Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers know a thing or two about spotlights, because there are few brighter than the ones that shine on Staples Center. With Hollywood in full force at every game, the celebrities, movie stars, and unbelievable sums of money that represent the city's elite all make sure that the focus on the Lakers is never second to anything in the city of angels. The Lakers historic franchise, filled with success, big names, and championship banners, has ensured the spotlight never wavers. But there is one place in the league with a light that shines brighter than anything Staples Center has to offer. That place is Madison Square Garden.
Kobe Bryant is no stranger to the spotlight, either. He loves the spotlight, yearns for it, and he has maintained an ironclad grip on the league's spotlight since his debut as a brash teenage rookie. With 5 rings over his career, and countless performances that have left jaws on the floor, Kobe is quite used to being the center of the spotlight, and he rarely disappoints, especially when a stage as fine as tonight's is his for the taking. Kobe's trips to New York provide some of the best performances in his career. His 61 points in 2009 is an MSG record for any player. He's scored 40 or more three times, 30 or more seven times (in 11 total appearances), including a 39 point, 11 board, 8 assist effort in 2007 that rivals 61 as his finest MSG tilt. Outside of their own favored sons, New York might not have a single player they love more than Kobe.
Kobe Bryant. New York City. It doesn't get any crazier, or brighter, than this. Right? Wrong.
For the first time since Kobe ascended to the pedestal of league elite, the Madison Square Garden stage will not be his alone. He'll have to share the spotlight with a young kid who has created a firestorm the likes of which are rarely seen, and he's done it in just three games. His name is Jeremy Lin, and he is a cultural sensation, because he is the first Asian AMERICAN to find any kind of success in professional basketball. I'm not a member of that particular ethnic group, and so I won't try to tell you what it means to them to see one of their own playing with the likes of Kobe or Carmelo. I will only say that Asians, both American and international, are some of the most ardent lovers of basketball on the planet, and it's no surprise that Lin is receiving the kind of attention domestically that followed Yao Ming abroad for so many years.
This isn't Jackie Robinson. There are stories of Lin having to fight through negative stereotypes because of his skin color and size, but dude's not in danger of violence. As previously mentioned, he's not even the first of his ethnicity to grace the NBA, and he's hardly the most influential either. Yao Ming owns that title, and will continue owning it unless Lin can somehow capture the magic of his past three games for an entire decade. In fact, it's tough to draw a comparison that makes sense within the confines of the NBA. The closest approximation I can think of to Jeremy Lin's exploding popularity in the NBA would be Eminem. White kids loved hip-hop for years prior to his arrival to the industry, but with Slim, they finally had one of their own representing. That's what Jeremy Lin is to a legion of basketball fans across the country. One of them, the first one of them, who made it to the big stage. He is the manifestation of their dreams.
Is Lin worth the hype? Of course not, but only because of the duration of his accomplishment so far. Given a chance due to a slew of injuries to his teammates, Lin's been given 35 minutes a night for the past three games, and the results have been spectacular: 25 points and 8 assists per contest in leading the injured Knicks to three straight wins. And since he has managed to control games as a quick guard with extensive pick and roll usage, the exact type of strategy that has always troubled the Lakers the most, there's no reason to believe the Linsanity won't continue for at least one more game. Statistically, at least.
The win will be a bit tougher to manage. The Lakers are by far the best team the Knicks will have faced since Lin's career arc turned towards the atmosphere. Despite not actually winning a big chunk of games of late, the Lakers have been in a relatively nice rhythm, with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol both flexing their muscles at the same time in the past few games. Kobe has been the one who's turn it was to struggle a bit, but Kobe in New York is never someone you want to bet against.
Especially when he has to share the spotlight. You can bet he'll do everything in his power to make sure the spotlight is his alone when it's time to take a final bow at the end of the night.