Local basketball fans haven't had this much to talk about since Jeremy Lin helped Palo Alto High School win the state championship in 2006, knocking off a favored team that included a 7-foot-1-inch center and three starters who had signed for Division 1 schools, including Duke.
That was no doubt a team effort but now Lin, who broke all kinds of records at Harvard, is working his same magic in the NBA, shocking New York Knicks fans by coming off the bench and clinching a win and then leading the short-handed team to six more straight wins as a starter. Lin is all the more astounding due to his heritage as the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to crack the NBA and only the fourth Asian-American in the history of the league.
In a way it was par for the course for Lin, who seemingly hasn't hit a barrier that he can't overcome. As his Paly fans know, and his former high school coach explains, Lin has a will to win and the drive to pull it off on the basketball court. And the more adversity that is placed in his path, the more determined he becomes, like the night last week when he outscored Kobe Bryant and led the Knicks to an unexpected victory over the Lakers.
Much of Lin's character revolves around the identity he discovered early when he often was the only Asian player on the court and certainly not the tallest. He has said that only hardened his resolve to succeed.
Lin was only 5 feet 3 inches when he arrived at Paly, but his talent got him on the varsity for the playoffs that year, and enough playing time to sink an important 3-pointer during the game.
In 2006, coach Peter Diepenbrock said the team had a goal-setting meeting before the season began. "That's when Jeremy stood up and said 'I want to win a state championship,'" the coach told the Weekly's Keith Peters. That was the beginning of Paly's dream season, ending with a 32-1 record and winning the state title with a convincing victory over Mater Dei, the overwhelming favorite.
Despite the fantastic finish to his high school career there were few college suitors. He especially had wanted to play for a Pac 10 team, including Stanford. But no major college offered him a scholarship. When Stanford and UCLA passed him up, he accepted an offer from Harvard where he rewrote the Ivy League record books with 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals.
Yet his college stats did not ease a path to the NBA. Only four Harvard players have ever made it to the pros. But Lin was determined and although he was passed over for the first two rounds of the NBA draft, he finally was signed by his (almost) hometown Warriors and spent a year mostly riding the bench. The Warriors cut him last December and he was picked up briefly by the Houston Rockets, but was cut again, giving the Knicks the opportunity to claim him on waivers Dec. 27.
When he joined the team he was fourth on the point guard depth chart, but due to injuries and other factors and the absence of some of his teammates, he earned short stints of playing time at first and then some starts and now a string of incredible performances. Knicks fans and the media have proclaimed "Linsanity" in New York.
Sports experts brush off talk that major colleges and pro teams missed the boat when they failed to recognize Jeremy's talent. They say his numbers were not always that good or consistent, and that his small stature (he finally grew to 6 feet 3 inches) and the fact that he played against Ivy League teams rather than Big 10 and SEC powerhouses, detracted from his chances. But everyone failed to notice the constant thread that runs through Jeremy's career -- an intense determination and work ethic that sets him apart from most other players.
"He has always been the best player on any team he played for," Diepenbrock said. " He made the varsity as a freshman and just kept getting bigger, stronger and better."
Lin's public recognition (this week's Sports Illustrated cover, for example) has already gone far beyond any other home-grown athlete from Palo Alto. Now he plays basketball in New York City, but he has made his family, father Gie-ming, mother Shirley and brothers Josh and Joseph, and his community extremely proud, and his run is just beginning.