Are we done with Jeremy Lin? For that matter, are we over Tim Tebow? Have we exhausted the two feel-good stories of the year, played them out, wrung them dry, moved them aside, forgotten them already? Yes? Linsanity merchandise, half-price at stores in Times Square? Tebowing no longer a jokey Internet meme but, in Denver anyway, an honest-to-God bow-your-head prayer in thanks for Peyton Manning? My goodness! That was fast.
This is an article from the March 26, 2012 issue
Our culture moves at warp speed, no question, the weekly or even daily news cycle long since replaced by an up-to-the-second Twitter feed or Facebook update. We said goodbye to thoughtful consideration the day we moved over to microwave popcorn—because who could possibly wait for the stove-top variety. That's our reality: Our interest spans the half-life of a Kardashian marriage. There's no looking back.
Still, who would have thought these particular sports manias would arrive, crest and ebb quite this quickly? In our hearts, even as we allowed them a genuine performance quotient, we knew these guys weren't built for the long run, that their cheerful little stories were only going to take them so far. Lin, coming from nowhere and scoring 38 on Kobe made him an instant sensation. We knew all along, though, it didn't make him Kobe. And Tebow was never going to make Denver forget John Elway, all that winning and kneeling aside. Neither was headed for the Hall of Fame, is what we're saying, but neither felt like merely the flavor of the month either.
Yet that's exactly what they were, Lin not even lasting through March before his fame was discounted in drugstore aisles, in New York tabloids and, amid inevitable Knicks dysfunction (before a post-coaching-change surge), even in the NBA. And now the guy who was on SI's cover two weeks in a row, not to mention TIME's, is being buried under a tombstone in the New York Post (R.I.P. LINSANITY, BRIEFLY BELOVED BROADWAY SMASH HIT, FEBRUARY 4, 2012, TO MARCH 14, 2012). A tombstone! He's 23 years old, by the way, still playing decent ball. Tebow lasted a bit longer in Denver, taking over the team in October for an improbable playoff run, but his star is similarly snuffed, the announcement on Monday of Manning's decision to join the Broncos reducing the absurdly earnest prospect, so recently the face of the franchise, to trade bait.
Lin's may be the more instructive case, the phenomenon of his fame so pronounced, in both its development and its disappearance. Nobody who was never in a '90s boy band ever got as well known as quickly as Lin did. One day he's sleeping on a couch in his brother's apartment, hoping for a contract that went beyond 10 days. The next, Linsanity is trending on Twitter, the President of the United States announcing he's been on the bandwagon all along. And just because, in a desperation move, the coach who's no longer even there woke up one morning and penciled him into the lineup?
Well, sort of. But Lin was a big story waiting to happen all along, incorporating all the elements of a sports saga. He was one-stop shopping when it came to cover boys: Origination Myth (now where is Taiwan?), Grievance Narrative (how dare he go unscouted!) and Redemption Story (comes off the bench and leads stumbling Knicks on win spree, leaving all those top draft picks in his wake—ha-ha). That pun-ready name made things even more fun, and there was that hint of otherness—Chinese, right? Palo Alto?—that gave his emergence a whiff of righteousness.
What was so unusual about Lin's story was how quickly the media ran through its arc. Not since Homer Simpson was first given his death notice (bad fugu fish—it happens) and blasted through the Five Stages of Grief in 18 seconds has a trope been demolished this quickly. By day two, every college coach who'd overlooked Lin (forcing him to play at Harvard, his safety school) had been hung out to dry. Day three, NBA scouts got their comeuppance. And feature angles that normally take months to play out were exhausted within a week. A FedEx driver came forth to suggest he'd done some algorithms and pegged Lin for stardom all along. Reports from bureaus in Shanghai and Beijing rolled in, all signaling the transformational properties of a Chinese point guard.
All bubbles burst, and this one was no different. But so suddenly? There wasn't even time for the rest of the arc (backlash—at least Tebow got that) before it all collapsed. There seems to be a new shot clock on our celebrity culture, moving people on and off the stage with increasing impatience, as if it's the velocity of the story that matters and not the story itself, speed more satisfying than substance. The sooner we can type #Over, the better. Maybe that's our reality.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
The owner of the Arena Football League's Pittsburgh Power cut his entire team two hours before its season opener, during a pregame meal at an Olive Garden, after the players announced they would go on strike due to unfair compensation.