Jeremy Lin: Explosive Hype over New York Knicks Guard Justifiable

Rob Tong@colickyboyContributor IIIFebruary 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08:  Fans of Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks hold up signs during the end of the Knicks and Washington Wizards game at Verizon Center on February 8, 2012 in Washington, DC.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Despite being a rabid fan during the Michael Jordan era, I admit I no longer follow the NBA.

I love Derrick Rose, but between the blatant traveling allowed in the league and LeBron James making a fool of everyone with his "Decision" to form the Miami Cheat, I've really had no interest in the NBA.

The most interest I had in the NBA this year was reading Scott Raab's book The Whore of Akron, quite possibly the best "I Hate LeBron" book ever written.

Then along comes the story of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was that he is Chinese-American, the first such player to play in the NBA.

Okay, but he must be a scrub, I thought. After all, Chinese-Americans aren't known for their athletic prowess—in any team sport.

But then I discovered—as everyone else did—what he accomplished.



On Feb. 4, Lin came off the bench to register 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a 99-92 victory over the New Jersey Nets.

Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni started Lin the following game, where Lin scored 28 points with eight assists. He then hit a double-double with 23 points and 10 assists against Washington before leading all scorers with 38 points and seven assists against Kobe Bryant's Lakers. Lin followed that up with 20 points and eight assists against Minnesota.

Then Tuesday night, Lin continued his amazing tear by dropping 27 points and 11 assists on Toronto, capped off by a stunning game-winning three.

Lin helped start a six-game winning streak for the Knicks, who were previously a moribund 8-15, and incredibly thrust the team back into the playoff mix.

The ensuing "Linsanity" caused a national furor.

The vast majority of it was highly favorable towards Lin—and not just in New York.

But predictably, some critics have popped up.

Can't co-exist with Carmelo Anthony. He'll come back to earth. He'll go back on the bench when Baron Davis comes back.

Reminds me of the critics who popped up when unheralded sixth-round NFL pick Tom Brady had initial early success taking over the Patriots for injured star Drew Bledsoe.


Why the hype is justified

Here was a journeyman cut from the bench of two previous NBA teams.

Lin was a decent enough player in high school but, not surprisingly, had no basketball scholarships in college.

He graduated from Harvard with an economics degree while playing on the school's hoops team.

Again unsurprisingly, Lin went undrafted in the NBA.

Even when he made it to the end of the bench on a couple NBA teams, he was still a basketball outsider: an Asian-American in a game dominated by far more athletic black players.

I mean, if white men couldn't jump, what did that imply of Asian-Americans, who are known far more for their academics than their athletics?

When Lin went on his amazing run, we knew he wasn't a lottery pick achieving those feats. We are instantly reminded of that every time we see his ethnicity on TV.

And that's what makes the "Linsanity" justified.

Though he is a Chinese-American, he doesn't just inspire Chinese-Americans.

Though he is a Christian, he doesn't just inspire Christians.

No, Lin inspires everyone because he represents the everyman, the underdog who is somehow succeeding in circumstances that should dictate his failure.

It's the feel-good story of the year. And I've actually started paying attention to the NBA again.


Floyd Mayweather was both right and wrong about Lin

Unfortunately, one particular Lin critic chimed in with comments that inflamed the debate.

On Monday, boxer Floyd Mayweather tried to burst the Linsanity bubble when he questioned all the praise for Jeremy Lin.

Mayweather tweeted that "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."

When his tweet started getting press, Mayweather defended himselfin the third person, no less:

"It's OK for ESPN to give their opinion but I say something and everyone questions Floyd Mayweather.

"I'm speaking my mind on behalf of other NBA players. They are programmed to be politically correct and will be penalized if they speak up.

"Other countries get to support/cheer their athletes and everything is fine. As soon as I support Black American athletes, I get criticized."

Mayweather was actually right that a lot of the hype surrounding Lin is because he is Asian.

Being a Chinese-American myself, I myself was stunned by Lin's success in the NBA.

If Derrick Rose accomplished the same feat as Lin in Rose's first four career starts, Rose would certainly get press. But Mayweather is correct that there would not be a national frenzy, where even the casual fan like me is caught up in the hysteria.

Where Mayweather went gravely wrong is implying that Lin didn't deserve the praise.

First, it is precisely because an outsider is succeeding in the predominantly black NBA that Lin should be recognized. Unique situations deserve that recognition.

Second, what Lin has done so far has actually not been done by any black player on any night—or ever. What he has done is actually historic.

Lin has become the first player in league history to have at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his four career starts. He has totaled 109 points in those games, the most by any player since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976.

And, as mentioned, Lin added to that historic streak Tuesday night with 27 points and 11 assists.

So Mayweather doesn't even have his facts straight.

Finally, he needs to be reminded what Jackie Robinson had to go through to gain acceptance in Major League Baseball. Rather than be resentful of Lin, Mayweather should instead welcome Lin with open arms.

This isn't the first time Mayweather has made racially insensitive comments. In September 2010, he gave a profanity-filled racist rant against Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, saying Pacquiao should “make some sushi rolls and cook some rice” and that “we're going to cook him with some cats and dogs.”


The bottom line

It's a shame, but the Mayweather incident will eventually be just a blip in the timeline of Jeremy Lin's rise to relevance.

As Lin demonstrated with his clutch game-winner in Toronto, he is worthy of the adoration of fans across the nation, even as he deflects much of the praise to his teammates and to Christ.

The underdog rises again.

The Jeremy Lin story is one worth celebrating by everyone.


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