Jeremy Lin knew it was over almost immediately. After tumbling to the floor following a routine layup in the fourth quarter of the Nets’ season-opener against Indiana, Lin reached for his right knee, mouth agape. He stared at his leg, almost as if stunned by its existence, before mouthing “I’m done. I’m done. I’m done,” and wincing in pain. It’s another haunting image that’s hard to forget, not long enough removed from the one of Gordon Hayward in Cleveland.
The Nets confirmed the worst on Thursday: Lin ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season.
The news is a huge blow to a Nets team scrapping for respectability, but it’s obviously an even bigger one to Lin and his career. After shuffling through five teams in his first six seasons in the league (not counting the then-D-League and overseas), Lin seemed to find a perfect fit in Brooklyn. He was back in New York and back with coach Kenny Atkinson, one of the key assistants during the rise of “Linsanity,” but far enough removed from Madison Square Garden to avoid the expectations and pressures that would have surely come with playing there again full-time. After thriving in a sixth-man and secondary-creator role in Charlotte, Lin finally had another shot at running his own team.
But injuries limited the combo guard to just 36 games last season. This summer, the Nets obtained D’Angelo Russell, a player who could share the starting backcourt with Lin but also one young enough and talented enough to take away the shine of any possible big emergence by a 29-year-old Lin. And now this.
All injuries are terrible. But there’s something particularly cruel about this one. In a league where the best team almost always wins the title and the best player more often than not wins the MVP, the rise of Linsanity felt almost magical. It was a schmaltzy made-for-TV-movie plot that felt too pure and joyful to tear down with cynicism. (The toxic MSG culture would see to that anyway.) Injuries depriving Lin of a chance to course-correct his New York story almost feels like the world is denying us the triumphant bookend we all want. Maybe we can’t have nice things.