Linsane in the membrane

With the Knicks in town to play the Raptors, Linsanity comes to Toronto

As the clock wound down at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday, Jeremy Lin, a Harvard graduate who two weeks ago was sleeping on his brother’s couch, looked back at his coach, got a nod, then waved his teammates toward the baseline. Set up on-on-one against Raptors point guard Jose Calderon—who had outplayed him much of the night—Lin dribbled and waited for the final shot. When a few seconds remained, he stepped forward, stepped back then launched the ball over Calderon’s extended hands. When it cleared the mesh, the game clock read 0.5 seconds and the Knicks were up by three.

In front of a near-sellout crowd in Toronto, the legend of Linsanity, by some measure the unlikeliest sports story of the year so far, was extended. In a game in which he struggled for long stretches, turning the ball over eight times and missing crucial free throws in the fourth quarter, he pulled it out in the end. Lin scored his team’s final six points. He hit the winning shot. And he did it with a swagger that belies belief, given where he was 10 days ago.

Before going on this unlikely run—six consecutive wins, five consecutive starts—Lin was a near wash out. He went undrafted out of college, was cut from his hometown Golden State Warriors and was clinging to a roster spot on an awful Knicks team. On Tuesday, he played 43 minutes, the most by any player on either squad. He had 11 assists and 27 points. On the offensive end he was the Knicks’ unequivocal leader, despite the return of star forward Amar’e Stoudemire.

Lin is also a bona fide, albeit possibly fleeting, cultural phenomenon. Interest in the game Tuesday was so high that media passes were oversubscribed. Your Maclean’s correspondent was relegated to the bleachers. This for a near-meaningless matchup between two subpar teams on a weeknight in February, Valentine’s Day no less.

The crowd, the largest of the season for the Raptors, didn’t always know what to do with Lin. They cheered him when he was introduced. They booed him when he set up for free throws. They cheered him again when he hit them. When he sunk the winning basket, they nearly exploded.

In the cheap seats, where your correspondent was ensconced, one man in a Raptors shirt and Blue Jays hat was yelling “I’m buying a jersey right now! I’m buying a jersey right now!” as the game ended and he typed on his iPhone, presumably looking for merchandise online. A few rows down, another man, this one in a Knicks jersey, was high fiving the rows in front of and behind him, which were filled with large clusters of Asian fans.

There is a thin line between racial insensitivity and ignoring the obvious; on Tuesday there were obviously a disproportionate number of Chinese- and otherwise Asian-Canadian spectators. According to the Statistics Canada, 486,330 people of Chinese descent lived in the greater Toronto area in 2006, or less than 10 per cent of the total population. An unscientific guess would put their share of the live audience Tuesday at closer to half.

There were fathers with their sons, guys with their girlfriends (many with flowers) and big clusters of families and friends. Lin is American, but his parents were born in Taiwan, and on Tuesday an entire section of the stands was filled with fans waving that country’s flag. (Although Mainland China is now trying to claim Lin as its own.) There were also innumerable signs asking the Knick point guard if he would be someone’s “vaLINtine” and at least one knockoff “Linsanity” jersey.

As for Lin himself, for the moment he’s far from the complete package. He has trouble driving left and often dribbles into to trouble. (One Twitter wag dubbed him “Lincompetent” early in Tuesday’s game). But at least, it appears, he’s no longer couch surfing. According to a report, he’s moving out of his brother’s apartment and into a Trump Tower in suburban New York.