OK, so ‘Lin’sanity has gripped the entire world. It’s been exciting and it’s another fun topic, other than box scores, trades and stats, to spice up the sports world. However, a little bit of perspective might be in order. The media, both sports and other wise, loves to make mountains out of molehills, because, let’s face it molehills don’t sell. The Jeremy Lin story is no different.
Jeremy Lin is an Asian American playing point guard in the NBA. What he has done in his first few weeks as a starter is phenomenal. He’s set the record for most points in the first 5 games he’s started (one of these make believe stat / records that the previous owner of it didn’t even know they had). He’s also set the record for most turnovers in that same stretch. There’s been some good and bad. He’s done it for the New York Knicks, in New York City, the center of the basketball universe, which only magnifies the media hype. He was cut from the roster of two other teams this year without getting into a game. He played sparingly last year for the Golden State Warriors without distinguishing himself.
I thought I would avoid the topic all together. It was hard to see how it would fit in to our perspective. What else could we say here at the X-Ray Spectator that isn’t being said by the rest of the world? But I wanted to discuss the situation from two angles. Firstly race, as Lin’s career is being defined as much by his race as his play. Secondly, the failure of scouts to identify his talent has led many to try to find a parallel in professional sports. Most people are looking for under the radar players who became stars in the major leagues in the US. We’ve got a good comparison here in Australia. I’ll explain more later.
Race, of course…
Much has been made of Jeremy Lin’s race. He was born in the US to parents from the Republic of China (Taiwan as most of know it). Throughout his entire college career at Harvard he heard racial insults, go back to China being a common one. As a pro, you would think his game would speak for itself, but, being in America with race always at the forefront of the public conscience, little has changed. Jason Whitlock, one of my favourite sports writers, tweeted during Lin’s crowning moment, a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in which he scored a career high 38 points, that some lucky lady in New York would be receiving a couple inches of pain tonight. Some stereotypes just never go away. I could not even imagine the uproar if a non-black sports writer said of a black player that he might enjoy some watermelon after the victory. After his last game, a lacklustre performance and the team’s first loss since ‘Lin’sanity began, ESPN ran the headline ‘A Chink in the Armor.’ At what point is this OK? Who clears this? Even his own team’s MSG Network, which shows all of the Knicks’ games on TV published a graphic of his head coming out of a fortune cookie with the ‘fortune’ reading ‘the Knicks good fortune.’
Aside from the racial insults, Lin’s race has come into play in regards to coverage. Floyd Mayweather, the boxing champion cum bigoted Asian hater (see his rant against Manny Pacquiao below), stated, “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Even though Lin did what no person of any race had ever done. And the last time the Knicks won seven games in a row, yes the media went mental. It happens in the NBA. Anything that happens in regards to that team instantly gets double the press coverage. Andre Iguodala, a player for the Philadelphia 76ers, echoed similar sentiments. Jackie Robinson entered major league baseball in 1947, and statistically speaking, did nothing that white players hadn’t previously done. That doesn’t diminish his impact or the fame he deserves, but Jackie Robinson is in the Hall of Fame for breaking the race barrier, not for his career statistics and there is nothing wrong with that. The comparison is not fair to either players, as Asian’s had not previously been banned from playing in the NBA.
There is another side to the race issue. Everyone wants to know how this man went completely undiscovered while hiding in plain site. He was not recruited by Stanford University to play basketball, despite growing up in Palo Alto where the college is located. He played for Harvard and was undrafted. Two teams cut him this year. Both the Warriors and Houston Rockets did not get him into a game and released him. His current team, the Knicks, had him in the D-League (the NBA’s version of a B squad) until a few weeks ago. How does the NBA, which spends untold millions on scouting completely swing and miss on this one? The NBA loves feel good stories and this is one of the best that almost didn’t happen. Was that because he’s Asian? Yao Ming is a Chinese player but stands at 7 foot 6 inches, and it was pretty easy to see his potential. But Lin plays point guard, the quick position. Could it be that people just thought he wouldn’t be quick enough, tough enough, what enough? Most of the evidence in the Jeremy Lin situation points to an undercurrent that it is ok to be racist against or racially profile Asians. It is socially acceptable.
Everyone is looking to compare his meteoric rise from nowhere to someone or something. Some say Tim Tebow. But Tebow won awards and consecutive national titles in college football. The whole football world knew who he was, most just didn’t think his skill set would translate into the pro game (and some would argue it still hasn’t). Kurt Warner is another one and that may be more apt. He led the St Louis Rams to a championship when he had been bagging groceries in a super market the year before. He got a phone call to try out and filled in for an injured starter and became one of the best quarterbacks of his era. Both of these players are evangelical Christians as is Lin, and I think that’s the other thing that people are holding onto. A superstar athlete who eschews the fast life (yet still hordes all the riches) for the love of God makes Americans feel good. There is a player here in Australian Rules Football who fits the mold although his religion is a mystery as in Australia, being a secular nations, people don’t talk to strangers about religion all day, every day. His name is James Podsiadly.
Podsiadly was a player who played for 10 years in the lower levels of footy before getting his big break at the age of 28. He had bounced around multiple clubs minor league teams before landing with Geelong before the start of the 2010 season. What he has done since is remarkable. He won 13 votes for the Brownlow medal (footy’s version of the MVP) in his first year. His second year in the league he was the leading goal kicker for Geelong in their 2011 championship season. He is now a household name and one of the top players in the league despite never playing a senior level game in his first 10 years of football.
A few more notes on the situation.
- The combined record of the teams the Knicks have faced in the 8 game stretch is 79-131 for a winning percentage of .376. Basically the worst teams in the league with one win over the Lakers (the only probable playoff team during the stretch).
- Interestingly, a truck driver for FedEx named Ed Weiland, using advanced statistics, predicted ‘Lin’sanity’s coming and posted it on the website hoopsanalyst.com. It, much like Lin, was completely overlooked until the last few weeks. Now the site crashes due to the excess in traffic. It should be noted that Weiland is a vegan. Hee hee.
Here is the link to Mayweather’s enlightened views on Pacquiao