MIAMI — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra makes no secret about the fact that he’s enjoying the Jeremy Lin story.
An undrafted player from Harvard bounces around and auditions for a handful of NBA clubs, even spends some time in the NBA Development League, then finally gets a chance to play with the Knicks. And on New York’s stage instantly becomes a star who’s putting up monster numbers every night while seeming to carry one of the league’s most storied franchises with ease.
“It’s a great story,” Spoelstra said. “It really is.”
In Spoelstra’s mind, it’s a good enough story to stand on those merits alone.
Nonetheless, heritage is a massive part of the Linsanity craze. Lin — the son of Taiwanese parents — is not the NBA’s first Asian-American player, but surely the first to generate this much interest. Spoelstra’s mother is from the Philippines, making him the league’s first Asian-American coach. He and Lin will be on opposite ends of the court in Miami on Thursday night when the NBA-leading Heat hosts the Knicks.
“It’s a great rags-to-riches story,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the bigger story. And hopefully years from now it’ll be about that, not about the ethnicity.”
Lin went into New York’s game Wednesday against Atlanta averaging 24.6 points and 9.2 assists in a 10-game stretch since joining the Knicks’ rotation, and the Knicks have won eight of those games to save a season that was spiraling out of control.
Basketball’s reach has long been global, which is evident every time Spoelstra speaks with reporters. Whether it’s in the Heat press room or on the practice floor, his media availabilities almost always take place with him standing or seated before a drape bearing with the Heat logo — and one for Tsingtao, a Chinese beer company that entered into a multiyear agreement with the team a few months ago.
And Spoelstra’s following in the Philippines — a place he went more than 30 years without seeing — is massive.
The Heat broadcast department streamed live pregame, halftime and postgame shows on the team’s website during last season’s playoffs, getting more clicks from the Philippines than any other foreign country. He has made trips there in recent summers for camps and clinics, typically being overwhelmed by the sizes of crowds coming out for those events.
Still, no one ever coined the term Sposanity.
Linsanity, meanwhile, has fast become a part of the everyday sports lexicon.
“I think it’s taken away from it, honestly,” Heat forward LeBron James said, when asked if the attention on Lin’s heritage overshadows his play. “But at the end of the day, he’s winning ball games. That’s ultimately what it comes down to. You average 25 and 9 and lose, it doesn’t mean much. You should realize how good of a player he is and not get caught up in everything else. He’s a really good player.”
Spoelstra remembers the first time he heard of Lin, and it wasn’t when he started turning the Knicks around.
It was July 2010, about a week after James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh dominated the NBA news cycle by all deciding to play together in Miami. Lin was with the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team in Las Vegas, simply trying to make an NBA roster.
“We were playing in the game after,” Spoelstra said. “So I showed up at the gym, and it was the auxiliary gym next door (to where the Heat summer team was playing). And you could hear all the noise. We heard John Wall was playing, so when everybody came into our gym there was a buzz. We all assumed it was John Wall that dominated that game. And then people were talking about a Lin kid who dominated the fourth quarter. Nobody knew who he was.
“Everybody in the gym was talking about him.”
And now, that’s still true — just on a much bigger scale.
“The fact that he came from oblivion … it shows his fortitude, his character, his resiliency,” Spoelstra said.