Take a hard look at the rise and fall of the modern rookie athlete. It’s far more than a sports story. It’s a tech-age hype story, which is to say: it’s about hype gone (Internet) viral. Coming into this year as a rookie (for all purposes, that’s how it was), the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin was launched off the bench and onto the court. It happens to many a rookie, in many sports. But unlike so many, Lin took his unproven potential as a point guard and potted 25, then 28 points — later, 38 — and galvanized his superstardom faster than they could print the T-shirts.
Then Lin coughed — had a bad night, caused some weak turnovers, scored too-few points — and “they” said he was a goner. Self-conscious blips in the hype-machine cast doubt on his undrafted talent. A mere eleven days and one bad performance into his career, and the bashing had begun. Prognostications of Lin’s future in the league grew shaky. Critics were thinking at the speed of tweets, and Lin aficionados of one week earlier were ready to turn in their T-shirts and pretend the whole thing never happened.
We know too much, too quickly. We’ve seen the highlights, read the post-game write-up, and checked the facts and figures no later than the morning after the game. A rising star’s career, like Lin’s, takes shape in our mind before he’s boarded a plane to reach the next city. In this case, expectations are compounded nightly. It’s like stuffing months’ worth of time into one single, accelerated heartbeat.
As previously mentioned, early projections of a rookie’s future are dubious — more so when a player demonstrates the skill Lin possesses. At first sight, Lin seems superimposed on the court. The pattern and rhythm of his play follow a beat different from the game around him. Lin doesn’t shake off opponents with ankle-breaking cross-overs — he singes passed them with an explosive first step. He edges into tight gaps in the paint while managing to maintain his dribble. He knows when to pass, when to shoot, when to change directions, when to swing the ball out to a man waiting on the perimeter. He has textbook court vision. His pick and roll ain’t so bad, either. He drives to the basket while taking knocks to the chin and nose — often bloodied — in the fray.
We forget that athletes do something immensely difficult, every night. In fact, they do the same thing every night. Lin displays this consistency in form. Having the ability to recreate the same essential movements, no matter the circumstance, is what quantifies his athleticism. It’s not something developed overnight: It’s learned by rote, and it eventually becomes second nature. The test is whether a player can adapt this form — make it sound and humble.
But there’s no more room for that, at least not this season. A torn meniscus in Lin’s left knee, a knee that has troubled his play in the past, puts Lin back on the bench, and the Knicks back in the lurch. Finally stepping into the point guard position, that is, selflessly running the play to top-scoring Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, and his game’s been cut short.
In what corner of the hype-cycle does Lin’s success now reverberate? We’d say time will tell. But in the tech age, has that already passed?
Image courtesy of DvYang.