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Sans spotlight, Lin finds ideal locale in 'low-key' Charlotte

Posted by JLin

By Sekou Smith

Jeremy Lin's strange basketball trip has taken him around the world, a few times. He's worked under the brightest lights and on the biggest stages the NBA provides, served as a global inspiration to underdogs everywhere and fueled a movement far bigger than anything he could have imagined.

And yet he's never felt more comfortable than he does now, grinding away in, of all places, Charlotte.

It's not New York or Los Angeles or even Houston, all stops along his way since Lin emerged from the shadows and the end of the Knicks' bench in 2012 and shook the basketball world with spectacular performances that powered the Knicks to six straight wins and an eventual playoff berth.

"You're not always going to get it right on your first try." – Hornets' Jeremy Lin

That seems like a lifetime ago now for Lin, a global phenomenon at the height of his journey and still, depending on where you are and what you remember from the short-lived but ridiculously entertaining and exhilarating run that was "Linsanity."

Comfortable with his role as a reserve combo guard for the Charlotte Hornets, Lin has seen it from all sides, as an afterthought, a pop culture phenomenon and now a journeyman, of sorts, just trying to carve out a niche for himself in a game that can propel you to international stardom one day and leave you questioning your worth the next.

"It's been a great fit for me," Lin said about everything from the way he's interacted with coach Steve Clifford and his staff, particularly Stephen Silas, who worked with Lin during his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, and the overall experience with a Hornets team trying to scrap its way back to the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. "I think Charlotte is definitely a little more low-key than some of the other cities I've played in. But aside from New York, I never really worried too much about the outside noise. I kind of got used to it. It didn't really affect me the way it might have in the past."

A preseason trip to China gave Lin's Hornets teammates a glimpse into the other side and what that outside noise can bring for the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA.

Jeremy Lin scores 13 points in 16 minutes of action during the NBA Global Games in Shanghai, China.

If they didn't understand exactly what Linsanity was like during its zenith, that changed the moment the team flight landed on the other side of the world.

"We were talking about how some of us have cities on our backs that we represent," Hornets point guard Kemba Walker said. "He's got a whole country, an entire part of the world, on his back. That's crazy to deal with. It was insane."

As his teammates observed, Lin handled it like a pro.

"He's a humble, humble dude," Hornets forward Marvin Williams said, "and I mean that. When we went to China ... I've never seen anything like that. It was literally the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen. When we landed and the door opened there were instantly people rushing onto the place with cameras trying to find him. It was crazy. And he stopped and took pictures with everybody and signed everything, everywhere we went. He's always talking about how blessed he is and how fortunate he is, so you know he doesn't take any of this for granted. The thing I love about him is that he works hard and he loves to play this game, and at the end of the day, that's what makes it so cool to be around him."

The fact is, Lin's a tireless worker, a player who has done everything needed to avoid the hype and actually establish himself as a someone who can be relied upon to lead a team. You don't fight through the adversity and uncertainty he's dealt with -- multiple stints in the D-League and continuously having to prove yourself in summer league and training camps, etc. -- and not develop the toughness needed to handle the rejection that often accompanies the life of an undrafted player.

Lin could have easily been satisfied with the millions that came his way after his rise to stardom and rested on what he'd done to get to that point in the aftermath of Linsanity, when the Knicks declined to match the Rockets' $25 million offer sheet that led him to Houston.

But he didn't.

Even in the face of mounting criticism that he was something of a one-hit wonder in New York who would never rekindle that moment, he's kept at his craft and quietly earned the respect of the folks who matter most for his game, rather than the headlines he brings.

Wherever the roller coaster ride has taken him since 2012, Lin has put his head down and continued to work on his game.

Clifford admitted to being a bit surprised initially at how big, strong and skilled Lin was compared to what he had observed from afar.

Check out some highlights of Jeremy Lin during the Charlotte Hornets exhibition game against the Los Angeles Clippers in China during the NBA's Global Games!

"It's been fun having him on this team and there's no doubt he can score in a variety of ways," Clifford said. "I also think his pick and roll defense and team defense are already good and he's bright and he's strong and he's got size and he can be a very good defender also. He's been a great addition for us."

Lin dazzled in the preseason, turning in one eye-popping performance after another and stirring up the echoes once again. But the point guard pecking order in Charlotte starts with Walker and goes from there. Walker and Lin fit well together, with both of them leaning on each other when need be and thriving off of one another when the opportunity presents itself.

The Hornets are off to an 0-2 start, dropping close games in Miami and Atlanta in advance of Sunday's home opener against the Hawks. Walker leads them in scoring and assists and is right behind him averaging 14.5 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

"The good thing for him is he came in here with the attitude that he's doing to whatever it takes to help us win," Walker said of Lin. "All that other stuff is in the past and we've talked about it. We know how good of a player he is. He's really important to this team and he's a good dude, good to have around."

Lin's played with some of the NBA's biggest stars -- Carmelo Anthony in New York, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and James Harden in Houston -- but finds himself feeling at home on a Hornets team where the focus is strictly on the group and not one individual star.

"It's the whole organization, from Coach Cliff and Coach Silas, who has been really good for me as a player, just teaching me the game," he said. "And of course, my teammates. We play together and we play for each other. We sacrifice and play really unselfish and they are really good guys off the court. And we get along and it's just a really good culture."

As bright as the spotlight can burn on that big stage, Lin's game remains rooted in the underdog paradise that has been and, quite frankly, is his experience with the game he's loved since he can remember.

That's perhaps what makes this time, this city and this team the right fit.

"You're not always going to get it right on your first try," Lin continued. "For me, just staying patient and trusting God's plan for me and my career, has been crucial. I'm 27 years old and having played four years in college and five years in the league ... yeah, if you're asking me if I really wanted to find a home, of course, but again it's all a part of his plan. And you just have to stay faithful, stay the course. And yes, I'm hoping this is it."

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