A lot has changed over the past few months for former Harvard basketball star Jeremy Lin ’10. But one thing has remained the same: Lin’s fight to make it in the NBA continues to be an uphill battle. Lin left Harvard as one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard and as the only player in Ivy League history to record 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals.
He went undrafted, but caught on with the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team. One standout performance against No. 1 overall pick John Wall later, Lin had signed a three-year endorsement deal with Nike and had the ability to choose his NBA destination from a number of offers.
The Palo Alto, Calif. native picked the Golden State Warriors, his hometown squad and his favorite team growing up. In the blink of an eye, he had a two-year contract and was living the dream. “It was unbelievable,” Lin recalls. “Everything happened so fast; looking back it’s like a blur. I just remember it was obviously really fun to play in the summer league and then to all of a sudden sign with the hometown team was definitely very exciting. I was thankful I got to do that.” But from there, Lin’s rookie year was a roller coaster of highs and lows.
In his third career game, he played 16 minutes and had four steals while scoring his first NBA points against the defending champion Lakers. A fan favorite, Lin notched a career-high 13 points in 18 minutes against L.A. a month later. And he finished the year on a high note, registering 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists in the Warriors’ final game of the season against the Blazers. But in between was a struggle for the rookie, who had a hard time finding playing time and was thrice sent down to the NBA Developmental League. Though he shined there for the Reno Bighorns—averaging over 20 points per game and being named to the All-NBA D-League Showcase First Team—the constant change was not easy on Lin. “It was just a tough year,” he says. “Not knowing where I was going to be, going up and down to the D-League—it was tough. But in the end, I got better. I think that was the most important thing. It was a learning experience, and it showed me what I needed to work on and what the holes in my game and areas of improvement were.”
With the NBA lockout stretching into December, Lin had an extended amount of time to focus on those holes. That he did, while also taking the time to rest a knee injury he had suffered during the season. He thus calls the lockout “a blessing in disguise” because it gave him more time to recover. But in addition to working hard, Lin also had some fun as well. He recorded a number of popular YouTube videos, such as “How to Get into Harvard” and “Jeremy Lin: A Day in the Life.” And though he couldn’t play in NBA games, Lin did partake in two charity exhibitions with some of the league’s best players.
First, on Nov. 5, he joined Stephen Curry, David Lee, and the rest of his Warrior “Young Dubs” teammates at Oracle Arena to challenge the 2007 “We Believe” Warriors squad—featuring Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Jason Richardson, among others—which famously knocked off the heavily favored No. 1-seeded Mavericks in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
Two weeks later, Lin returned to Lavietes Pavilion to take part in the Boston Charity Classic along with Paul Pierce, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, and a host of other NBA stars in his first game back on Harvard’s campus. “Basically we were just playing for fun, and for supporting charities,” explains Lin, who entertained the Boston crowd by throwing down a number of dunks and scoring 11 points in a two-minute stretch in the third quarter.
One week later, the lockout had ended, and the guard was ready for year two with the Warriors. Yet the delayed start to the season brought about a brief offseason, forcing teams to make a flurry of roster moves in a short amount of time. The Warriors needed a center, and after missing out on Tyson Chandler, they decided to pursue the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan. But Jordan was a restricted free agent, meaning Golden State would have to scrap together every dollar it could find to make the biggest offer possible with the hope that LA would not be able to match. The team thus looked to cut costs where it could, and after having selected guards Klay Thompson and Charles Jenkins in this past year’s draft, Lin—with a non-guaranteed contract—was expendable. In a move he says he did not anticipate, Lin was waived by the Warriors on Dec. 11, ending his brief stint with the team. Two of the team’s stars were sad to see him go.
“To my man @jlin7…can’t say it enough man your work ethic and skills are gonna pick you right back up…keep the faith bro and keep ya head up,” tweeted Stephen Curry. “Tough day losing one of our teammates @jlin7.. JLin u are a great ball player and unbelievable teammate and person! We will miss u lil bro!” added David Lee via Twitter.
Yet at the end of every tunnel is a light, and Lin found his in Houston, where the Rockets claimed him off waivers the next day. Though Houston already has point guards Kyle Lowry, Johnny Flynn, and Goran Dragic on its roster, the squad was excited by Lin’s potential. “We have evaluated Jeremy since his time in Harvard and have also tracked his progress with the Golden State Warriors,” Rockets Vice President of Player Personnel Gersson Rosas wrote in an e-mail. “We feel he is an intriguing player with a solid all around game and a high basketball IQ. He plays to his strengths well and is developing at a solid rate.” Lin says the Rockets have already let him know what they expect from him. “Just to be a point guard and a shooting guard here in Houston,” Lin explains. “To play both positions, to make plays, bring it on the defensive end, and to be creative on the offensive end. Just the same thing that I’ve been doing.” Rosas echoed that sentiment. “Jeremy is competing for the opportunity to make the Houston Rockets roster in the role of backup point guard,” he wrote. “Our objective would be to aid him in his basketball development in what ever manner possible throughout the season.”
One of the few Asian-Americans to play in the NBA, Lin now has the chance to make his name in the city where Yao Ming—who invited Lin to play with him in Taipei in the summer of 2010—starred for nine years. For now, Lin says he does not feel there is any part of his game that could not use improvement. Barring a trade, he knows it will be an uphill climb to make the Rockets, who currently have one of the deepest rosters in the league. But challenge is nothing new for Lin, who received no Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school and just one summer league offer coming out of college. The point guard made the best of his opportunities with Harvard and the Mavericks, and now he’s ready to do everything he can in Houston to prove he belongs once again. “I’m just excited to go somewhere I’m wanted,” he says. “Right now I’m just trying to make the best of the situation. There’s an adjustment process getting comfortable with everything.” “It’s really early in the whole situation,” he added. “Hopefully it turns out well.”