HOUSTON — Jeremy Lin and coach Kenny Atkinson of the Nets shared a “circle of life” moment with Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni when their teams met Monday night at Toyota Center. As every NBA fan in New York knows, the three of them were together with the Knicks and played integral roles in the phenomenon known as “Linsanity” late in the 2011-12 season when Lin became an overnight star on Broadway.
Atkinson was an assistant coach who worked to develop Lin, who made the most of his opportunity when injuries forced head coach D’Antoni to call on him in February. Asked Monday about that “brief period,” D’Antoni smiled and said, “That’s called ‘Linsanity.’ ”
The Knicks had lost 11 of 13 games when D’Antoni started Lin at point guard. They proceeded to win seven straight and went 9-3 going into the All-Star break with Lin averaging 22.5 points and 8.7 assists in that span.
“We went through ‘Linsanity’ together, and that was fun more than anything,” D’Antoni said. “It helped me as a coach without a doubt. We were kind of dead in the water and it was a strike year and our point guards were hurt, and it was a great story. When you live that for a month, you get close. He’s a good guy, and his family is nice. That’s something I’ll always remember, and hopefully, I’ll always be close to him.”
It was appropriate their reunion happened in Houston, where Lin played for the next two seasons after leaving the Knicks and where Atkinson once spent a season in player development. D’Antoni arrived this season as head coach. Describing what it’s like to face D’Antoni, Lin said, “It’s fun. We still keep in touch. Whether he had a coaching job or not, we would always keep in touch and grab a meal when we were in the same city.
“It’s weird because Kenny is here, too. So, it’s like all three of us. It’s going to be a weird dynamic. It’s fun. The underlying theme is we’re really happy for each other.”
Having served as an assistant under D’Antoni for four seasons with the Knicks, Atkinson credited him as being a major influence on the high-pace, motion offense he runs with the Nets. “I loved every second I was with Mike,” Atkinson said. “Mike revolutionized basketball in the NBA. I really believe that. He’s a heck of a guy and a good friend. It’s special coming back here and special being with Mike and Jeremy.”