Less than two months ago, Jeremy Lin won his first NBA Championship as a member of the Toronto Raptors. The view from that career-defining mountain top, though, can quickly look a lot like rock bottom.
Lin is no stranger to the long roads, or the high and low points of the NBA.
He was an undrafted guard from Harvard; the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA; a player whose best NBA moments birthed the word Linsanity; and a man whose career has been beset by injuries and starting seasons in different jerseys than the year prior.
This summer’s free agency has forced him to face a different question than the doubts and pain that come with injuries, or the anxiety of a potential trade. This low was more existential: What happens if winning in Toronto is followed by there being no new jersey to wear next season?
“I got my first year in after injury and I know what it’s like and next season it’ll be different. But then free agency came around, and this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lin said during an appearance on GOOD TV, a Christian television station in Taiwan, pausing as applause echoed in the room from those gathered to watch him speak.
Screams of “I love you” can be heard. He gathers himself, and presses on.
“Man it’s hard. Life is hard. Cause I’ve always wanted to do things the right way, and I’ve given more of myself to God every single year, and every year it gets harder. In English, there’s a saying, when you hit rock bottom the only way is up, but rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me. So free agency has been tough, cause I feel like in some ways the NBA has kind of given up on me.
“… After the season, I had to get ready for this Asia trip. And it was the last thing I wanted to do because I knew for six weeks I would have to just put on a smile, I would have to talk about a championship that I don’t feel like I really earned, I would have to talk about a future that I don’t know I want to have, and honestly it’s just embarrassing and it’s tough.”
In what should be the best of times, the afterglow of an NBA Championship, there’s still room for profound sadness.
As Lin waits to hear what his next basketball chapter will be, the hope of a return to the NBA in hands that are not his own, he has reportedly garnered interest from CSKA Moscow. According to Sportando, Moscow — the EuroLeague and VTB League reigning champions — are in need of a point guard to finalize their roster and made an offer to Lin.
But Lin has been knocked down before.
“This journey in the NBA, it’s been a long journey,” Lin said.
“And I feel like I’ve never cheated the process. But my path hasn’t always been that easy. And I feel like, for me, I’ve taken a lot of hits and I’ve taken hit, after hit, after hit. And even in these situations I always just get back on my feet.
“And so, after Linsanity, there were a lot of tough things that happened in Houston and L.A., and a lot of details that the public doesn’t know. But I finally got that opportunity in Brooklyn and again it goes back to my ultimate dream – I had a chance to be the player that I thought I could be.”
That chance would be short-lived.
After an injury plagued first season with the Nets in which he played just 36 games, Lin’s second season with Brooklyn proved to be his last. During the Nets’ season-opener against the Indiana Pacers, Lin landed hard while attempting a layup and ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee. He didn’t suit up again that year and was subsequently traded to the Atlanta Hawks.
At the time, Atlanta was one of the worst teams in the NBA, a franchise in the midst of a long-term rebuilding project whose timeline didn’t sync up with where Lin was in his career.
“That’s a tough place because, you know, they’re rebuilding. And if you’re not young, you don’t really fit in and in the basketball world, I’m really old.
The stop with the Hawks ended up being brief, just long enough for Lin to showcase that the knee injury that derailed his stop in Brooklyn was behind him. By February, he was waived by Atlanta, opening the door for him to sign with a contender: the Raptors.
“In Toronto, I really had a 12 to 15 game stretch where it would make or break my time there,” he said.
“Up until this point, man, if I could just tell you the excitement I had for that opportunity. Why? Because I’d been waiting. I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, I’ve waited maybe eight years for this opportunity – since Linsanity.
“The average NBA career is less than five years and during this (Toronto) stretch I had the worst shooting of my entire career, and I missed 17 threes in a row and so on and so forth. When the playoffs came around, I didn’t get a chance to play anymore. But we won a championship. And I thought to myself, ‘you know what, it’s okay. I’ll take this hit and I’ll get back up.'”
Amid the uncertainty surrounding his free agency, amid the lack of control over his own future, it would be easy to stare at that rock bottom and see only the despair in it. Lin though, as he has his whole career, is choosing to find a different message within it: Work hard, and wait.
“The reality is, my life isn’t even the worst. A lot of you guys here are going through something even worse, and a lot of you guys here know what it means to have your dream crushed. …I know a lot of you guys, you guys feel hopeless in some situations. It might be your marriage, it might be your friendships, it might be school or your life purpose, I don’t know what it is, but a lot of you guys are like me – you’re waiting.
“Sometimes you just need to know that other people are going through what you’re going through too. …There’s work and there’s pain in the waiting. But it reveals your character. Don’t give up. Every morning, even on this trip, I train, I train a lot. …So I came here tonight with three basic points: Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t lose hope.”