Tuesday, February 21, 2012

All He Does Is Lin

Petition by fans to keep Jeremy Lin in NY



Anyone who reads this blog with regularity or follows me on Twitter knows that I frequently discuss the subject of race relations. They also know that I love to talk sports. So when a water cooler topic arises that merges the two, I'm usually all over it with swiftness. In the case of the phenomenon that is Linmania, I've held back from writing extensively about it until now. And although I'm finally caving in and joining the runaway bandwagon, my thoughts will be kept relatively brief. After all, pretty much everyone has written pretty much everything about the sensation that is Jeremy Lin. Those who typically write about race but rarely about sports have chimed in. Those who usually write about sports but rarely about race have added their two cents. Those who rarely write or talk much about either race or sports have been compelled to comment. What more can possibly be left to say?



I probably won't unearth any new ways to play with the guy's name. Jeremy is a real Linderalla story and we're all in the throes of Linsanity. He is Super Lintendo come to save the day, and by that I mean a great deal more than merely the fortunes of his New York Knicks. He has also arrived on the scene to make us examine our prejudices and preconceptions, and this ultimately make better people of us all. Something like that.



What Lin comparison can I make that has not already been brought to light? At first people made a connection to Tim Tebow primarily because Tim was the latest scorching hot trend just a couple months ago. Other than the meteoric rises of their respective popularity, they don't have very much in common though. In the era of social media all trends are magnified more than ever before because everyone is able to see what is on everyone else's mind on a continuous basis. Tebow inspired Facebook updates and tweets gave way to the same regarding Jeremy Lin. They are two athletes enjoying improbable early success, so there's that too. Of course, the most improbable thing about Tebow's success was that he achieved it with seemingly so little talent. One is tempted to call Tim a very lucky man, but since he wears his religion on his sleeve I suppose the word we're supposed to go with is blessed.




As for Jeremy Lin, also a rather spiritual fellow, most who initially believed he was a flash in the pan have by now conceded that he is talented at basketball. The improbable aspect is that he has succeeded in the NBA while Chinese. No point in tip toeing around this perception. Sure he went undrafted, and yes, Harvard is not a basketball powerhouse. But regardless of those factors, if Lin wasn't Asian I wouldn't be writing this blog posting and you would not have possibly found it because you were googling him.



The truly special thing about Jeremy Lin, the man as well as the growing myth, is that his existence destroys a racial stereotype. And at least from my point of view, that's the very best thing one can do to a racial stereotype. People keep double taking because they find it so difficult to accept that they're watching him pull off what a Chinese guy theoretically should not be able to do. If we go back to the reign of Tiger Woods in golf pre Blonde Ambitions, we'll recall a somewhat similar occurrence. Difference is, there is not much if anything in particular about golf that makes it seem a black person would have any more trouble mastering it than a white person. There are far fewer black golfers than white golfers for a variety of reasons, including the very important one that golf is an expensive sport and you don't find golf courses all over the place, unlike basketball courts. Tennis is another sport featuring black stars few and far between. The Williams sisters came along and took over for a good long while. Like Tiger they were exceptions that proved the rule to be a falsehood, although neither golf nor tennis is much blacker in attendance than it was prior to Tiger, Venus and Serena. There have been many African Americans in football for quite awhile, so although it took longer than it should have, eventually they gained foothold in "thinking man" positions such as quarterback and head coach. Each of these situations were unique and therefore headline grabbing at first, but quite plausible when you thought about them. History was made in a fashion much more fascinating than shocking.



But Jeremy Lin pulls off both feats. We are both enthralled and stunned. Basketball at the most elite level demands a degree of athleticism we're not expecting to see from someone Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese/Korean/etc. I'm not sure why this is since a Martial Arts expert is about as athletic as they come, and that club certainly doesn't exclude Asians. Generally Asian dominance in American sports is uncommon because participation is low. The typical Tiger Mom that we learned about not too long ago is unlikely to be pushing her son to a basketball court, demanding that he average no less than a triple double. Maybe this is because that son is infrequently over six feet tall. Jeremy Lin does not look like a typical pro basketball player in race/nationality/anything, so he had to prove to us that he has what it takes. Boy, did he ever. Some people are so genuinely befuddled by the rise of Lin that they keep mistaking offensiveness for cleverness. Chink in the armor? Did you really think that would fly?



I doubt the NBA will become dominated by a wave of Asian point guards any time soon, but won't call it impossible because the beauty of Jeremy's accomplishment is that it redefines what we view as possible. Nobody is looking very far ahead though. Trends are not about what was or what will be. They're about what's taking place right here and now, and at the moment nothing and nobody is hotter than Jeremy Lin. Even our trendy First Black President is impressed. Barack Obama knows a thing or two about defying expectations. He realizes just as a point guard does, perhaps because he plays some b-ball himself, that it's quite useful when your opponent believes your skills are limited and predictable. This makes it that much easier to take people by surprise.



I'm happy about what Jeremy Lin is accomplishing and bemused by reactions to it, such as the examples below. The fact that he's doing it for my beloved hometown team makes it all the sweeter. Stereotype smashing is great, but it's basketball season and the Knicks have not done diddly squat for more years than I wish to count. Things are finally looking up (granted, I have been teased by temporary success before only to watch it come crashing down) and I could care less how popular or trailblazing their point guard happens to be. I just want to be able to keep counting wins, and since being made a starter Lin has kept them coming at a steady clip. Other sports analysts and sociological bloggers can examine his effect on our collective consciousness with greater depth if they wish. I'm just enjoying the magic carpet ride. By all appearances, so is Jeremy.






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