This post is in part inspired by Timothy Dalrymple’s piece, “Jeremy Lin and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.”
Jeremy Lin has had an amazing past few performances for the Knicks. In the past four games, he’s seen 36+ minutes of play, 23+ PPG, and 7+ rebounds per game. The numbers are astonishing for a rookie, especially one who went undrafted in 2010. The averages he has from the past four games match up to elites like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. In short, he’s a good point guard. He’s doing what an ideal point guard in the NBA should do — he’s creating shots, he’s making shots, and he’s helping his team win games.
So why has there been so much coverage and so much hype over his performance?
It’s easy — because he’s an Asian-American who has fulfilled the American dream.
Lin grew up in the Bay Area to hard-working Taiwanese-American immigrants, playing basketball at the Y and eventually starring on his high school basketball team that went on to win the state championship. He then accepted an offer to play at Harvard after receiving no athletic scholarships despite racking impressive numbers in high school. He was the underdog the whole way, and only hard work, solid fundamentals, and of course, talent, pushed him through the ranks. Long story short (and you can read the longer Dana O’Neil story here), Lin worked for what he got, and he was overlooked by most college and NBA coaches.
But now that he’s blown up and “Linsanity” is at the top of many sports fans’ minds, what are coaches thinking? What are analysts saying? What are reporters writing?
They say he’s done a great job. They say he’s a media sensation. And one thing they never fail to draw attention to is the fact that he’s an Asian-American–and a Harvard graduate.
Sure, it’s great that Lin is helping break down stereotypes (more or less). It’s great that his performance is inspiring people to watch games–heck, even my mom knew Lin’s stats after Friday night’s game. It’s great that people are comparing his numbers to LeBron James’s rookie numbers and saying Lin has surpassed them.
What’s not so great is that implied qualifier, that qualifier with subtle undertones of bigotry, disbelief, and slight racism.
Lin’s good–for an Asian.
Why does every article mention his ethnic background? Sure, the fact that he’s the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent is cool. It might even represent great strides in American culture. But it might also discount his accomplishments and his achievements.
Lin is a good point guard, and he’s proven himself to not be a fluke. Sure, he might lose some steam as the season goes on and might see diminished playing time with the return of Baron Davis, but Lin has the fundamentals and the work ethic.
He spent the immediate years after college building his game, diligently attending practice, and warming the bench. His rise to success is a happenstance (with injuries, a strong New York fan base), but not a shock. Lin was never mediocre, nor was he ever unathletic. His high school numbers and college performance were telling of what was to come.
So why all the hype?
Lin’s Asian-American, but what does that mean? He’s breaking stereotypes? He’s carving a path for future Asian-Americans?
All Lin’s performance really means is that he is a good basketball player, a point guard who is able to compete at the NBA level with elites. Period, no qualifier.