TORONTO — Jeremy Lin is back in the spotlight — in the NBA Finals — though his Raptors playoff role has been more of an out-of-the-rotation cheerleader than the star of “Linsanity.”
But nobody knows better than Lin what New York feels like and what the Garden sounds like to a basketball star of the moment in the Big Apple. And, yes, Lin, 30, would recommend the Knicks to free agents — including Golden State’s Kevin Durant, saying New Yorkers make it the place to be.
“I love the New York fans,’’ the former Knicks point guard said during NBA Finals Media Day on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena. “I feel like that was such a special moment in my life. The big reason is [the fans] made it special. Just walking down the street, wherever I went, being in that arena playing at that time, all the fans make it special.”
Before his knee injuries, Lin rejuvenated the Knicks for a couple of months on the way to the 2012 playoffs. Lin became a global icon because of his undrafted, rags-to-riches backstory.
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“Don’t get me wrong,’’ Lin added. “There’s high expectations. The New York media, a lot of members were great as well, just being able to meet them and talk to them. It was a great experience. I don’t really have any negativity when I think back at those times. Even though there is the whole stigma of that market, I loved my time there.”
So he would recommend the Knicks to Durant if asked?
“Yeah, that’s the thing,’’ Lin said. “To be great in New York, that’s either the top one, two, three city to choose to have something awesome — to have an awesome team and awesome situation there. A lot of players have a shot for that and went for that and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In Golden State, Lin will face the first NBA team he played for after going undrafted out of Harvard. It was also his boyhood team, growing up in the Bay area. He has relatives from Asia flying in when the series returns to Oakland, Calif.
“It’s definitely weird because I grew up watching all the Warriors games,’’ Lin said. “It’s one of those things where my friends, a lot of them have season tickets and grew up rooting for the Warriors. Now it’s kind of awkward. I’m just like, ‘Don’t tell me who you’re rooting for.’ ’’
Lin said Warriors owner Joe Lacob was the one person in the organization who believed in him. Lin was teammates with Stephen Curry when Curry was known more for ankle sprains than 30-foot 3-pointers.
When asked what he learned from Curry, Lin told an anecdote about Curry’s pain threshold.
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“We weren’t great that year,’’ Lin said. “After 81 games he had ankle injury after ankle injury. We were going into Game 82. He rolled his ankle the game before. Everyone was like, ‘Don’t play, you’re risking it.’ I was excited in getting a chance to start. Then they told me Steph would play. I was like ‘What?’ He played through a lot of pain. I was like man, this dude loves and cares about the game. I’ve been around a lot. I don’t know how many NBA players would be like, ‘I’ll just go play in the 82nd game that means nothing and risk my health.’ ’’
The previous two seasons were an injury-riddled wreck for Lin — his Brooklyn stint a dud. The Nets traded Lin to Atlanta over the summer. His contract was bought out in February and the Raptors signed him. Lin’s defensive shortcomings are the chief factor Raptors coach Nick Nurse has removed him from the playoff rotation.
“I didn’t expect this when I first heard I was traded to the Hawks — I wasn’t thinking in late May I’d be sitting at a podium in the NBA Finals,’’ said Lin, who will be a free agent after playing in 74 regular-season games, averaging 9.6 points and 3.1 assists.