Jeremy Lin :: Moves like Jagger? No, think Nijinsky
Out of nowhere the New York Knicks point guard vaulted to international fame this past week. Even President Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney reported that Lin is "just a great story, and the president was saying as much this morning."
This past Wednesday Lin continued to burn the floor and dominate the air as the Knicks defeated the Sacramento Kings for their seventh straight victory. In his first five starts Lin has scored 136 points, the most by any NBA player since the league merged with the ABA in 1976.
He is also the NBA’s first American-Taiwanese player, another reason for the media buzz surrounding the 23 year old, 6’3" Lin. Add to that his positive attitude, which is infectious to both his fellow players and fans - hence "Linsanity." He scores often and dramatically, but it is how he dances across the court that makes him so exciting to watch. His movement looks like it’s been choreographed.
"Lin drives in and lays it in," a play-by-play announcer says when he makes a key shot. How would this move be described in dance terms? The answer: he did a reversed aerial pirouette in bent 2nd position.
His goal may not be to appear as if he’s dancing in "Swan Lake," but he has a dancer’s natural grace when he moves. He is shorter than most of his peers, which he uses to his advantage; most notably in those fast, traveling transitional steps when he moves from one end of the court to the other.
Similarly, shorter dancers are most often the most gifted jumpers bringing to mind elite danseurs such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Vaslav Nijinsky. A century ago Nijinsky became the first male dance superstar because (amongst other qualities) of the height he could reach when he jumped. They even studied his calf and solieus muscles to understand the dynamics, because they were so developed and sprung the dancer so high in the air.
Lin’s air game is well, awesome (and I never use that word). He moves faster and is able to change direction midair. Other players do this, but the shorter Lin stands out because he jumps higher, making his acrobatics look even more dynamic.
Lin often turns before he shoots, which distracts opponents trying to block him and gives him a windup that no one can anticipate. His hang time in the air is that of a trained danseur -- a sleight of body that cannot be fully explained. It has to do with raw ability, contracting the core and fluid extension. Some dancers, like Baryshnikov, have this gift. Lin also has the ability to seemingly freeze the moment before he fires the ball, suspended in mid-air.
And like all great dancers, Lin seamlessly reacts to the bodies around him. When he gets blocked, and even when he gets jostled, he makes immediate corrections that resets his next move as if it is an automatic reflex. He also seems very connected to the rest of his team in spatial patterning, which is such an instinctive choreographic dynamic that makes every situation adaptable.
50 years ago George Balanchine, the architect of classical dance in America, stressed that the complete dancer should have supple, catlike physicality. Over his career Balanchine would turn athletes into dancers (most famously former boxer Edward Villella). If Lin decides to switch careers, he would do well on the ballet stage.
Lin made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than a second to play in Toronto on Tuesday, leading the Knicks to beat the Raptors 90-87. "Tremendous elevation on that jump shot, stage presence. Wow... talk about a young man with ice in his veins," the announcer said as Lin skipped down court in a jocky (some may say cocky) manner and let out his already trademark warrior yell. At moments like this he even has Rudolf Nureyev’s swagger.