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Beyond Linsanity

After the fairy tale, Jeremy Lin's journey more meaningful now than ever

TAIPEI - There are plenty of people in this world who will happily talk a good game and tell the masses what they want to hear; far fewer are those who will actually back up their words with actions. Make no mistake: the land of lip service isn’t some exclusive territory owned and operated only by pro athletes – it effectively doubles as home base for the human condition. Nearly all succumb to it – some more than others – making those who consistently resist the urge a rare subset of the species indeed.

And so, having spent more than a year getting to know Jeremy Lin at least a little by simply talking to him, watching the way he interacts with others, and observing him through life’s ups and downs, I would argue that far more than his Ivy League credentials, far more than his hoops savvy, far more even than his cultural heritage, it is that characteristic – the diligent dedication to transforming principled belief into action – that makes him such a fascinatingly unique individual.

Forget about the phenomenon known as Linsanity. That was a comet – brilliant to watch and awe-inspiring, yet ultimately transitory – encapsulating a captivating moment of time, but by no means capable of truly capturing the full measure of the man. That Jeremy Lin carried most, if not all, of the same characteristics that continue to define him, yet those traits have over time matured in a manner not dissimilar to the way fire tempers steel. Today his faith is stronger, his focus sharper, and the fit within his own skin more secure. Time and experience work wonders in that way, and it’s no secret that Lin has packed a sleeper sofa-sized helping of experience into the last two years of his life.

With him, what you see is what you get. The J-Lin archetype presents a sketch of someone serious about his faith, humble and hardworking, with a playful sense of humor most often reserved for the privacy provided by his friends and family – all of which is accurate. Plenty more exists both inside and outside the margins of course, but it is that central core that tends to power the impulses that drive his actions. To wit: The 25-year-old is by no means a spotlight seeker. He experienced growing pains, disillusion and discomfort galore when the supernova of his fame forced upon him a new normal. But over time he came to understand the powerful platform suddenly available to him. He can now share his testimony with millions, if not billions, of people worldwide. With that realization came acceptance; and with that acceptance came a comfort that didn’t previously exist when the cameras started to roll. Now instead of looking like someone who doesn’t believe he deserves the attention he receives, he dutifully uses that attention to help share the story nearest and dearest to his heart.

None of this is meant in any way to insinuate that Lin is perfect. He would be the first to point out that no man belongs on a pedestal, least of all himself. Bring up his strengths and his natural impulse is to counter by lamenting his flaws and weaknesses. In life, as in basketball, he remains a work in progress that is in the early stages. The point here is not one of perfection, but rather ideological honesty. In a culture awash in artifice, spin and the worship of style over substance, Lin’s flesh and blood portrayal upholds the selfsame values as does the mythical persona seen on screen. He doesn’t just preach the virtues of kindness, charity and grace – he lives it.

It is at this point that I feel compelled to share the following tale, despite doing so with the greatest of reluctance and trepidation for fear it will come across as some sort of humblebrag or something that might otherwise undermine everything I’ve written up to this point. Please note that I do so only because it speaks to the essence of this entire report.

Last spring the Rockets had a west coast trip that took them to Portland for a game against the Blazers. As pretty much every NBA team does when visiting the City of Roses, the vast majority of Houston’s players and staff, myself included, ventured over to the Nike Employee store to raid the sporting good riches that reside within those walls. While trying on a pair of blue running shoes, I looked up to see Lin walking by admiring the choice I was about to make. “Oh, you’re getting those too?” he asked. I said yes, but that I had been hoping to find them in red, only to realize the store had apparently long since sold out of those shoes in that particular color. That was literally the entirety of our conversation that afternoon.

Now fast-forward about two hours to the moment when I heard a knock on the door of my hotel room. I opened the door to find a bellman holding a box of shoes. He handed them to me and left. The red Nikes. In my size.

Look, it’s not about the shoes. A gesture like that is about the thought and the effort involved. It doesn’t matter to me if Lin went store-to-store and paid for them out of his own pocket, or if all it took was a five-second call to his Nike rep and he got them for free (for the record, I have no idea how he acquired them. I never asked, nor do I care). The fact remains: He did something completely unexpected and unasked for with no expectation whatsoever of receiving anything at all in return. It blew me away. It still does. And it serves as a constant reminder of how simple acts of kindness can make such a difference in the world and how we perceive it.

I thought of that story while walking through the Taipei airport at four in the morning on Friday and seeing the hundreds of fans who had camped out there just to get a glimpse of the Rockets players, but mostly to see J-Lin. And I thought of that story once more when we arrived at our hotel an hour later as I scrolled through my Twitter timeline to read the predictable invective that had been unleashed from a number of fans incensed that Houston had dared to bring Lin off the bench during Thursday’s game against the Pacers in Manila. It’s always struck me as a most unfortunate irony that someone who embodies teamwork and doing whatever it takes to win would elicit outbursts that make it seem as if the game is all about one player. But Jeremy Lin is a beloved figure. And beloved figures tend to provoke passionate responses.

People care deeply about the man. And given all that he stands for and represents, why shouldn’t they? Starting point guard or super-sub, Lin has earned the right to be celebrated; not only for his past, present and future basketball exploits but for the example he sets off the court as well. Jeremy Lin is the genuine article, the real deal. Such authenticity deserves to be admired – in him; in anyone who resolves to buttress their conviction with actions that make the world a kinder, gentler place; and in all of us who aspire to be the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be.