Jeremy Lin's Dark Night and Inevitable Dawn

The only figures I can recall storming the American psyche as suddenly and spectacularly as Jeremy Lin are Monica Lewinsky and that shrew-eyed gossip — whose name escapes me — who betrayed Lewinsky’s confidences about her Oval Office dalliances with President Clinton.

One difference, of course, is that Lin’s surge to the headlines was powered entirely by his own displays of mesmerizing virtuosity and starpower while Lewinsky’s depended on the collective fury of a frustrated opposition party. The other difference is that Lewinsky has faded from the collective American consciousness while, to my eyes, Lin looks headed for a long reign as one of the NBA’s top point guards.

I’m sure some have already written Lin off as a 10-win wonder. The Knicks’ six-game losing streak seems to confirm the suspicion that no one could really have been as good as Lin seemed to be while shooting to global superstardom in a single two-week, 8-game stretch. We all had to rub our eyes to make sure we weren’t dreaming during the Knicks’ Cinderella run of early February.

All kinds of explanations are being advanced already as to how Lin managed to hoodwink the world — weak opponents, the element of surprise, a disproportionate number of home stands, amazing luck.

Lin himself might be forgiven if he were to begin questioning his own sanity for ever thinking he — an undrafted, twice-cut, sofa-bedding minimum-wager with virtually no NBA playing time until early February — could lead the Knicks deep into the playoffs and maybe even bring home the first championship in forty years. The thought must have run through his mind during the final seconds of the past couple of games with the looming of yet another loss and another funereal postgame interview.

For me it was only during the past few post-loss interviews that Lin came into focus as a person with the potential for greatness. Where a true flash-in-the-pan point guard might have been inclined to duck the packs of reporters smelling blood in the water, Lin faced them head on. And he addressed the tough questions without putting the blame where it usually belonged — lackadaisical defense and missed cues by teammates and the near impossibility of integrating returning nobility into the ragtag team he had led in a blaze of glory like a revolutionary firebrand at the head of a hungry mob fighting its way to the granary.

Of course Lin too had — and has — some developing left as the other teams come after him loaded for bear instead of the rabbit they may have expected earlier. But the double-teams and triple-teams, the traps and the stinging physicality are things Lin has shown he can handle. But they can only be turned to advantage if teammates are quick to exploit the openings povided by such Lin-focused ploys.

In the Knicks’ most recent game against the Bulls — one of the NBA’s top two teams — Lin got better team support and came within two bad breaks of winning the game. He wasn’t a bit cowed by playing opposite the NBA’s reigning MVP, even stealing a ball from Rose for yet another fast break. Lin may have come in shouldering a five-game losing streak, but he played with cool and controlled leadership alternating with attacking sorties into the paint just as he had been doing all along.

As I see it, Lin’s stature as one of the NBA’s top-10 point guards becomes more secure with each Knicks game, win or lose. Not only is he winning over those who understand what he (with the support of Coach Mike D’Antoni) is having to overcome in his peculiar position of leading stars he has eclipsed, Lin is showing himself to be a fighter who loves leading the rabble against the empire. He’s already done that time and again by leading Palo Alto to a state championship against perennial California champs Mater Dei, leading Harvard to its best seasons on record and leading the Knicks bench to wins against the Lakers and the Mavericks.

The only thing that will stop Jeremy Lin — and only temporarily — is a loss of faith by his coach and his teammates. That won’t happen for a while, with D’Antoni saying after the 104-99 loss to the Bulls, “I like Lin’s game. He’ll get a lot better, and I’m not worried about him at all, other than just trying to help him move along, trying to help him get better like anybody else.”

If D’Antoni can help Jeremy Lin the way he helped Steve Nash, Lin’s destiny will be fulfilled.

The real drama going forward is how long Lin, the NBA’s first Asian American starting point guard and international celebrity, can command the loyalty of a team forged as a bench uprising.