Few athletes made as much of an impact on the sports world in 2012 as Jeremy Lin. He became an international star when he burst onto the scene with the New York Knicks.
Does Lin’s run make him the most exciting player of 2012?
Albert Chen seems to think so.
The Sports Illustrated writer has nominated Lin to become the "Sportsman of the Year." The award is given out by the magazine each year to "the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement." College basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt shared the honor in 2011.
A compelling case can be made for Lin. No NBA player, and arguably no other sports figure, went from an unknown to a superstar as quickly as Lin. Bouncing among three teams as an undrafted free agent, not much was expected of Lin. Even the most diehard basketball fans didn’t know who he was.
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When Lin played extended minutes for the first time, he immediately earned a spot in the Knicks starting lineup. In a matter of a week, he went from the man at the end of the bench to playing as well as anyone in the league. At the height of “Linsanity,” he led the hapless Knicks on a seven-game winning streak, averaging 24.4 points and 9.1 assists per game.
After making the league-minimum for the first two seasons of his career, Lin signed a $25 million contract with the Houston Rockets in the offseason. His journey, from almost being out of the league, to becoming a highly valued free agent, certainly embodies the spirit of achievement.
As Chen points out, Lin’s impact on the court is just a small part of his candidacy. He became the No.1 topic in American pop culture. President Barack Obama commented on “Linsanity,” and the Harvard grad was the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
He became the most popular player in the NBA, in a league with superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard. His jersey sales were higher than any other player’s, and it became hard to go anywhere in New York City without seeing someone wearing his No.17 uniform.
Lin’s story was that of a true underdog. In a league dominated by African Americans and Europeans, he became one of the few Asian Americans to ever make it in the NBA. The point guard not only became an established professional, but played like an All-Star.
His ethnicity caused some controversy, as endless jokes were made about his Asian heritage. Some national broadcasters were even reprimanded for making tasteless puns about Lin.
“Linsanity” was relatively short-lived, as his season ended in March, due to a knee injury. He was unable to return against the Miami Heat in the playoffs. He only made 25 starts, and barely played half of a lockout-shortened season.
However brief, Lin’s impact on the sports landscape in 2012 was far-reaching. For a time, he was the biggest star in the country, playing in the nation’s biggest city. His enormous impact on the Asian market prompted major exposure for the NBA, as many non-sports fans began to buy Knicks jerseys.
It’s hard to get more exciting than that.