New Charlotte guard Jeremy Lin will be a backup for the Hornets, but he remains one of the NBA’s most recognizable players. Lin’s Asian-American heritage and dynamic game earned him back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers in 2012 when he was with the New York Knicks.
Since then, stints with Houston and the L.A. Lakers have been far less successful. Lin joins the Hornets on a two-year contract – the second year will be a player option – determined to show he still can be a force in the NBA. I asked him five questions.
Q. You just turned 27, and you have mentioned that the last three years haven’t been easy for you in the NBA. What makes you think Charlotte will be different?
A. I’m optimistic because I think I’ve put in the work and I’m a better player. I also think Coach (Steve Clifford) understands my game at a different level and hopefully will empower me to do the different things that I feel like I’m capable of doing. It’s on me to perform, wherever the coach likes me or not. But having that open communication is really important.
As for Charlotte, it’s definitely different from every other city where I’ve lived. It has just been a lot more laid back out here and I just go about my business. Everybody’s very, very, very polite.
Q. What are the main misperceptions about the way you play basketball and what have you been working on in your game this summer?
A. A lot of that kind of goes back to New York and some of the perceptions formed there. One was defense. People are like, ‘Oh, he’s a terrible defender.’
But honestly, if you really dig into the numbers, if you look at my isolation defense numbers, you will see me leading all point guards in blocks per 48 minutes. People think, ‘Oh man, he’s not that athletic.’ To me, people just see me being Asian and they think a certain thing. That’s not all of it, but that’s part of the story.
Three-point shooting? That’s another one. They say, ‘He can’t shoot,’ but look at the numbers. And I can go to my left, too. Turnovers – that’s another one. None of this is isolated to me. You see a lot of guys in the NBA that it happens to. Blake Griffin. Dwight Howard. They get better at certain things, but there are still all these old misperceptions about their game.
As for what I’ve been working on this summer – ball-handling, a lot of defense, a lot of shooting and a lot of floaters. On my shot, I tweaked the shooting form, lowering the release point slightly. As for the floater, you don’t have to take as much of a beating when you shoot it, and against elite shot-blockers it gives you another option.
Q. What will it be like for you to go to China with the Hornets in October and how are you perceived there?
A. This will be third time I’ve been there in four months. I’m really thankful for the fans out there. They are very enthusiastic. They will come to the airport. Our flight got delayed until 4 in the morning on one of my recent trips and a group of them still waited out there.
It’s preseason, so it’s not really about winning – more about staying healthy, seeing what lineups are going to work and saying ‘Thank you’ to the fans.
Q. You have made a number of comedic videos that have received millions of views, including one this summer where you wore a disguise and pretended to be a personal trainer and several about the NBA. Why do you make those videos and what do you think are your best ones?
A. My friends and family see me off the court and off camera and I’m always goofing around, joking, making fun of people. They were like, ‘Why don’t you ever show this side to the rest of the world?’
So I’ve done 1-2 of these a year for the last four or five years. The most popular one was ‘How To Get Into Harvard’ (a nerdy-looking Lin offers tips like ‘get glasses’), along with the video of ‘You’ve Changed, Bro.’ Pretending to be a personal trainer was a really fun one, too – I kept worrying about getting recognized.
Q. Is your hair sticking straight up because you want to appear taller?
A. Yeah, this hair is making me a solid 6-foot-6 right now. I can barely get it to stick up this high when it’s so long, but it’s just something I’m doing. It’s a lot of hair gel – more than I want to use, really. It’s a work in progress.