Jeremy Lin is back where he started. Nearly a decade after beginning his pro career fighting for the final roster spot on the Golden State Warriors, he spurned millions of dollars overseas for one last chance at prolonging an NBA career, signing with the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors. Through four games in the G League bubble, Lin, 32, is averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 assists.
His current circumstance is a far cry from February 2012, when “Linsanity” took the NBA by storm, leading the injured New York Knicks on a seven-game win streak. But after falling out of the league following a ruptured patellar tendon in 2017 and a title run with the Raptors in 2019, a stint with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association helped spark a spiritual journey, fueled by “intense” therapy sessions, and a new outlook on the game. Last week, Lin chatted with The Ringer about finding peace, Linsanity, and his journey back to the NBA. (This interview was edited for clarity.)
What’s the transition been like for you to go from the NBA, to the CBA, to coming right back to the first organization you were with, with the Warriors?
One, it makes me feel old. But it makes me feel grateful just because it does feel very much like it’s full-circle and they gave me my first shot to play in the NBA. Now they’re giving me a shot to be able to get back into the NBA. So a lot of hometown love for sure.
What made you come back to the G League? Why when you could have made so much money back overseas, or going back to China, did you come back here?
I’ve always felt like I’m an NBA player and I went through two straight years of injury, and that is something that I’m still trying to recover from. But I feel like I have the ability to do that. So I really hope that that happens. But I also knew that I wouldn’t even have a chance to do that if I didn’t come here to the G League. If I went back to the CBA it wouldn’t have happened.
What’s the atmosphere been like so far?
Excitement. I think people are excited. I think it’s hungry. That’s the best word I can use to describe it, is people are hungry. You see people taking care of their bodies, watching film, getting in the ice bath, doing pool recovery. Because you see all the teams, you see all the players. It’s a single site, so there’s only one pool and everyone’s using it. All the ice baths are set up around the pools too. You walk into the cafeteria and you see people all along the couches on the walk there watching film. I said this the other day, I was like, “No one comes to the G League without passion. Everyone who is here has passion.”
I’m from The Bay, but when you came on my radar it was during the height of “Linsanity.” I know you were ready on the court, but do you think you were ready for everything that came with it?
No, absolutely not. I wasn’t ready professionally either. I was good enough to maybe play and compete at the NBA level, but was I ready professionally even for everything that came? No, I wasn’t. I was not ready in either way. I don’t think there’s anything that would prepare you for something like that.
But it was definitely one of the most amazing experiences in my life, for sure, without a doubt. Also, one of the biggest seasons of learning as well, and just baptism by fire.
What was that like during that run, when you’re balling out in the game in Toronto? Then that night when you played at Madison Square Garden when it all came to a head against Kobe, what was that stretch like for you personally? Was it a whirlwind? How did you stay focused enough to play as well as you did during that stretch?
I think God was just using me. I don’t say that lightly. I’m not saying that like the token thing, or the default thing. I was literally doing things that felt like it was almost [like an] out-of-body experience. I was doing moves that you’ve never seen me do since then. At the same time, I was at a place where I was just free and just—I didn’t know what to expect. The expectations of others weren’t crushing me. I wasn’t fully scouted yet. There was just so much purity in that moment of what was happening. It flew by. That’s one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t soak it in and soak it in more. Because everything happened so fast and I was always so focused on the next goal, or the next game, or the next season. That’s one of my biggest regrets when I say I wasn’t ready for it personally. I wish I had slowed down and just cherished it.
When you think about New York, how do you feel like you would have handled that if you stayed? How tough was it not to be able to stay when everyone’s saying, “Hey, Jeremy’s our starting point guard”?
Yeah. I don’t know how it would have turned out to be honest. That’s one of the big “What if’s,” right? I’ll never know the answer to that question, but I’m also comfortable not having the answer to that question. When I was younger I wasn’t comfortable with it, but at this point it’s like, “Hey, that was a special time. New York will always have a special place in my heart.” I played and got to experience something so special in terms of the fans, the connection to the fans. Even now when I go to New York, it’s like the way that they talk about it, it’s just they’re so passionate, and they’re so grateful. Because of that, I’m so grateful to them.
That’s just something where whatever happened after ... We don’t have to get into the specifics, but it was difficult. But I think ultimately I truly believe God has a perfect plan, and I feel like that’s what I needed. That’s what is helping me become the person I am today. Not just a basketball player, because life is going to go on past my career. It’s like, how do I grow as a person as well, to be able to develop certain skills or to be able to develop certain perspectives. That was one of the ways, or one of the moments that was like really heartbreaking, but really, really, crucial in terms of teaching me.
What’s your relationship with the word “Linsanity”?
I’m fine with it now. I used to hide from it because I didn’t want to be known for a stretch of time. I didn’t want to be called this phenomenon. I didn’t want anything to do with any Lin puns. I didn’t want the reminder of how much success I had in that moment and where I might have felt like I had dropped from. But now I embrace it. I’m just like, “Man, that was so special.” Being back in the G League I’m like, “Man, that really was ridiculous.”
Being back in the G League it’s like, imagine if one of these guys went from here and then the next thing they’re literally the most Googled and popular person on the planet within, like a span of three weeks. They were on the Time 100 lists and winning ESPY’s. It’s like, everything that God gave me I don’t do it ... I don’t think back and think “Oh, look at me, look at how amazing I was.” I think back and just want to give God the glory. It’s just like, “Man, that was so incredible.” Me being all the way back here now really even solidifies that even more.
That’s interesting that you say that. How did, how did you get to that point of where you were like, you were comfortable with it?
I think anybody who has that type of overnight fame, or instant fame, or anything like that where they’re like changes in such a short amount of time—I feel like everybody kind of goes through a similar process. That’s why for me, I always referenced back to [Justin] Bieber because I feel like you could kind of see it in his life. The way that he experienced it is very similar to kind of how I felt. Where in the beginning you’re really, really happy because you’re like, “This is crazy. I’m succeeding beyond what I ever could dream of.” You go from happiness to like, “Is this it?” This feeling of emptiness.
You’re like, “With all this success I thought it would be everything I ever needed.” You realize it’s not because you set new goals, and ultimately your heart is still empty. That success isn’t going to make you feel you’ll never need anything forever. It’s not going to forever fulfill you. So there’s an emptiness. Then I feel like from the emptiness there comes this point where you’re just scared, and everything’s changing around you. People are changing and people want stuff from you. You’re dealing with the ugly side, and the greedy and selfish side of human nature, and you’re scared. Then you go from scared to jaded. Then you go from jaded to acting out and just rebellious.
Then from the rebellion, you come to a place of like, “OK, I’ve rebelled, I’ve rebelled, I’ve rebelled.” Then you slowly start to get humbled. As things happen, whether it’s you lose some of the success, or maybe time goes on, or whatever it is, you get humbled. As you start to get humbled you begin to accept what happened and everything that came with it. Then the final step to me is the embrace. That’s how I would describe anybody who has gone through it, whether it’s [Johnny] Manziel, or [Tim] Tebow, or Bieber, or a lot of these players who came into fame really quickly. You can see this happening, when they try to say, “OK, no, I’m going to embrace it. Now I’m going to try to use my platform, my influence in the right way to see those types of things happening.”
When did you get that humbling? When did you finally feel comfortable?
I think for me I really felt that more and more towards my Brooklyn and Atlanta years. Because I feel like during those times I was hurt, the game was taken away. There’s a lot of things that came with it. Even last year with COVID in 2020, I started to appreciate it even more like, man, what [Linsanity] meant for Asian Americans, or Asians, or what that meant for minorities, or what that meant for the underdogs. That continued to really challenge my perspective as well. I would say within the last four or five years I stopped trying to run from it. I was like, “No, that’s an amazing time. I shouldn’t look back and be scared. Or I shouldn’t look back and cringe.” God did something so amazing through me, and it touched a lot of people. Now I have a platform and a story that I can share forever to show, man, God still does miracles.
I covered the Warriors, and when you were playing for Toronto, I was struck by when you defended Carmelo Anthony after you got a title. What made you do that? Because you could have taken the low road, you could have not taken a road at all.
Because I don’t have hard feelings and Melo is somebody who gave his heart and soul to [New York]. I’ve always said this. I’ve always said me and Melo have never had any direct conflict. He’s never yelled at me. I’ve never yelled at him. He was never upset directly at me, or spoke to me about any of that stuff. To be honest again, I don’t know the full story. To this day I don’t know what happened, and it’s all conjecture and speculation. But to me it doesn’t matter anymore. That was my teammate, he’s a basketball player. He loves the game, he’s a Hall of Famer. I got to be his teammate for however long, however short. At the end of the day our careers are going to come, and they’re going to go, and we’re going to have a time on this earth to live. Then we lose our time.
I don’t think either of us would want to have any bitterness or whatever about anything that happened such a long time ago. It was just an amazing moment. Even when he talks about his time in New York, he still loves the fans and cherishes it. Why wouldn’t you want that for somebody? I cherished and loved my time in New York and I think just for us to be able to... I mean, we’re just two humans, and we’re both imperfect, and we both are just doing the best that we can. So look, I’m not at a stage in my life where I’m trying to hold a grudge towards anybody about anything. That’s just truly where I’m at.
That’s dope, man. What do you want your legacy to be now? What do you want these next five years to look like for you?
Man, the next five years what I really want to do is, I want to be known as somebody who not just played the game of basketball, somebody who lived for God. I just want to be known as somebody who lived for God. That means a lot of things. Right? People say that a lot, but what does that mean? That means a lot of things from the way you play the game, right? The way that I play the game, I want to be known for somebody who played for the team, who played with joy, and who played free. Because God gave me a gift and I was able to just live, and play, and use it. If you talk about off the court, it’s how you treated your teammates, coaches, opponents, fans, what you did with your impact, what you did with your voice. What you did with your social media. How are you affecting the world?
I want to be known as somebody who made a kingdom impact. Whether it’s philanthropy, or social justice, or those types of things. So in a nutshell is I want to be known as somebody who lived and played for God. But what that looks like actually, there’s so many layers of nuance to it. That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to inspire other people to do. Whether it’s philanthropy, whether it’s my faith, or whether it’s blazing a trail for the next Asian or Asian American that comes along, these are all things that are near and dear to my heart.
This might be a personal question, but how did you get to this space where you’ve been through a lot, and now you’ve been able to overcome not holding these grudges? Or not holding these things against these certain people?
It’s super simple and I’m going to hit you with the most default churchy answer. But it’s truly why. Like I said, like in recent interviews, I went to therapy, and I got a mental coach, and I’ve talked through a lot of my past traumas. A lot of it was down to just Jesus’s sacrifice and the cross. Anything that someone could have done to me, I’ve done so much worse to Jesus. For him to die on the cross and give his life up for me. That’s like being given $1 million and then somebody wronged you and owes you $5 and you’re like, “You better give me those $5.” Even though somebody just walked down the street and gave you $1 million or $1 billion. It’s like, dude, that’s why.
So I don’t care. I don’t even know if [Melo] wronged me. I still don’t know. I don’t know the story. Other people wronged me. I’ve called people who I felt wronged me this past summer. I explained to them and I said, “Look, it’s cool, man. I moved past it.” It is because of the cross. It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus, that’s what it means to me. That’s that house money analogy of man, I’ve been given grace and forgiveness. So who am I that I couldn’t give it to somebody else when I’ve done way worse?
Who did you call?
I mean that’s something I’m not going to get into because a lot of these stories aren’t public.
There are many people that I felt like said certain things to me, but did otherwise, or stuff like that. People that I was hurt by and stuff like that. It felt great just to be able to do that. It was actually met with a great response from people. Some of the people that I reached out to never got back to me and that’s OK, because I tried. I tried to reach out and in my mind, whether or not we had a conversation, in my mind it’s already done and buried. I’m done, I have no ill will. I’ve already moved on even though I never got to have the conversation, but I tried. That’s what I’m happy about.
Was that the big breakthrough that made you realize “I need to reach out to these people”? What was the big breakthrough that led you to seek out therapy? What did you find out about yourself through therapy?
Just that maybe for me I had ... a lot of my past experiences had brought some trauma and affected the way that I was thinking and the way that I was playing. So I was being crippled and chained by fear. I was afraid to dream big, I was afraid to shoot for the stars. I struggled a lot with anxiety before games and stuff like that. I was playing not to lose, versus playing to win. I was hoping things would work out, versus knowing and believing that things would work out. I just lost my mentality and my mindset. That’s what I learned in China. Really part of the breakthrough was, yeah, letting go of my past.
Were you scared? Because I deal with that too. It’s like you don’t really realize how good you can be. What were you scared of?
Last year in the CBA, I was just scared like, “Oh, shoot. It’s coming down to the wire. I hope it doesn’t come down to the last [shot] because what happens if I miss it?” Or secretly hoping the coach doesn’t put me in at the very end, because then it’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to be the one that blows it.” I’m like, “Man, where did this person come from? What’s going on?” Or even just hoping to stay healthy versus like, “Oh, my body’s great. I put in the work, I’m going to trust it.” All these different things, all these different fears that I was wrestling with. I just didn’t recognize myself at times.
Do you feel like it’s changed now? Do you feel more assertive now that you have this mindset? Do you feel different now?
Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, that’s part of the reason why I want to go for the NBA, and that’s part of the appeal of it was that “Look man, like I’m recovered from my injuries and I’m in a different place mentally, so why not? Let’s try it.” That’s where I’m at. So I’m kind of just like, “Look, I want to make the most of this and I want to enjoy it.” So, I’m hoping that—obviously, there’s other goals—but I’m hoping that one of the things I do most is I get a career high in smiles. That’s what I want to do, man.