OAKLAND — A lot can change in 14 months, especially when your name is Jeremy Lin.
When Lin last stepped on the court at Oracle Arena, he was a mop-up point guard fighting to keep his career afloat.
But when the Warriors tipped off against the Houston Rockets in Oakland on Tuesday night, the Palo Alto native took center stage, completing one of professional sports’ most compelling rags-to-riches stories.
“It’s kind of like my career coming full circle,” Lin said. “In terms of growing up here, being here, going to Golden State, leaving and now coming back around.”
Unless you were hibernating last February, you know the story: released by the Warriors, released by the Rockets, signed by the New York Knicks, sleeping on his brother’s couch, an unexpected breakout performance against the New Jersey Nets, a seven-game winning streak — Linsanity.
He scored more points in his first five career starts (136) than any other player since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976-77. And in July, the Rockets rewarded him with a three-year, $25 million contract.
“It was like nothing to everything, all at once, overnight,” Lin said.
Lin could have looked at his first game against the Warriors as a revenge match. He trained hard throughout the summer after his rookie season, was told he wouldn’t be cut, signed a lease on an apartment and then was released on the first day of camp after the NBA lockout ended in December 2011.
“It wasn’t personal, it’s never personal in this business,” Lin said. “They didn’t know I had my apartment. It just happened that way. Obviously it stunk at the time, but it’s not like they were doing it to hurt me.”
In hindsight, Lin is grateful for the release because if the team had held on to him, he’d still be stuck behind Stephen Curry, who is turning into an elite point guard in the Warriors’ backcourt. Instead, he went to the Knicks, who desperately needed a point guard, and played for a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had a system that highlighted his strengths.
“The way everything happened was a blessing,” he said. “I didn’t see it at first.”
Things are finally settling down for Lin in Houston this season. His numbers are respectable and he isn’t living under the glare of the microscope every day.
But Lin said his return to the Bay Area this week made him reflect on the unlikely road he’s traveled over the past couple of years.
“Driving in from Sac, I was just remembering all the drives when I went from Reno to back here — making that same drive coming back from the D-League,” he said. “I’ve just thought over the last couple days about the journey.”