The Delivery Guy Who Saw Jeremy Lin Coming
By JASON GAY
Joe Kline for The Wall Street Journal FedEx Ground delivery-truck driver Ed Weiland organizes packages in the back of his truck in Bend, Ore.
The morning after Jeremy Lin sank a thrilling, last-second three-pointer that lifted the New York Knicks over the Toronto Raptors and gave "Linsanity" its latest, rapturous chapter, the mysterious basketball oracle who saw it coming almost two years ago woke up in Bend, Ore., and blended himself a healthy green shake: celery, spinach, kale, orange juice. He put on his uniform, packed some trail mix for the road and pulled on his winter hat.
Then he went off to his day job: driving a FedEx Ground delivery truck.
In May 2010, an unsung numbers hobbyist named Ed Weiland wrote a long-term forecast of Jeremy Lin for the basketball website Hoops Analyst. At the time, Lin was a lightly regarded, semi-known point guard who had completed his final season at Harvard. But Weiland saw NBA material. He emphasized how well Lin played in three nonconference games against big schools: Connecticut, Boston College and Georgetown. He noted how Lin's performance in two unsexy statistical categories—two-point field-goal percentage (a barometer of inside scoring ability) and RSB40 (rebounds, steals and blocks per 40 minutes) compared favorably with college numbers put up by marquee NBA guards like Allen Iverson and Gary Payton. Weiland concluded that Lin had to improve on his passing and leadership at the point, but argued that if he did, "Jeremy Lin is a good enough player to start in the NBA and possibly star."
In the wake of Lin's historic New York explosion, Weiland's eerily prescient post has quickly recirculated around the Internet, as a rare example of someone who saw potential in a player who wasn't drafted and was abandoned by two teams before getting a chance with the Knicks. Traffic rushing to Weiland's 2010 Lin piece briefly crashed the Hoops Analyst website after Lin torched the Lakers for 38 points Friday, and his wisdom has been compared with the groundbreaking number-crunching in the baseball best seller "Moneyball," which became a recent Hollywood movie. A tribute to Weiland's foresight on Yahoo's The Post Game ended with, "Brad Pitt's on line 1."
Monitoring from his silver Toshiba laptop, Weiland has been amused by the new appreciation of his work. A 51-year-old father of two, grandfather of one, vegan and amateur trail runner who lives by himself in a region full of cyclists and snowboarders, Weiland doesn't fit the profile of a 21st-century sports wonk.
"You were probably expecting a 22-year-old MIT graduate," Weiland said Wednesday, in his first interview since Lin-mania began.
A Bench-Warmer's Star Run
European Pressphoto Agency
Weiland grew up in Upper Michigan, near Norway, a city about a two-hour drive north of Green Bay, Wis. He played basketball, but never on a school team. He enrolled at Northern Michigan University but didn't graduate. But he remained intrigued by mathematics. In the 80s Weiland became fascinated by the work of Bill James, an ex-security guard whose detailed baseball analysis would later help revolutionize that sport. For fun, Weiland began to compile his own data. "As long as I remember, he's had spiral notebooks full of numbers," said Weiland's daughter, Jana, 29. "He had so much random knowledge of players and teams."
A fan of the Michael Jordan Bulls, Weiland was living in Chicago when he began to find like-minded hobbyists on the Internet. He began self-publishing his insights online. Weiland connected with Hoops Analyst in the mid-2000s. "He had a special interest in translating how NCAA players would do when they came to the NBA," said the site's founder, Harlan Schreiber. "Jeremy Lin is just an example of what he's been doing for years."
Weiland is quick to point out he wasn't the only stathead to take an early interest in Lin, and adds that he's made plenty of head-slapping mistakes, like badly shortchanging Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. But what makes his 2010 post stand out is how sharply it sees Lin's athleticism and ability to rise up in big moments, the very traits the 23-year-old has displayed since being inserted into the Knicks lineup. Weiland made Lin a centerpiece of his 2010 pre-draft analysis, a possible hidden surprise. "Part of my thinking was that maybe he'd break out," he said.
But Weiland never expected Lin to go as "Linsane" as this. Entering Wednesday night's Knicks-Kings game, Lin was averaging 27.2 points and 8.8 assists in five scintillating starts. He is on the current cover of Sports Illustrated, and was named the NBA's Eastern Conference player of the week. Weiland believes Lin's numbers will come down when Carmelo Anthony returns to the New York lineup, but not drastically.
"When this all flattens out, I'm guessing he'll be scoring in the high teens, say 18 points, with 10 assists," he said. "That's an All-Star point guard, or at least borderline."
Meanwhile, Weiland continues to scour the NCAA, and he shared his enthusiasm for a pair of current players: Tony Mitchell of North Texas, and Jae Crowder at Marquette. By now, many of Weiland's friends and colleagues know about his side life examining sports. "He's got a real knack for numbers," said Weiland's boss, Vince VandenBosch. "Real smart guy."
"I don't think he set out to get recognized for this," said Jana Weiland. "I think it's really cool."
Ed Weiland said that he'd once hoped to turn his stats hobby into a professional career, but it was "never a burning ambition." He compared it to friends who played music for love. He confessed he'd never even spoken to Schreiber, the Hoops Analyst founder, communicating with the website only via email. Until late Wednesday, Schreiber had no idea what Weiland did for a living.
"I've lived a happily quiet life," Weiland said. "And it's still happily quiet."
And with that, the man who anticipated the beginning of "Linsanity" said goodbye. There were deliveries to be made, and he needed to get to his truck