It was special for Atkinson because he had earned his first assistant coaching job under D’Antoni which lasted four years, and was responsible for Linsanity being born.
Lin was able to rise from bench player to starting guard and made a name for himself among his peers.
D’Antoni told reporters he is proud of the way Atkinson spent many hours with Lin one on one, integrating his talents into the system that worked like the perfect chemical match.
“It’s called Linsanity. It creates a special bond. It was fun for all of us. I couldn’t be happier for anybody more than I was for him. He deserved every bit of it. It probably should’ve happened earlier. It didn’t. But he kept battling and kept working and good things happen to people that work hard.”
Lin didn’t get many opportunities on the Warriors roster before being sent to the Big Apple and had to earn the respect of the city immediately.
Coach D’Antoni calls it his favorite story recalling the struggle before the fame.
“[Lin] has had to fight. No one’s really taken him [to be] as good as he was. He was a great player in high school in California, and nobody wanted him. He was a great player at Harvard; nobody wanted him. He was a great player with the Knicks, and even then they still struggled [to believe].
“He’s had to battle for everything that he has. And it’s a great story. He’s fun to coach, a good guy. You root for people like that. That’ll be one of my favorite stories forever. Sixty years playing ball or doing whatever, and that’s one of the best.”
During that year, Lin averaged 14.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.6 steals while starting in 25 of 35 games played for the Knicks.
He left the following summer for a big payday, but he always kept in touch with his former mentor.
“We went through Linsanity together and that was fun. … He helped me as a coach without a doubt. We were dead in the water. It was a strike year, our point guards were hurt, we didn’t really have point guards. It was a great story. When you live that for a month, you get close. And he’s a good guy, his family’s nice, so that’ll be something I’ll always remember and hopefully I’ll always be close to him.
“It’s fun. We still keep in touch during the offseason. Whether he had a coaching job or not, we would always keep in touch, grab a meal when we’re in the same city. It’ll be fun. It’s weird because Kenny’s here, too, so it’s all three of us. … But it’s fun for all of us. We’re just happy for each other. That’s just the underlying theme, that we’re really happy for each other.”
As far as the game was concerned, Atkinson says he believes D’Antoni is the guy who revolutionized the modern NBA style.
He was right, as the Rockets defeated the Nets 122-118.