How is it possible that Jeremy Lin, the new Brooklyn Nets point guard, a player with career averages of 11.7 points and 4.4 assists per game, getting so much attention?
There’s no one good answer. Personally, I’m always rooting for the guy, but it’s not like I’m alone in the world in seeing more than his career numbers, and beyond the Linsanity monicker that has gotten old. Lin plays basketball in way that very few point guards, or players in general do. His ability to see the floor, attack the rim, use his vision for some exquisite passing. He used to be wild, now he’s still quick, still aggressive, still pushing the tempo, but in a much smarter way. And for those who love to see good defense, Lin has plenty of that in his bag of tricks after working a lot on that aspect.=. But it goes beyond what he does on the floor and the highlight films that can be compiled. It’s his story, of someone who got no athletic scholarships, didn’t get drafted, got cut twice, and then came the Knicks.
Does the fact that Lin is of Asian heritage play into his rise to stardom, or at least become a center of attention? Of course. People identify with who and what is closest to them. Lin is the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, it’s a big deal. He didn’t just put in a few minutes and become some sort of lip service for the NBA to show it has nothing against Asian-Americans, breaking down barriers. While it took him about a season to get warmed up and get the perfect opportunity, he seized it with both hands, and became a star overnight.
It was a combination of things that made his rise into such a sensation. There was no middle ground, no in between time. From the edge of the bench, to star in a matter of days. It happened in New York, on a Knicks team that’s always waiting for someone to save them, to lead them, to win for them. Lin, for more than a mere moment, didn’t just look like the guy who could do it; he came out of freaking nowhere on a team with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire and outplayed everyone. The Knicks were at their best when he had the bridge (Star Trek reference, for those who don’t know). It didn’t last long, and he had to wait four years to get that kind of role again. Turns out it’s New York, only in a different borough.
But being Asian-American in the NBA wasn’t just something positive for Lin. Obviously, he stood out, but it helped generate negative opinions. Just like Isiah Thomas once said about Larry Bird (if Bird were black he ”would be just another good guy”) and then tried to spin it in a completely different direction, Lin had some doubting his actual skills, thinking all the noise was about an Asian player doing OK, and if he was black no one would notice. Floyd Mayweather, a great boxer but a despicable person, showed his ignorance and racism once again, although with him, you never know if he actually means the things he says, or is simply trying to get some attention. Either way, his comments about Lin were idiotic. When Lin left the Knicks (who chose not to match the Houston offer sheet), racism reared its ugly head once again.
But enough negativity. Yes, Lin has a lot of Asian-American fans, Chinese fans, Taiwanese fans, and the list goes on. But there are a lot of Jeremy Lin fans who have nothing to do with Asian parents, grandparents or ancestors. While it’s impossible to ignore who Lin is and where he came from, you strip all that stuff away, he’s a very good basketball player, and a fun one to watch. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t fit in perfectly with classic, or current position stereotypes makes him even more special.
What’s next? Being not just a star by the number of fans he has or popularity across the globe, but doing it on the basketball court. Not just for a month or two, but for an entire season. Lead a team, do it well, and simply take the next step in his basketball evolution. Lin had a weird route: He became a star before he refined his game and turned into a much more complete player. That came afterwards. Obviously, it’s not all up to him, and the team built around him in Brooklyn needs a little bit of upgrading, which might take another offseason. But as we’ve mentioned about a million times since Lin joined the Nets, the next step in his NBA career, the big challenge of his NBA career, begins now, and it’s going to be exciting watching it unfold.