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Ryan Fitzpatrick—the Bills' starting quarterback and, until this month, Harvard's most prominent pro athlete—can relate. "Jeremy's cult following has reached unfathomable levels," Fitzpatrick, 29, says. "I am no longer the guy that went to Harvard. I am now the guy that went to school with Jeremy Lin." No matter that Fitzpatrick doesn't actually know Lin and never overlapped with him in Cambridge. The same applies for actor James Franco (Palo Alto High, '96), a Lin fan who received a cellphone photo of Spike Lee wearing their high school jersey from a classmate who attended last Friday's Knicks game. "It's pretty surreal," Franco says.
So who can blame Lin's former classmate at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School for trying to post a Lin-signed yearbook ("Thanks for being my friend. Have a wonderful summer") on eBay for $4,800? Or the guy selling the autographed Lin rookie card for $1,200? Or the two people—one a stranger, another a self-described former volunteer assistant coach at Palo Alto High—who filed a trademark application for Linsanity? Is anyone surprised that everyone is trying to get a piece? Says Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education and a Harvard forward in the mid-'80s, "I told Jeremy, 'No new friends.' Stick with the people who stuck with you when you got cut."
But there is one exception to Duncan's rule. These Knicks knew scarcely anything about Lin when he arrived on their doorstep on Dec. 27 after being waived twice and sent to the NBA's Developmental League three times. Yes, star forward Amar'e Stoudemire had stood next to Lin for a photo taken at an NBA China reception in Los Angeles a year ago; and shooting guard Landry Fields had played for Stanford in a 111--56 victory over Harvard in '07; and, well, that's more or less it. But at this point, the team—let alone coach Mike D'Antoni, whose continued employment is now plausible—is loath to imagine Teramo's gain at New York's expense. (The lockout's end on Nov. 26 ultimately rendered an Italian contract moot.)
"Every player's dream is to play with a point guard whose eyes are up, and that's the way Jeremy is," says sharpshooting forward Steve Novak. "When there's a guy who plays like that, it's contagious. When he's looking and finding, finding, finding—if you get the ball and you don't have a great shot, you're giving it to somebody else because you know it's coming back to you the next play. You know you don't have to force anything."
This is yet another form of Lin's wealth creation: Before the point guard cracked the starting lineup, Novak hadn't scored in the double digits this season. Since then, he has averaged 12.3 points through Sunday on 45.5% shooting from beyond the arc. Similarly, Fields and 7'1" center Tyson Chandler are both on perpetual alley-oop watch. (Asked how many lobs Lin threw in college, senior Crimson point guard Oliver McNally responded, "Dude ... I can't think of one.") "Tyson's so eager and such a humble guy, and Landry's the exact same way," says Lin, unfailingly deferent. "We're all out there together, buying in."
Yet even in college, Blakeney saw four skills that prompted him to tell Lin as a sophomore that he had NBA potential: his ability to burst forward then suddenly come to a total stop; his expertise in splitting defenses and reading seams "like a running back"; his knack—à la Steve Nash—for getting anywhere he wanted with his dribble; and his acumen in the pick-and-roll. The Harvard staff would have Lin study tape of Jazz great John Stockton running the play, and counting practice, workouts and games, Blakeney estimates, Lin probably used more than 3,000 ball screens in three years.
"Lin, because of the threat of the pass, has made that whole team better," says Frank Layden, who drafted and coached Stockton in Utah. "It's a gift. You wonder, Is Lin another Jerry West? Because he's getting numbers that guys don't get until they've played in this league for a long, long time."
A year ago last week, a starstruck Lin, wearing a black sweater and blue tie, was happily posing with retired NBA players such as Sam Perkins and A.C. Green in Los Angeles. Lin had finagled a gig working All-Star weekend as a support staffer at the skills challenge, and he also got to attend the slam dunk contest and the game itself. This time around? Lin still isn't an All-Star. But he'll assist fellow New York guard Iman Shumpert during the slam dunk contest and play in the Rising Stars Challenge, thus serving as an inevitable if unwilling sun in Orlando's All-Star firmament. For a kid whose childhood bedroom in Palo Alto was plastered with posters of NBA players in action—a soaring Latrell Sprewell in a Warriors uniform, in a silver frame, hung prominently—it's just the latest surreal step. These days, Blakeney happily concedes, no matter where you are on earth, it's almost impossible not to appreciate Lin's game.
"The measure of this man goes way beyond the number of points scored and assists made," says Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, a basketball fan who is the only Asian athlete whose star may still eclipse Lin's. "He is a shining beacon for so many people." To wit: On Feb. 16, the day after beating the Kings, Lin and Fields showed up at Del Frisco's, a pricey Manhattan steak house on the order of Peter Luger. This time the restaurant burst into applause when he walked in.
Ho had welcomed Lin not far from Del Frisco's when the guard first arrived in the city as a Knick. After being picked up in late December, having been waived twice in 15 days (once by the Warriors, once by the Rockets), Lin came to New York early on New Year's Day after a road game in Sacramento. Ho, who was then working out of the NFL's league office in the city, stayed up talking with Lin and another friend till the early morning hours at Ho's apartment in midtown. That night, Lin crashed on—yes—his first living room couch. "I don't think anyone truly understands how difficult and hopeless it was for Jeremy," Ho says now. "He talked about giving up basketball. How maybe God had a different plan. It was difficult for me to see how unhappy he was at that time. He was just a person who didn't know what was going to come next."