After Knicks guard Jeremy Lin’s step back 3-pointer over Dirk Nowitzki found the bottom of the net Saturday afternoon, die-hard Knicks fan Spike Lee leaped out of his seat as his team went up by nine in what would be an eventual New York victory over the Dallas Mavericks. However, the Brooklyn film director was not wearing his usual No. 6 Knicks jersey. Instead, the camera showed Lee sporting a Harvard Crimson jersey with the No. 4 on the back.
With Lin’s recent NBA successes resounding throughout the basketball community, the point guard’s time playing Ivy League basketball has essentially fallen by the wayside for most fans of the sport. Although Lin led the Crimson to a 21-8 season during his senior year, while scoring 16.4 points and dishing out 4.5 assists per game, his name went largely unrecognized.
“While Lin was here, he was just a regular guy,” said Harvard Crimson sports chair Martin Kessler. “It’s crazy to think that now he’s blown up so much, but two years ago if he’s walking down the street, people didn’t think twice about it.”
Crimson fans felt that Lin’s senior year would be their chance at an Ivy League title and a first ever NCAA bid.
“[Lin’s] senior year was when basketball became super popular here because there was hope that Harvard could compete,” Kessler said.
However, the Red shattered those dreams by winning the Ivy League title with an 11-3 conference record and eventually making it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.
When Harvard came to Newman for the first meeting with the Red that season, it was thought to be the beginning of a serious rivalry, according to Kessler. But Cornell came away with a decisive 86-50 victory, outscoring the Crimson by 22 points in the second half.
“To be honest, I wasn’t super impressed with [Lin’s] game,” said senior point guard and co-captain Chris Wroblewski. “We paid a lot of attention to him when we were scouting them, knowing their offense ran through him, but we played them at home and ended up beating them by 36.”
Though Lin put up a game-high 19 points, he only handed out one assist, and no one else on his team cracked double digits. The Red had five players in double figures, including Wroblewski, who scored 13 points and recorded four assists.
“I didn’t think he was a true point guard and he wasn’t a knock down shooter,” Wroblewski said. “But obviously he has improved so much in both regards.”
The ability to keep Lin in check and limit the touches of his supporting players helped the Red claim the Ivy League title that year. Wroblewski, who started both of those games as a sophomore, was assigned the task of guarding Lin.
“It’s different with college and NBA defense,” Wroblewski said. “I always had a lot of help, we had five guys always devoted to knowing where he was on the floor, whereas in the NBA the defense is more relaxed. But it’s cool to watch him scoring on those guys now.”
In his last 10 professional games, nine of which he started, Lin is averaging 24.6 points and 9.2 assists per game. He has outscored NBA legends such as Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd in the Knick’s 8-2 run in February.
As Lin grows accustomed to what looks to be a fairly permanent role in New York, it should not be forgotten that he began to make a name for himself in Boston, where a heated city rivalry stands rooted in time. While New York fans have quickly grown to love Lin, some Boston fans are still happy to see him succeed even if it is in their rival city.
“Everybody is becoming Knicks fans,” Kessler said, despite being a die-hard Boston Celtics fan for all his life. “It’s sort of hard not to root for the Knicks because they’ve struggled so much lately, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.”
However, even though Boston fans are able to root for Lin while he plays in New York, there are still signs of the bitter rivalry, according to Kessler.
“I think if Lin were a baseball player coming out of Harvard who was playing for the Yankees, things would be a little different,” he said. “Boston fans wouldn’t be as accepting then.”
No matter what city Lin’s success comes in now, the image he has created for Ivy League basketball in general is a lasting one. Coupled with the Red’s run to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago and the Crimson’s Top-25 ranking for the first time in school history this year, the story of an Ivy League basketball player turned NBA star is helping to improve public perception of Ivy League basketball.
“I’m kind of biased because I’m not out of the Ivy world yet and I don’t have an outside perspective,” Wroblewski said. “But I think it’s great in terms of gaining respect for the Ivy League and I hope it gives guys like [Jeff Foote ’10] a chance at an NBA team as well.”
Kessler agreed, saying that Lin’s achievements in the NBA would be a definite selling point during recruitment for head coach Tommy Amaker, who has a signed Lin jersey hanging in his office.
“Cornell’s run to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago, Lin’s success now, all these things are legitimizing Ivy League basketball,” Kessler said.