A paper from Taiwan dispatched a reporter to spend several days with him.

"It took a little getting used to, just because I haven't proven anything to anybody," Lin said. "I'm just trying to glorify God in everything I do with my attitude and to stay humble and not let any of this stuff off the court affect how I approach the game on the court.

"I think that's tricky, because on one hand you want to be able to focus and play your game and to have the distractions left on the side. But at the same time, to be able to have that type of support is unbelievable. I don't think anybody would be, 'I wouldn't want that.' Especially in the Asian-American community. The support that they've given me has been off the charts. I appreciate that. But then at the same time, it's like everything I do is going to be under a microscope. It comes with the territory. I'm very thankful for it. I want to be in that position to be a role model and try to be a role model to the young Asian-Americans growing up and what not."

He didn't expect it to be this frenzied. Lin thought he had parlayed an impressive summer-league showing into a deal with the Mavericks or maybe the Lakers, but then the Warriors jumped in late and he couldn't turn that down. That's the thing -- he made the decision to play in his hometown, knowing the prominence of the Asian-American community. He wasn't drafted by the Warriors. It's just that it is much more than anyone anticipated.

"And that's where myself and the staff have to keep relaxing him," Smart said. "We've got to keep teaching him in situations. Knowing when you want to drive it, make sure there's space. Now there's no space, just be a playmaker. From that standpoint, we've got to keep teaching him. We've got to take the heat off. There was a game here at home, I put him in the game too soon because I kind of gave into the crowd. I said I'll never do that again. I'll make sure he's in a good situation first so that even if he makes a mistake in that situation, it's not an 8-0 run and the team gets back in the game. I've got to be conscious of that and not get caught up into the crowd."

There is a special uniqueness to Lin anyway, an NBA player with a fearless, attacking game to offset a lack of point-guard skills and a Harvard degree in economics who one day wants to be a pastor doing non-profit work in under-privileged communities. That's not a bad story, either. For now, though, it's somewhere far down on the check list of what everyone notices.

Local kid.

Asian-American.

Undrafted.

Harvard.

"I think it's different," Lin said of his background, smiling.

Enough all at once to weigh like a burden.

"I think a little bit," Smart said. "One, he wants to prove to the world that he can play. But now you have -- I've never seen it."

The hoped-for chance to fit in like any other underdog scrapping his way to a job never happened. That was lost in an unusual spotlight that started when he signed and has continued through a most unexpected of exhibition seasons. He knows that just by standing up.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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