Last week, Jeremy Lin woke up on his brother’s couch preparing for his first NBA start. That couch had been his bed for the past month as Lin tried to get head coach Mike D’Antoni and the New York Knicks to guarantee him a contract.
Later that day, Lin made the short trip to Madison Square Garden to face off against the Utah Jazz and stunned the crowd. Putting up 28 points and 8 assists, he immediately made an impact in the Big Apple.
Overnight, Lin became the new heart and soul of an underperforming franchise, a foil of the showy personalities of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Breathing new life into an 8-15 team, he continued his success, putting up 23, 38, 20, and 27 points in the next four games, including a total of 36 assists and a buzzer-beating three-pointer against Toronto on Tuesday night. Now on a seven-game winning streak, the New York Knicks, like a sizeable portion of the country, have become a part of the “Linsanity.”
Attracting every sports reporter in the country, Lin has made an incredible comeback from being virtually homeless and unemployed to setting the record for the most points in a player’s first three, four, and five career starts. He did all of this after attending an Ivy League college and after entering the NBA undrafted—oh yeah, and he is Asian-American.
Columnists do not seem to let you forget Lin’s race, and even if you did for a second, guys like pro-fighter and Twitter celeb Floyd Mayweather would be happy to remind you. Mayweather tweeted on Monday 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,” Mayweather said.
Let us examine Mayweather’s argument a little bit: “Jeremy Lin is a good player.” I would say yes. He is not the top point guard in the league—maybe not even in the the top five—but he does have what it takes to succeed in the NBA. At 6’3” he has the size to compete with anyone physically while adding speed to the rim, an uncanny ability to find the open man, and, as he is proving right now, a pretty good jump shot.
How about: “Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Looking at any one night from a pure statistical standpoint, this is also true; there are other players in the league, including black players, who put up these numbers and do not receive anywhere near the same amount of press. But Mayweather is wrong in that no other player in recent times has faced the same obstacles Lin did. He has found a way to have an incredible impact on the game after attending Harvard without an athletic scholarship, being undrafted, and having no steady contract.
Which brings me to Mayweather’s pivotal argument: “All the hype is because he’s Asian.” This is simply not true. Some of the hype is because he is an Asian-American. This hype, in and of itself, is inherently racially charged. It has only survived in the media because of the sensationalist nature of sports journalism today.
Lin is the first Asian American to succeed in the NBA in 60 years and has had to overcome a few racial obstacles throughout his basketball career. It has been argued that a player of his caliber should have been offered a DI scholarship going into college and should have been drafted when he graduated. The idea that he was denied these opportunities because of his race is entirely plausible. However, it does not change the fact that Lin’s greatest accomplishment is overcoming playing in the Ivy League and not being drafted; it is not overcoming having an Asian background.
There is no reason in today’s world why an Asian American should not be good at sports or should not be good at basketball. That is simply a flawed societal prejudice that is as inherently wrong as assuming minorities should not succeed in college.
By assigning these stereotypes in sports, we as a society are limiting the possibilities of young men and women around the nation. We are telling them that they cannot succeed outside the realms we prescribe to them.
Jeremy Lin is proving that an Ivy League player can succeed in the NBA, that an undrafted player can succeed in the NBA and that a player can overcome racism to play in the NBA. But we as sports enthusiasts should never be sucked into the argument that Lin’s feats are incredible solely because he is an Asian-American.
That viewpoint reeks of a racist mentality that plagues our very idea of freedom in America—the idea that everybody should have the opportunity to achieve his or her goal.
So for now, celebrate what Jeremy Lin has overcome, cheer him on until the black hole of Carmelo Anthony returns (after half court, the ball goes in and never comes out) and the Knicks return to below-average territory. But keep in mind that his achievements are laudable because of the circumstances he has overcome, not because he is Asian-American.