Jeremy Lin was suffering much more during his first season with the Rockets than most of his fans could have guessed from his stoic demeanor, according to a surprisingly candid speech he gave at a Christian youth conference in Taiwan.
The reason for the living hell he lived through was his belief that the Rockets coaching staff was losing faith in his ability to deliver the kind of performance they had hoped he would deliver after his phenomenal Linsanity run during the latter half of his single season with the Knicks.
By most measures Lin, who turned 25 Friday, logged a credible performance for a player whose $25.1-mil. contract was only a slightly above-average salary among all NBA players. He averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds during the 2012-13 season — significantly above average among all NBA starting point guards. Some analysts have even rated him among the top 10 in that category. Yet Lin was so stressed by his inability to rekindle Linsanity in Houston that he had trouble eating or sleeping and even cried before a game for fear of losing his status as a starter.
“As the 2012-13 season started, I was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Houston Rockets,” began Lin’s speech at last weekend’s youth conference. “I was supposed to be their new leader, the main guy to finally lead the Rockets back to the NBA playoffs. I was expecting to come in and pick up right where I left off [in New York]. I was ready to invigorate the entire city of Houston. All across Houston, you could see my face on the billboards. I thought I looked so cool. I was supposed to save Houston basketball, but most importantly I was ready to be Linsanity. As I’ve seen many times in my life, what actually happened was nothing like what I had planned.
“First off, we signed James Harden. With the addition of James, I went from being the franchise guy to taking a back seat. On top of that, I started the season playing terribly. Less than 10 games into the season, I started getting benched. In many games, our back-up point guards were playing more minutes than I was. At this point in the season, my stats were significantly worse. The coaches were losing faith in me, the basketball fans were making fun of me. Journalists were criticizing me. My Twitter feed was filled with all types of hateful words. I heard, ‘overrated, overpaid, a flash in the pan, a bust, a nobody.’ As a result I became really, really frustrated.
“On Dec. 15, 2012, I wrote in my diary: ‘I’m tired and weary and can’t wait for the season to end.’ I went on to write, ‘I haven’t been able to eat or sleep recently. I’m just tossing and turning with anxiety. What if I lose my spot as a starter? What if I have to be the back-up the rest of the season? What happens if my back-ups are actually better than me?’
“I became so obsessed with becoming a great basketball player. I was so obsessed with living up to my contract and I became so obsessed with trying to be Linsanity, being this phenomenon that took the NBA and the world by storm. Linsanity was supposed to be my breakthrough, where I went from being stuck on the bench to experiencing new freedom as an up-and-coming star. Houston was supposed to be a fresh start, a new beginning, a new journey.
“Most of all, I was supposed to be joyful and free but what I experienced was the opposite. I had no joy and I felt no freedom. I felt chained to the world’s lofty expectations. I felt like I had to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. That’s why I couldn’t eat or sleep. That’s why I was no fun to be around. I never smiled. In fact, I even cried before a game against the New Orleans Hornets because I was so anxious about losing my starting spot.
“I had to self-reflect. I had to ask: Would I allow myself to listen to what everyone else said about me? Would I allow myself to be consumed by my performance on the court? To be consumed by my job? I based my self-worth on how many points I scored or how many games I started. I based my self-esteem on being the player everybody else expected me to be. My identity should never have been based on basketball. This is when God showed me I needed an identity check.”
The rest of the speech sought to use his experience to urge the youth in attendance to center their lives around god rather than their worldly ambitions.
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey extended the team’s moral support in an online interview, saying that Lin performed better during the past season than the assessments of some pundits, noting that he had been burdened by unrealistic expectations, as well as his youth and the chest contusion that kept him out of most the first round of playoffs.
Notwithstanding continuing trade rumors, Lin appears set to return as part of the Rockets’ starting lineup which now will star center Dwight Howard alongside James Harden, with Lin presumably staying or alternating at point.