How Linsanity made a kid uninterested in basketball a diehard Knicks fan

The Knicks have not won a championship since 1973. They have advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once since 2000. Yet, they have some of the most passionate fans in basketball. Why do people root for the Knicks? It’s about more than wins and losses. In our first installment of Why I root for the Knicks, Alexander Cohen tells his story.

By Alexander Cohen (@DaRealBootum)

As a kid, I hated basketball.

Sure, I played in rec leagues, but I looked more like a ref than a player; I did nothing besides run up and down the court and watch the game. I played with the same offensive philosophy as Frank Ntilikina; I’d pass the second I got the ball. I counted the seconds till I could go home and play games on the Wii.

Occasionally my dad would watch basketball games, and I’d watch a few minutes with him. The only value I got out of it was attempting to seem cool to my friends by making insightful questions and statements such as, “You see the game last night? I did.”

Even Amar’e’s called-off buzzer beater three against the Celtics didn’t intrigue me at all.

I had a vague understanding about what was going on in basketball through little comments my dad would tell me that I was half-listening to like, “Knicks got Tyson Chandler. They’re making the playoffs this year, which is nice.”

Then one Friday night in 2012, my dad and I were watching the Knicks play the Celtics at home, and everything changed. Well, my dad was watching, my focus was on beating my friend’s high score in Doodle Jump (Sorry, Kevin Durant)

My father’s offseason declaration was wrong: the Knicks were 8-14 as they played Boston that night. They were clearly not making the playoffs. Another lost season.

As we are watching, a player checks into the game that looks unalike any NBA player I had ever seen before.

It’s Jeremy Lin.

My dad gives me a few details on what makes this guy so interesting: he’s the first American of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA. He went to Harvard, known more for their smarts than their sports. Yet here he is in the NBA. He’s getting a chance with the Knicks because practically every point guard on the roster is injured. It would be pretty neat if this guy was good.  

Barely a minute after Lin enters the game, he turns it over. “Wow,” I think to myself, “no wonder this guy hasn’t been playing.” I go back to my iPod Touch. Lin finishes the game 0-3 from the field and the Knicks lose.

The next Friday night, I have a sleepover at my friend’s house. Jeremy Lin has just shocked the world. My friends and I were playing video games. The next morning, we turn on SportsCenter. It’s all about Lin. “Wait a minute! I know this guy, I think,” I boast to my friends.

SportsCenter starts off the show talking about how great Lin was going into the game, leading the Knicks to 3 straight wins while averaging 25 points and 8 assists. They show an interview of Kobe Bryant, one of the few athletes I actually know at the time, being dismissive of Lin. Bryant says he doesn’t know what Lin has done. When he’s asked whether he would choose to guard Lin if he’s having another sublime night, he retorts, “Jesus Christ. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Finally, SportsCenter gets into the game highlights. Lin bested all-time-great Kobe Bryant, putting up 38 points and dishing out 7 assists en route to the Knicks’ fourth straight win. If Kobe truly didn’t know what Lin had done before, he knew now. After hearing the same SportsCenter story about Lin being looped what felt like 100 times as I waited for my parents to pick me up, I also now knew. I was starting to understand why people like basketball.

My dad bought tickets to next Friday’s game. Linsanity was in full effect, and we had to see it live. The Knicks had won 7 straight–surely this would be an easy win over the 6-23 Hornets. It was not. Lin turned it over nine times. The Knicks shot 4-24 from three and 19-29 on free throws. Perhaps the Knicks were distracted by the Hornets’ wild Mardi Gras jerseys. In the fourth quarter, the Knicks trailed by 12, but cut the lead down to two with five minutes remaining. Down 4 with 40 seconds left, Lin misses on a wild layup attempt. Linsanity is over. When my family stands up to leave, I’m still sitting. I’m nearly in tears. (Ok, I was in tears. That’s not so weird for an 11-year-old is it?)

“We could have won! We should have won!”, I scream.

I was upset over the result of the game, but I was now hooked on basketball. I was enamored by the story of Jeremy Lin, the thrill of the comeback attempt, and the atmosphere of the arena. Lin would go on to get hurt only a few weeks later and miss the rest of the season, but it was not enough to stop my new interest. I watched the rest of the season, exhilarated by our 17-6 record to close out the season, Carmelo Anthony’s game-tying and game-winning shots against the Bulls, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith scorching it from three, and lovable scrubs Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan.

When I’d go back to that friend’s house where I saw the SportsCenter report in the future, instead of playing video games, I’d follow the Knicks play-by-play on my phone. They’d play Smash Bros while I’d be astounded by Raymond Felton already having 5 assists when it was only the first quarter, wondering if he could finish with more than 15.

Basketball brings me to tears for the second and only time ever when the Knicks elect to not re-sign Lin in the offseason. I still stood by the Knicks and that next year, I witnessed the best Knicks team I had ever seen play, when they won 54 games in the 2012-13 season. I moved on from Lin, and my new favorite player became 28 year-old rookie Chris Copeland, who similarly beat the odds to make the NBA.

I took an interest in playing basketball as well. The week after the Hornets game, for the first time ever, I took a basketball and went to the park to work on my shot. I knew it would be hard to catch up to the skill level of my friends as they had been taking it seriously longer than me, but that did not dissuade me. If Jeremy Lin could make the NBA, so could I.

I didn’t end up making the NBA, because 6’3” post up centers aren’t a hot commodity at the moment. Though, I did hold my own against new Louisville commit Aidan Igiehon in high school and helped lead my 3-on-3 college rec league team to the playoffs. I no longer have the offensive mindset of Frank Ntilikina. Instead, I have the mentality of Cole Aldrich, if he had a score-first mentality: I shoot nothing but hook shots, nailing them half the time, air-balling them the other half.

Now I’m the one telling my half-interested dad facts about the Knicks, informing my dad on interesting developments such as how undrafted Allonzo Trier might go from not even having a real roster spot to one of the best players on the Knicks.

In 2012, the Knicks piqued my interest and in 2013 they peaked. In 2014, they won 37 games, and they have not hit 35 since. Since that Hornets game, I’ve seen countless more fake-comebacks by the Knicks. When I tell people I’m a Knicks fan, they rightfully laugh.

Now that I have found this team, I’m not going anywhere: I still have hope that one day the Knicks will be as exciting as they were during Linsanity. These struggles the past few seasons will make that day all the more sweeter.

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