By Eddie Mayrose
It’s a timeless tradition. Every kid on a playground, no matter how old, imagines he’s draining the jumper that wins the NBA championship. For me, and my oldest buddy, Bobby Carr, it was the shot that catapulted the Knicks to the title. It helped that Bobby could do a dead-on impression of Madison Square Garden’s legendary P.A. announcer, John Condon. “That was Bobby Carr. New York leads 67-62.”
But, that’s where it ended for most of us. On the playground. Who would ever think that same fantasy could actually come true for an NBA player? But, here we are, watching that very situation play out in front of us. Jeremy Lin, the most out-of-nowhere sensation since Kurt Warner won an NFL MVP and led the Rams to two Super Bowls, has revived a dying franchise and become the biggest story in the NBA.
As I’ve watched this phenomenon unfold over the last seven days, I’ve had two questions burning in my head. With the Knicks struggling as mightily as they were with Toney Douglas running the offense, why did it take almost two months for this kid to get a look? While no one could have expected the offensive explosion Lin has provided (he was cut by two teams before coming to New York), there had to be some indication that he was, at least, a capable NBA player in practice. I then wondered, given that Lin has benefitted from a perfect storm of injury and opportunity, how many athletes of similar talent have slipped through the cracks? Think about it. The last time the Knicks mattered at all, John Starks and Anthony Mason dropped from the sky to become stars. If Mo Lewis hadn’t knocked Drew Bledsoe silly in 2001, we may never have heard of sixth-round-pick Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen would still be single.
The problem is that coaches, for the most part, are cowards. Now, I don’t say that to impugn their charcater. They really have little choice. But, in a sports world now driven by the almighty dollar, they’ve become so disposable that coaching to defend one’s job has been forced upon them — in no small part because they are often making less money than most of their players. How many times do we see a reliever come out of the bullpen in the eighth inning and dominate the opposition? Don’t you think his manager considers sending him back out for the ninth? But, because the norm is to turn the ball over to the closer, he’s safe if things go wrong. No one will question his decision. We now have coaches that prefer to be wrong as part of the consensus than correct by themselves.
With college sports bringing in so much money, this fraidy-cat mentality has trickled down to the college level, as well. Jim Patsos, the head men’s basketball coach at Loyola-Maryland, once shared with me the perspective of a college-coach: “You have to remember, these are 20-year old kids dribbling my paycheck up and down the floor.”
So, where does that leave those players that, unlike Lin, Starks, Mason,Warner and Brady, never caught their break? Sadly, they’re lighting up the playgrounds and gymnasiums of every city in the country; never to realize the dream for which they may have had the talent and skill necessary. So, for them, celebrate Jeremy Lin. He’s an incredibly talented player and an even better story. In a sports world where, sadly, underachieving players with guaranteed contracts often stand as roadblocks to kids with worlds of potential, he reaffirms our belief that, if you work hard enough, good things will eventually happen.
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