Nine years after igniting “Linsanity” as a member of the New York Knicks, Jeremy Lin is suiting up in the NBA’s minor league in an effort to prove he’s still got what it takes to return to basketball’s biggest stage.
In late September, the 32-year-old point guard declined an offer to play a second season for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks in order to join the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G League bubble in Orlando, Florida.
The G League season opens on Wednesday, with each of the 18 teams playing 15 games in 25 days. Under this year’s format, there are no conferences or divisions, and no team plays an opponent more than once. The top eight will qualify for a single-elimination playoff, culminating with the championship game on March 11.
In the season-opener, Lin will lead Santa Cruz against Ignite, a team of elite draft-eligible players coached by former NBA player Brian Shaw, with the game televised in the US on ESPN2.
Speaking Mandarin in a video message posted on his Weibo account in September, Lin said the decision not to return to the Ducks reflected his desire to work his way back to the NBA.
“I’ve decided not to come back to Beijing, which was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life,” said Lin, who joined the Ducks on a reported $3-million, one-year contract in 2019, just weeks after leaving the Toronto Raptors, with whom he became the first Asian-American to win an NBA championship.
“I’ve spent the past four weeks almost sleeplessly to consider my future and I’ve realized that my dream to continue my career in the NBA is still alive.
“I feel I still have a career ahead of me to play at the highest level, so I have to go after it.
“The Ducks organization has been nothing but kind to me, and I appreciate very much the support of my teammates, the coaching staff and most importantly the Chinese fans.”
During a media conference call last week, Lin said he talked to the Golden State Warriors during the offseason in hopes of landing a training camp invite, and while that didn’t happen, it ramped up his determination to make a G League comeback.
“I talked to multiple teams, trying to get a non-guaranteed camp invite just to show people who I am as a player, but I think there were questions about my health and other things,” Lin said.
“I’ve been healthy for two straight seasons, so I wanted to be able to ride that momentum and show people, but I wasn’t able to get a training camp invite. The G League bubble was the next step, the next chance to be able to show people.”
Lin, whose parents hail from Taiwan, is famous for “Linsanity”, a sensational nine-game stretch with the New York Knicks in February 2012, when he came out of nowhere to average 25 points and nearly 10 assists per game.
He parlayed that success into a four-year, $28.8 million free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets the following season, and in 2016 signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets.
In the 2016-17 season he was plagued by a nagging hamstring issue. Then back tightness. Then an ankle injury. In the 2017-18 season opener, he tore a tendon in his right knee, which sidelined him for the rest of the campaign.
“I suffered two straight years of injury in Brooklyn. I came back after that and had a good first half of the season and showed I could play some,” Lin said. “Then in Toronto, I didn’t have a great 12 games and after that, I haven’t been able to get in a look in the NBA since.
“The G League is my best option to show people I can still compete.”