SAN FRANCISCO -- Jeremy Lin is no longer the overachiever from Palo Alto. That was so evident on Thursday at Madame Tussauds, when his wax statue was revealed. In the same wing as Joe Montana, Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali.
"This is almost too real," Lin said, staring at the life-size figurine of himself dunking in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform.
Once again, Lin finds himself on the big stage. Sure, Kobe Bryant will dominate the attention, but Lin won't be able to hide from the bright lights of Hollywood. He won't be able to escape the pressure to perform.
But after stints with the Warriors, where his garbage time drew ovations; in New York, where Linsanity made him a global star; and Houston, where his salary brought him constant scrutiny, Lin has come to grips that this is his reality.
The first decade or so of his basketball career, Lin was just a guy. The pinnacle of his career was supposed to be when he led Palo Alto High to a Division II state title in 2006.
Those days are gone. As much as he may miss the anonymity, the luxury of being the underdog, that's not his lot anymore. The low-key kid has accepted his calling to the big time.
So he heads to the Lakers, on the final year of his contract, needing to produce under the heat of the magnifying glass.
"It's incredible. It's a blessing," said Lin, who turns 26 on Saturday. "I am a lot more comfortable now than I was in the beginning. Going into my fifth year, I'm able to handle that now more than ever. I put more pressure on myself now than what I feel from the outside."
It's a raw deal in some respects. Lin will probably never be appreciated nationally the way he actually should be -- as a productive NBA guard. Like many others, he has some bankable skills to go with some weaknesses. From a purely basketball perspective, he has become an established player capable of contributing to a good team. He can even take over games here and there, especially if used right.
That's a significant accomplishment for an undrafted rookie out of Harvard. Especially when you consider he broke away from the typical career path of a suburban Asian kid with an Ivy League degree.
Yet it's never just about basketball with Lin. Not since he took the world by storm with Linsanity in 2012.
Now, he's more known as the guy who can't catch lightning in a bottle twice. He's judged under the context of international reach and endorsement clout. This is likely Lin's reality for the rest of his playing career. Having to live up to hype. Having to exist perennially in the spotlight. And Lin said he's grown comfortable with that truth.
He'd better be. He's a Laker now.
"It's very weird. At first I was like 'Whoa,' " Lin, who learned of the trade while he was overseas. "A lot of my friends and family are diehard Warriors fans, as I was growing up. But I appreciate California so much more now that I've been everywhere else."
His stint in Houston was considered a disappointment, ending with the Rockets courting Carmelo Anthony with billboards featuring the Knicks star in Lin's number.
Of course, Lin lands in L.A. In one of the largest Chinese-American populations in the nation, where he is sure to be treated as a rock star. On one of the NBA's storied franchises. Next to Bryant, one of the league's biggest stars ever, who is making a much-anticipated comeback from injury.
And Lin's playing on the final season of the three-year, $25 million he signed with the Rockets. Which means he really needs to show what he can do.
Somehow, Lin always finds himself on the main stage, with no idea of what will happen next.
"My NBA career has been anything but certain, anything but stable," Lin said. "I'm kind of used to it now."