The bright lights of New York and Los Angeles are supposed to be unlike anything else. Supposedly, that’s why Dwight Howard couldn’t cut it with the L.A. Lakers – he didn’t know how to handle the limelight and pressure of playing in such a huge media market. And yet, even though that theory often makes its way around NBA circles, Jeremy Lin’s inaugural campaign with the Houston Rockets pretty much single-handedly disproves it entirely
While playing with the New York Knicks two years ago, Lin shined before he ultimately got hurt. With very little in the way of support, he put up the best totals of his career and turned himself into an international superstar. A year later, under a much less glaring spotlight, he apparently felt more pressure to succeed than he ever had in his life.
During a recent event with fans, Lin expounded on precisely how much the stress got to him last season.
“As the 2012-13 season started, I was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Houston Rockets,” he said. “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.”
How bad did it get? Well…
“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.”
The funny thing is, even though he had never previously acknowledged this stuff, it was bright as day to anyone who had followed his career. The carefree, easy going nature that made him so appealing in that first summer league game when he showed up John Wall, it gone in Houston. With the way he moved on the court, it was as if the pressure was literally weighing him down.
Last week, Daryl Morey conducted a Reddit AMA with fans. One in particular asked him about Lin’s struggles with the Rockets. His response was, well, bizarre.
It is amazing to me that all the time I encounter people feeling negative about Jeremy's season with us. I have chalked this up to:
-- he started off slow, mostly do to getting 100% back from injury
-- very high, unrealistic expectations after his time in New York
-- had a rough ending in the playoffs, again due to injury
-- people generally remember starts & ends more than anything else
-- people generally compare things to their expectations when forming opinions versus look at the big picture
Last year was Jeremy's 1st full year in the league. Essentially his rookie year. If last season would have been his rookie year and he never would have played in New York, right now people would be appropriately talking about him incessantly as one of the top young rookie stars in the league. He was the starting point guard on a playoff team in West at age 24!!! Don't get me started on this. Too late...
While a lot of that is true, a lot of it is also nonsense. Particularly the expectations and experience parts. Clearly Lin had the same expectations for himself as everyone else did. He essentially said this much in that session with fans.
Lin is only 24 years old. His story has plenty of time to be written in whatever way he wants it to be written. But for now, it’s interesting to sit back and note that the most intense pressure he’s had to deal with to date didn’t come under intense glare of New York media scrutiny, but in “little” ol’ Houston.
Good luck, Dwight Howard.