It was about four seconds after I arrived at the American Airlines Center last night that I saw my first Jeremy Lin jersey, on an Asian reporter in the media parking lot. A journalistic sin, sure, but one you've gotta let slide on Jeremy Lin Appreciation Night.
Mavericks games on any other night are pretty subdued and homogeneous affairs, chock-full of poker-faced blondes and carcinomatous skin. Last night was different. There were Asian-Americans pacing excitedly through the lobbies, many in Lin jerseys, more in Lin tee shirts, and a good number in homemade Lin paraphernalia with obligatory puns like "#Linsanity," "All We Do Is Lin" and "Everyday I'm ShuffLIN."
There were more journalists than usual, too, so many that the press box, usually sparse but for niche bloggers, stringers and alt-weekly writers deemed too unimportant for floor seats, almost reached full capacity.
It was clear early on that the night would be all about Linsanity, the nationwide fervor over the first Taiwanese-American player in the history of the NBA, and a Harvard boy to boot. The normally half-full lower bowl was packed and intermittently splotched with orange, not enough that it felt like an away game but enough that you knew the Knicks were going to get their fair share of love throughout. "We want Jeremy to do well," the Mavs' DJ even said at one point. "But the Knicks can't win."
When the starters were announced, Lin got applause louder than everyone but Tyson Chandler, who had just received his 2011 NBA Championship ring. Lin was also introduced last, after Carmelo Anthony, after Amaré Stoudemire and even after Chandler.
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It's obvious watching people watch Lin why he is so well liked: Whereas Tim Tebow and similarly marginal talents thrust into the spotlight are despised, Lin is beloved -- well, it's because he's Asian, of course, an oddly jarring trait that says more about us than it does about him. But it's also because he's a lot more humble. He's like watching a normal, everyday rube have his wildest childhood prayers granted.
Lin hit the first shot of the game, to a raucous cheer. Three minutes later, he got the free throw line for the first time. He was met with a chorus of boos usually reserved for LeBron or Kobe, boos that turned into cheers and applause when he made each shot. It was a mixed message: We're not supposed to love you, but we just do.
Even with Lin -- and Stoudemire and Chandler and Anthony -- the Knicks aren't very good, and they didn't play well, so the Mavs pulled ahead, building a 12-point lead by the end of the first and maintaining it throughout the half.
In the middle of the third, with the Mavericks already on their way to a win, Lin hit the deck hard, hacked across the face by Jason Kidd. He lay on the floor for a while, still. The crowd was silent. After a few long moments, though, he got up. The crowd roared, nothing mixed about their message.