Jeremy Lin humbled, humorous during All-Star weekend - USA TODAY

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ORLANDO – Guard Jeremy Lin and his good buddy, New York Knicks backcourt teammate Landry Fields, walked into the packed interview room.

Lin took his spot at a table on the dais. Fields grabbed the microphone reserved for news reporters asking questions.

"Landry Fields, from The Post," Fields said. "Apparently the San Francisco Pro?Am has a league every summer with their college players. We'd like to know: Who was the MVP? I'm pretty sure the dates are 2009 and 2010. If you could just explain that."

Lin, who grew up in the Bay Area and played at Harvard, smiled. The sudden NBA and cultural sensation had an answer for Fields, who played at Stanford.

"Yeah," Lin said. "Landry Fields was the MVP of the San Francisco Pro?Am 2009, 2010. He played for the Oakland Believers … and he doesn't have a lot of friends."

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter at @usat_jzillgitt. To get the latest sports news from USA TODAY, including game results, columns and features, follow us on Twitter at @USATODAYSports.

Yukkin' it up All-Star Weekend.

It's a testament to Lin's level head in the face of a life-changing three weeks and unprecedented coverage since he injected the NBA with an insanely popular and positive story about a guy — the NBA's first American player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent - who was about to be released from this third team and was considering either the D-League, playing in Europe or a temporary break from basketball.

Instead, Lin's oft-remarkable and unexpected play has resuscitated the Knicks.

The story veers off into so many compelling tangents from his influence in Asia to the role his race played in teams overlooking him to the idea that other lesser-known players just need a chance to Lin's newfound marketing opportunities and bright future.

Charming and self-effacing. Taking the blame when the Knicks lose. Crediting his teammates when the Knicks win. Humorous if necessary. Serious if necessary.

During the Rising Stars Challenge, in which the 23-year-old Lin had two points, the giant scoreboard screen showed Lin's parents on the Kiss Cam. They barely looked up from their mobile devices and did not kiss even though the crowd encouraged then.

The camera zoomed in on Lin, who laughed and shook his head.

So far, the moment — game-winning shots or turnover-rife performances — has not been too big or overwhelming for Lin.

His faith has played a large role in that.

Friday night prior to the Rising Stars Challenge, Lin addressed a large contingent of news reporters from around the world.

When the Knicks played the Miami Heat Jan. 27, Lin went to pregame chapel with Fields, teammate Jerome Jordan and Heat forward Udonis Haslem.

Haslem told news reporters that Lin asked his fellow worshippers to pray that the Knicks wouldn't cut him at the Feb. 10 deadline to either release players or guarantee his league-minimum salary ($762,195) for the rest of the season.

"The chaplain asked us to share a prayer request, and I knew February 10th was right around the corner, so that was what was on my heart, just that I would be able to continue to stay on the roster and be with the team the rest of the year," Lin said. "So that's kind of what I shared with the group of guys."

He explained his Knicks uniform number: 17. He likes No. 7, but that's Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony's number.

"Seven was my number last year, and it's one of God's numbers that he uses throughout the Bible," Lin said. "And I chose 17 because the 1 was to represent me and the 7 was to represent God. And when I went to the D?League, I had 17, and so everywhere I go, He would be right there next to me, and so that's why I stuck with 17."

So it's not an homage to former Golden State Warriors great Chris Mullin who wore No. 17.

"Oh, no, not at all. I didn't even think of that," Lin said. "But he's a great player. Trust me, I'm a huge fan of his."

As recently as nine days ago, Lin wasn't even officially scheduled to participate in All-Star Weekend. His rise came too late for the league's assistant coaches to give him serious consideration for the Rising Stars Challenge, and NBA Commissioner David Stern told USA TODAY he would not use a "a commissioner's exemption" and add Lin to the game.

However, Shaquille O'Neal, the general manager of Team Shaq in the Rising Stars game, drafted Lin and Stern didn't do anything about it. How could he?

As of Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, Lin hadn't met his general manager. "Shaq missed practice this morning. I think we should fine him or something," Lin said.

Lin allowed that his inclusion in All-Star Weekend has been surreal. "Oh absolutely," he said. "Just any press conference of my own in general, let alone All?-Star Weekend. Just to be here and to see the company and all the players that are here is just — it's been unbelievable, and I'm just trying to take it all in and embrace it and enjoy it every step of the way."

Even before O'Neal added Lin to the Rising Stars Challenge, Lin secretly was planning an All-Star weekend appearance, assisting Knicks teammate Iman Shumpert in the dunk contest.

Props played a major role in Griffin's dunk contest last season. He leapt over the hood of a Kia automobile as then-teammate Baron Davis popped out of the sunroof and threw him an alley-oop.

Fields, Shumpert and Lin had ideas, too. They planned to roll a couch on the court — Lin is famous for sleeping on his brother's couch during the early days of his rapid rise — with Lin under the covers. Lin was going to throw an alley-oop pass to Shumpert, then Fields was going to give Shumpert a Sprite, the sponsor of Saturday's dunk contest.

Those crazy Harvard, Stanford and Georgia Tech kids.

He said he has not made any splurges. "No. I'm still a minimum (salary) guy. That hasn't changed."

Though he has moved off his brother's couch and into a swanky high-rise apartment in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center site. He is due for a significant raise after the season when he is expected to become a restricted free agent.

Lin had fun in one of his longest news conferences. But he also addressed serious topics, such as the role race played in his story.

"Obviously when you look at me, I'm going to have to prove myself more so again and again and again, and some people may not believe it," he said. "I know a lot of people say I'm deceptively athletic and deceptively quick, and I'm not sure what's deceptive. But it could be the fact I'm Asian? American. But I think that's fine. It's something that I embrace, and it gives me a chip on my shoulder. But I'm very proud to be Asian? American, and I love it."

He is undaunted by the bright lights in the big city.

"In terms of platform and media, I think that's the best place to be, New York, just because they have it all," Lin said. "One thing I really do want to do is embrace that platform and to be able to use it in the right way, and use it positively and make sure that my message and the way that I live is in a way appropriate of a role model, so I'm thankful for that."

Lin is not worried about the daily criticism of his game — too many turnovers, inconsistent jump shot, can't go left.

"The difference between me last year and this year is that last year I cared what everybody said, and this year I don't really care what anybody says, except for my teammates and my coaches," he said.

The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets didn't have room for him this season because they had guards in front of him, playing time was minimal and those teams didn't play a style that suited Lin.

He acknowledged he found the right system — Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's creative pick-and-roll offense — at the right time.

"Pick-and-roll wise … looking back even in high school, we ran a lot of pick?-and-?rolls, and in college we ran a lot of pick-?and-?rolls, so that's just something that's kind of developed over time, just being familiar with pick?-and-?rolls," Lin said. "I know there's the theory that it's just a perfect system for me, and I agree it is a perfect system for me, and I'm thankful that I play for Coach D'Antoni because he really is an offensive genius, the way he designed his system.

"So it's very suitable for me, and I guess somewhere down the road if I play in another system, we'll be able to answer better that question of can I play in another system. But right now I'm just focused on where I'm at and how I can help."

For all the consternation surrounding how forward Carmelo Anthony would fit in with Lin after Anthony missed nearly eight games with a strained right groin, Lin had a supporter.

"He's definitely taken me under his wing, and he talks to me pretty much every single timeout and gives me a lot of advice," Lin said.

No one knows where this story will end just as no one that it would begin.

It's been a refreshing discovery on so many levels because Lin plays the part so well.

26 Feb, 2012

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