Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the Knicks/Mavericks game at the American Airlines Center with my fiancee. This is intriguing not because of the actual basketball game (which was equal parts terrible, exciting, and bizarre), but because we were able to hang out with one Jeremy Lin after the game was over. Yes, Jeremy Lin, he of the international fame, Harvard basketball pedigree, and claim to the title of most famous athlete on planet earth right now.
It was a bizarre and very fortuitous set of circumstances that led me to those briefest of moments spent in the underbelly of the American Airlines Center on a random Tuesday evening, and we’ll get to all that in a second. Before going any further though, I want to disclose that I’m not going to reveal anything he said to us personally because I consider it all off the record as I didn’t identify myself as a writer/blogger. This is more about the experience of having the great fortune to meet an individual as famous as Jeremy is at the moment and the reactions and thoughts that went through my head because of it. It’s not going to tell you any kind of secrets I may or may not have learned about the Knicks and Mavs. I’ll also fail to reveal any private details he shared with us. If you’re looking for that, I suggest you search elsewhere.
Anyways, you’re probably wondering how this all happened. Here’s how it went down. My fiancee Brittney is from California and she just so happened to go to Palo Alto High School. Jeremy went to “Paly” as well and it was there that he first blew up on the national basketball radar by orchestrating a shocking upset of heavily favored Mater Dei in the California State Championship game their senior year. It is extremely important that I mention Brittney’s dad predicted way back then that Jeremy was going to make it to the big time and has an autograph from those days stored in his desk back home to prove it. Forget about delivery guys in Oregon or the GMs of Golden State and Houston, my future father-in-law was the first person to “discover” Jeremy Lin!
As coincidental as going to high school with Jeremy was, that still wasn’t the reason we got to hang out with him and the rest of the Knicks. In another unique twist, one of Jeremy’s best friends from high school recently graduated and moved to work in Dallas and got back in touch with Brittney when he heard she lived here. They were friends back then as well and usually get together during holidays. It was he who reached out to Lin and arranged “the hookup.”
Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever had the chance to get a post game pass for a sporting event, but it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity and I highly recommend that you all try to experience it once in your lifetime. I’m blessed enough to have done it once before, meaning I was the “expert” in charge of delivering our party of four to the correct part of the arena after the game. I’d also like to note that if you move quickly enough after a game is over, you can actually get down without having your passes checked by security.
What occurs is that you sit in the section immediately next to the tunnel that the opposing team comes out of for the game. It’s a small crowd (50-100 people, tops) consisting of three unique groups of people: family, friends, and groupies. Obviously after the game the team meets, changes, showers, etc so there is a bit of waiting around involved. It doubles as the best people watching, ever.
In this case the experience was highlighted by a large family behind me of whom I never discovered their relation to any of the players. They were joined by a man I presumed to be a grandfather. They provided entertainment by coaxing him into meeting and taking pictures with every possible celebrity-looking person in the vicinity. In a normal situation this might be fairly harmless, but not on this night! I have no idea why exactly (honestly, I thought he may have been on the Knicks coaching staff, but a quick search proves that theory wrong), but Spud Webb was in the building last night. Being the fearless adventurer that he was, grandpa promptly got a picture with him. This normally would be enough star power for one evening, but that would be neglecting a certain former Knicks point guard turned Knicks announcer.
None other than Walt “Clyde” Frazier was standing about twenty feet away from us. Grandpa got a picture with him too.
Words and description can never to justice to the presence of Frazier in person. On this night he donned a flamingo pink three-button suit and held court with two gentlemen that were eating up each word he was so graceful to bless them with. Confidence, swagger, and poise sort of begin to illustrate what he’s like. Of any human being I’ve ever seen in person, Walt Frazier is the person who came off as being the most comfortable in his own skin. It’s remarkable to experience. For years I’ve heard stories about the way he used to own the city of New York and after seeing him briefly in person I totally get it. My biggest regret of the whole evening was not getting a picture with him. How to approach a man that reduces grown men to tears though?
But on to more important things…
Players quickly started leaking out of the locker room. Landry Fields was first and quickly met up with some friends sitting behind us. Steve Novak was next and he promptly sat down with three females about my age. I’m pretty sure I saw J.R. Smith after that, but I can’t be sure because that gentleman’s hood was blocking his face. And finally, there he was.
He moved quickly because he’s obviously starting to get used to people tracking his every move. He passed the section we sat in and motioned for two younger guys about fifteen feet away to come down and join him. They turned out to be friends of his from Harvard, one of whom played on the basketball team with him and one guy who played football. He then hurried back down and scanned the crowd again, presumably for us, or so I hoped. Did I mention that this whole time a photographer was following his every step from a distance no further than three feet while flashing pictures? Did I mention that almost everybody in the stands stood up and started to mob him the second he emerged from the tunnel? I feared this wasn’t going to end well for us.
Sensing the crowd coming and unable to find us, Jeremy simply turned to everyone and yelled “Jake.” Jake is the guy who hooked up the passes for us. Jake was sitting two chairs away from me. I told Jake, who was extremely nervous and reluctant to go down to Jeremy, that we better get our asses down there or else I was going to fight him, out of principle. Okay I made up the fighting comment, but please understand that there was simply no way this wasn’t happening for us. We grabbed our stuff and rushed down where Jeremy quickly arranged for us to get past security and come hang out in the tunnel. I was a real VIP for only the second time in my life. The rest of the crowd would have to wait outside and try to steal glances while we chilled with the most talked about NBA player alive right now.
And just like that I was being introduced to Jeremy Lin. We shook hands. We met his buddies from Harvard, and then old friends got to talking. It was like they were still in high school. Nothing had changed even though so much had changed. Being the outsider, I couldn’t help but stare and do my best to avoid ruining the moment. This was the same guy who had somehow surpassed the hype and coverage of Tim Tebow. This was the guy who is just weeks removed from dropping 38 points on none other than Kobe Bryant. And he stood right next to me in the circle. And he was, well, he was normal!
The details of that conversation will remain private but just know that during that time I was also introduced to Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert while getting the chance to say hey to Amar’e Stoudemire. Another quick aside, Stoudemire is the most uniquely put together human being I’ve ever seen in person. First of all, he’s jacked. He’s just sculpted of muscle and fine marble. Second, I’d wager to say he has about a 28 waist which is a couple sizes smaller than me, except that I’m 6-feet and he’s 7-feet tall. He is a remarkable specimen. Please try to see him in person. Also, he’s extremely well-dressed, a part of the persona I’ve heard he picked up when he agreed to sign with the Knicks last year. My jaw dropped to the floor as I muttered hey which probably sounded more like huhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhay than hey. Janitors were quickly called in to clean up my drool off the floor.
We were then asked to move further into the bowels of the arena because they were preparing the ice for hockey. We were no more than a few steps away from the locker room and players were everywhere.
And just as quickly as it started, the moment was over and Jeremy had to get on the team bus to catch their plane. They were headed to San Antonio for a game with the Spurs this very evening. We said our goodbyes and kind of stumbled out of the stadium in a state of drunken happiness.
Did that really just happen?
My fiancee and I said maybe ten words to each other the entire ride home, which took nearly half an hour to complete. It was one of those kind of moments. You just savor the once-in-a-lifetimeness of it all and nothing else need be talked about. All of that silence led to a bunch of thinking though.
Sports dork alert!
In anticipation of last night, I had gone through what my dream scenario was at least 1,000 times. It somehow started with him wanting to talk only to me, finding out I was a blogger, and agreeing to a one-on-one exclusive where I wrote the definitive Jeremy Lin piece of our times. Selfish and immature, I know. If things didn’t go like that, I also knew exactly the one question I wanted to ask him, if given the opportunity (why don’t the Knicks run more pick-and-rolls between Carmelo and Amar’e on the weak side?). I also made sure to heavily analyze the in-game stats to let him know what I thought went wrong, should he ask (the Knicks were awful from the free throw line and the Mavs got more foul calls, all the other stats were eerily similar). These are the kind of perverted thoughts of a person who is way too obsessed with basketball. I apologize if I offended you.
Obviously none of that went down when it played out in real life though. I have nothing to offer you in the way of proof that any of this all actually happened either. That is unless you want to see a grainy iPhone picture of our passes. But it happened.
Three friends from high school following completely different paths in life met in one place last night. Jake will likely head back to school next year for bigger and better things. My fiancee is getting married to me this September. Jeremy, well, who knows with Jeremy. His potential seems limitless at this point. He very well could go down as the most marketed athlete of all-time due to his appeal to the basketball-crazy Asian countries. I got to meet him at an incredibly unique point of time. He’s just famous enough to have left me completely dumbstruck, but he’s not quite removed enough from his humble beginnings to have taken it all in yet. It seemed to me like he was still exhausted from learning to deal with taking it all in.
That will change though. Inevitably I think every celebrity/athlete learns to deal with the constant attention at some point in his life. It comes with the territory. At some point he’ll be able to walk through 10,000 people without thinking twice about it. But on this night he was still just plain Jeremy who just so happened to be the starting point guard of the New York Knicks.
For those ten minutes the roads of those indivudals crossed and I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of it. What are the odds that those set of events ever take place again? I found myself trying to imagine what it must like to fly to a different city every night to play basketball at the highest level. I wondered what it would be like to have your every move dissected, analyzed, and criticized by the sporting public. I tried to picture what it would be like to have meet new faces in every town, all of whom are likely attempting to get something from you. It would be thrilling sure, but at some point it would have to wear on you.
And this naturally progressed to a reflection of my own life. I’ll likely tell everyone I meet in the next ten years about the time I met Jeremy Lin and hung out with him at American Airlines Center. He will probably forget it ever happened. I’m getting married this year. I plan to start a family soon. I will face many other life-altering decisions in the very near future as well. Jeremy will probably sign long-term with the Knicks this off season. Jeremy will probably then go to the playoffs where the Knicks have the potential to upset the Heat or Bulls. Jeremy will then likely head to China for a barnstorming tour the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Beatles first came to America.
I really don’t know if it’s possible to follow where I’m going with all of this anymore, so I’ll end it with the following thought. Life is a beautiful, funny, crazy thing. My life intersected with the life of a very famous individual last night and then it was over. For one party it was extremely memorable, for another it was inconsequential. And I guess what I really mean to say is that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We’ve said this once and it’s worth repeating: it is so damn cool to have a president who is a knowledgeable sports fan, regardless of your politics.
Topics discussed include Jeremy Lin and Peyton Manning.
Brian Windhorst says the Heat made it a point to not let Lin have a good game – [ESPN]
Linda Robertson says the Heat’s ferocious defense was too much for Lin – [Miami Herald]
People reports that Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow have had conversations in the past couple weeks – [People]
Bomani Jones says the onus is on Mike D’Antoni and Jeremy Lin to find a way to make Carmelo shine – [SB Nation]
Ian Thomsen has a great recap of last night’s game – [Sports Illustrated]
Sebastian Pruiti has a great technical breakdown of how to guard the Knicks pick-and-roll with Lin – [Grantland]
Today’s tabloid covers weren’t kind to Jeremy – [NY Daily News & NY Post courtesy Jimmy Traina]
Barry Petchesky hints that the Heat’s defense might be an all-time great collection of talent – [Deadspin]
Mike Vaccaro unearths the nugget of the year from Udonis Haslem explaining how Lin actually had a prayer answered (MUST-READ) – [New York Post]
This writer says the explanation of the fired ESPN headline writer is selfish and manipulative – [Kissing Suzy Kolber]
Wired explains why Jeremy Lin is so popular among nerds and geeks [Wired]
Nike re-negotiated Lin’s deal and you can expect him to be heavily marketed in the coming year, especially in Asia – [New York Daily News]
Joseph Goodman has a preview of tonight’s much anticipated Knicks-Heat matchup – [Miami Herald]
Beckley Mason describes an interesting phenomenon arising in pickup basketball games and what it means in a broader context – [Hoopspeak]