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Ex-NBA coach Mike D’Antoni says he underestimated Jeremy Lin before 'Linsanity'

“He came in and we opened things up and that was it. I mean, it exploded. He was unbelievable,” D’Antoni said on former NBA player J.J. Redick’s podcast.
Mike D'Antoni head coach of the New York Knicks speaks with Jeremy Lin #17 during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 11, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin in a game at Madison Square Garden in 2012.Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images file

Former New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said he initially underestimated Jeremy Lin before “Linsanity.” 

D’Antoni, Lin’s coach in 2012 during his sudden ascendency in the NBA, made the comments on Tuesday's episode of former NBA player J.J. Redick’s podcast “The Old Man and the Three.” D’Antoni admitted that he didn’t see Lin’s outstanding streak coming, given his previous play. 

“I definitely didn’t. I wish I could say ‘Oh yeah,’” D’Antoni told Redick and co-host Tommy Alter when asked if he saw Linsanity coming. “Matter of fact, Jeremy came up to me on Thursday. He played a little bit in Golden State at the end of the game and didn’t look very good at all.” 

“He walks up to me. He goes, ‘Hey, coach. I have my car on the West Coast. Should I bring it to the East Coast?’” D’Antoni recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, Jeremy. I don’t think so, let me get back to you on that one.’” 

With the encouragement of his assistant coaches Kenny Atkinson and Dan D’Antoni, his brother, Mike D’Antoni decided to give Lin a shot.

Lin — who was the first Taiwanese American in the NBA and came off the bench for the Knicks to score 25 points and seven assists in a February 2012 game against the Brooklyn Nets — went on to score 130 points in his first five career starts, dramatically reversing what had been a disappointing season for the Knicks.

“He came in and we opened things up and that was it. I mean, it exploded. He was unbelievable,” D’Antoni said. “We went on to win like eight in a row and he made a couple of game-winning shots. The camaraderie, the chemistry of the team was off the charts. And it was fun. It was a great ride.”

The former coach, who never won an NBA championship, said Linsanity remains the “greatest time ever” in his career. 

Lin, 33, has spoken about his admiration for D’Antoni, whom he regarded as a mentor in a league where few were willing to take him under their wing. He told The Ringer podcast in 2018 that D'Antoni coach was a significant factor in “why I played so well.” 

“I had this coach that was empowering me, constantly in my ear telling me ‘Go, go, go. Trust your instincts,’” Lin said on the podcast. “A big part of Linsanity was just being in that environment, being in a pick-and-roll system that suited my style, and having coaches around just being like, ‘Look, we trust you, we know that you’re going to make the right play more times than you won’t. Let it fly.’”

Lin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Linsanity this year, and told NBC Asian America in February that while his run is remembered as one of the most culturally influential moments in sports history for Asian Americans, in the moment he had a hard time enjoying the ride. 

“I was just so focused on playing well in the next game, I wasn’t so tuned into what everybody else was saying,” said Lin, who now plays in China for the Beijing Ducks. “There was a lack of understanding of what that moment meant and I feel like, because of that … I wasn’t able to say more and do more with my platform off the court that I wish I could have done and should have done.”

But Lin said he believes Linsanity showed Asian Americans their potential. 

“Society has always tried to say Asians can’t do this. Asians you can’t do that. You hear about the bamboo ceiling … or people who aren’t even given an opportunity to come to the country at times through history,” Lin said. “What that moment meant was just being able to compete in the same court, in the same arena. And then to defeat and to overcome and to win.”