x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Jeremy Lin's magical mystery tour to the top

More questions than answers surround the point guard's journey from unknown to a $25m contract with the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Jeremy Lin has joined the Houston Rockets from the New York Knicks on a $25m contract. Aaron Vincent Elkaim / AP Photo
Jeremy Lin has joined the Houston Rockets from the New York Knicks on a $25m contract. Aaron Vincent Elkaim / AP Photo

Last winter a basketball nut, a Mr Barack Obama of Washington, raised the most beguiling mystery in the global saga of the Taiwanese-American player Jeremy Lin.

If Lin could soar for that shocking stretch last NBA winter in New York, Obama wondered in an interview, how could such prowess go undetected for years in practices?

For all the typing and uttering about Lin ever since, even as he loudly moved to Houston on Tuesday for a three-year contract of US$25 million (Dh92 million), that question never has found sufficient answer. And maybe it shouldn't.

Maybe this rarefied story gives us something we have lacked, this idea of somebody lurching from the lost-and-found to reverberate from New York to Taipei and into China and now to Houston, the same club that once starred Yao Ming, with New York radio caterwauling over the Knicks letting him go.

Maybe the mystery itself is a gift. Sometimes mystery seems dead. Sport has grown so analysed and so scouted in a world so interconnected that we are often shorn of secrets. So here came one guy hiding semi-famously, known mostly to hopeful Asian-American fans while possessing the capability to score 38 against the Los Angeles Lakers or 25 with 14 assists against the Dallas Mavericks.

It is enchanting beyond enchanting, and as the story reached another crescendo on Tuesday, it is delicious to look back across the ignored path of a likeable 23-year-old point guard.

Of course, he went undrafted out of Harvard. In the summer of 2010, the Golden State Warriors hired him based partly on a summer-league star turn, reaping some publicity. From November to April, he appeared in 29 of 82 games, in cameos, scoring 2.6 points per game.

Thrice they shipped him to the NBA Development League for action. There, he played for the Reno Bighorns, and if you have never heard of them, well, neither have most Americans. He excelled with the Bighorns, but the Bighorns are not quite big league.

In September 2011, with the NBA in lockout, Lin played at a club championship in Guangzhou in China, winning Most Valuable Player. He reportedly pondered Europe. He had his vagabond December.

On December 9, Golden State waived him, saving $800,000 due him come February.

On December 12, the Houston Rockets claimed him, and maybe now he can make a little career tour of all the places that relinquished him.

On December 24, after a scintillating 12 days featuring two appearances in the waste of electricity known as pre-season games, Houston waived him.

One Houston player told Marc J Spears of Yahoo! Sports that he does not even remember Lin from then. On December 27, the New York Knicks claimed him. He played one minute on December 28, two on December 29, a whopping four on December 31, zero in nine different games during January, briefly in five others.

Back in the Development League on January 20, he scored 28 points with 11 rebounds and 12 assists for the Erie Bay Hawks against the Maine Red Claws, and if you have never heard of those …

Then, of course, boom. A starting role out of a coach's desperation for a sagging team with an aching roster. An 11-game run so dazzling that it wrought a term - "Linsanity" - and a boom in jersey sales and magazine covers. A logical sense that racism undeniably had figured in prior assessments of Lin.

Then, a one-for-11 stifling from the Miami Heat. A return from injury of the New York star Carmelo Anthony. A more measured prowess, an injury to Lin, and season's end after 25 games.

Now, all manner of delectable bounty for the long overlooked. A Houston offer. A New York mull. A report of hurt feelings in the New York organisation over Lin's hiring a publicist. (Well, boo hoo.) A New York retreat. A Houston restart, and more questions and mysteries:

What was that thing last February - a blip, a comet trip? Has the league solved him? Can he be consistently good over time? Didn't Houston overspend? And, still: why didn't anyone among a long sequence of basketball coaches and experts spot such capability?

Maybe if we never really know, it helps sustain the wonder.

cculpepper@thenational.ae