By Bill Campbell
Is Jeremy Lin for real? It sure looks that way.
The American born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent wrote the NBA headline of the week, if not of the season, last Sunday. Forty eight hours previously, some genius wrote an offensive line about Lin bordering on a racial slur when Lin committed 9 turnovers in a Knicks loss to New Orleans. The writer on a cable mobile web site wrote that the game was lost due to a “Chink in the armor”. Needles to say, the wordsmith was fired. In his very next game against the Houston Rockets, Lin scored 28 points, made 14 assists and led his team to victory after falling behind by 12 points. It was the Knicks third victory over Houston in their last 20 meetings and Lin was simply unstoppable. His combination of points and assists was his fourth double-double. It didn’t matter what the Rockets threw at him — double-teams, blitzes, tall defenders, smaller ones — Lin found a way as he led the Knicks to their eighth win in 9 games. After the game he requested the media in Taiwan to give his family and relatives some space, “because they can’t go to work without being bombarded and hundreds of people following them.”
The Knicks secured another new player on Sunday: guard J.R. Smith. He arrived in New York on Saturday night after playing in China and without even working out with the team scored 15 points off the Knicks’ bench in the win over Houston. All Star forward, Carmelo Anthony, also returned this week after a prolonged injury absence. In fact, it was the absence of Anthony that allowed Knicks coach, Mike D’Antoni, the opportunity to use Lin, who had ridden the bench with two other teams before coming to New York. The post-game comments on Lin from All Star forward and 2007 MVP, Dirk Nowitski, were interesting. Talking about Lin, he said, “We really tried to trap him off the pick and roll but he is crafty, he knows how to get to the basket, he knows how to spin off and still get to his spots and he hit some really tough three’s.” Lin, in commenting on Houston said, “The Mavs did a great job of doubling me. I hadn’t seen that before and it caught me a bit off guard.” But he seemed to adjust as a Harvard graduate should. Coming from Taiwan, schooled four years at Harvard – not exactly the perfect format for an NBA player. But Jeremy Lin does indeed look like the real deal.
There is at least one game that bears critical watching this week as the NBA jumps front and center. It will be played in Miami on Thursday. During the 8-1 run with Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks played only 3 teams with winning records. But after the Heat game, the Knicks must play Boston, Houston again, then San Antonio, the 76ers, Chicago, Portland and Indiana. Most, if not all, of these games should have a profound effect on the divisional races as well as on the future of Jeremy Lin. With Lin, Anthony and Smith added to the present cast, the Knicks should be in good shape and become a real factor in the divisional race.
What a difference one season can make. Last year at this time, as the Phillies opened spring training, there was a special press conference featuring the Phillies’ Four Aces in their pitching rotation: Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt. Every place you ventured, someone talked about the Four Aces. It was easily the most publicized pitching rotation in baseball. This year, there are only three. The future of Roy Oswalt is yet to be determined. Apparently he wants to pitch someplace closer to his home in Mississippi than Philadelphia. This description reminded us of last year’s bad weather when he left the team to go home to Mississippi to help his family and try to patch up the damage. We remember it as Hurricane Irene. This is not the same team, not only because of Oswalt missing, but for a few question marks remaining. Rabid Phillies fans don’t want to hear it but the Phillies are a little bit more questionable than they were a year ago. They’re one of the oldest, if not the oldest, teams in the major league. And they’re not the healthiest either. In fact, three-fourths of the Phillies’ infield is hurting and remains questionable. Namely, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Placido Polanco. Jimmy Rollins appears to be OK though he did miss time last season as well. Charlie Manuel says the Phillies almost always find someone able to step up and fill a need and they have already added a few people should those needs arise. The team that won 102 games last year doesn’t present the expectations of a year ago. I doubt if I will ever forget the sight and sound of Ryan Howard lying on the first base line at Citizen’s Bank Park, screaming in pain as he registered the third and concluding out of the 2011 World Series. So fill-ins might very well be needed even on occasional appearances – possibly by 41-year-old Jim Thome at first base. It would be a joy to see him, bat in hand, at any time at home plate but only occasionally at first base – a position he has seldom filled since playing for Philadelphia the first time. Fortunately, it really doesn’t matter which team looks best in spring training. Being the best in October at World Series time is the only thing that matters. As Cole Hamels put it the other day, “Knowing that from the first day of spring training you have a definite shot to win it all is the best motivator you can have.” And the Phillies will have that motivation.
I had the rare privilege of broadcasting Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game at the Hershey arena on March 2, 1962. It is somewhat humbling to realize that, come Friday night March 2, 2012, the 76ers will declare it to be Wilt Chamberlain Night. The 100 point game has become a 50 year old story. Where have all the years gone? I pass along the following suggestion: the 76ers have purchased the court from the Hershey Arena people and all fans who attend the 76ers-Golden State game at the Wells Fargo Center on the night of Friday, March 2nd will receive a piece of the original court on which Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game. That’s Friday, March 2nd at 8:00 p.m. We’ll look forward to seeing you there.