All the Lovely Bad Ones

By Mary Downing Hahn

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Jeremy Lin, Race, and Other Things Related


Floyd Mayweather is a moron and a racist (see comments he’s made in the past about Manny Pacquiao for further evidence). It’s not terribly surprising to see him say something racially charged, inaccurate and, overall, idiotic about Jeremy Lin, the latest sports sensation sweeping the nation like some kind of horrifying, nation-sized broom. The only thing disheartening thing about Floyd’s comments is that they shouldn’t be terribly disheartening. I think most of us could have predicted that, sooner or later, some dumb fuck was going to spew their trademark dumb-fuckery in Lin’s direction. ‘Twas only a matter of time.

Floyd’s assessment that “Black players do what he does every night” is demonstrably false, given that every night Lin seems to be accomplishing something that only a handful of men have ever done (last night he became only the 3rd Knicks player to have 20+ points and 7+ assists in his first 6 games). Floyd’s defense of his comments, that he’s only standing up for African-American athletes in the NBA, is asinine. If there’s any major sport where there is zero remaining question as to our capabilities, it’s basketball. We don’t need anyone to “defend” our NBA prowess, and I don’t imagine that all of these grown ass men in the NBA really need Floyd to speak on their behalf like they’re incapable of expressing themselves.

With all that said, Lin’s race clearly plays a factor in the amount of attention he is receiving. The fact that he doesn’t look like your stereotypical NBA star is part of the story. This is not a negative thing. The NBA seeks and needs more diversity among its fans and players. Having an undrafted, Asian-American Harvard kid playing in the country’s biggest media market, the Mecca of basketball, and dragging the Knicks out of dire straits and into possible playoff contention (yeah, it’s way too early to even think about the post-season, but this is a sports piece, so premature prognostication comes with the territory) is a perfect storm for a feel-good sports story. It’s better than Tebow, better than Rudy, even better than Angels in the Outfield.

It’s somewhat comparable to why Tiger Woods was such a popular and captivating figure when he first went pro. Not only was he extremely good, but he broke the stereotypical mold of what an athlete in his sport looked like, and skin color obviously played a huge role in that. Now, for Lin, I think the biggest factor in why his story is receiving so much attention is that he’s playing in New York City and has single-handedly rejuvenated a beloved franchise long mired in disappointment. Then there’s the fact that he’s also playing extremely well (which is part of what differentiates him from Tebow–there’s no “magic” here, there’s no asking “how is he doing this,” you can just look at his stat-line and say, “Wow, this kid is really freaking good”). In third place, there’s the fact that he’s Asian-American (playing in a market with a very visible and sizable Asian population, which ESPN has gone out of its way to show us all at every home game). These are all elements to his story, and he’s acknowledged it himself in past interviews. There’s no harm in discussing it, so long as you don’t try to act like this somehow diminishes his accomplishments.

Somewhat overlooked in all of this, and likewise with the “Tebow-mania” that “Linsanity” (ugh, I apologize for typing that) has been compared to, is the public’s seemingly ravenous desire for some positive sports stories. Consider some of the biggest American sports stories over the past few years: The Tiger Woods scandal. “The Decision.” The NFL and NBA lockouts. The vicious beating of a fan at Dodger stadium. The Bernie Fine scandal. The Sandusky scandal. Some of these are worse than others, but all of these were negative, and most were decidedly unpleasant. This is in addition to your usual stories about athletes, coaches, managers, owners and fans behaving obnoxiously. Now, you have these consecutive stories about guys who people are eager to cheer for. Of course people are going to overreact and overstate their successes. Who can blame them?

And make no mistake, the amount of attention being paid to Lin is excessive. Even he’s aware of it. He’s a Harvard guy, after all. He isn’t just being demure when he tries to pass credit to his teammates and downplay his role in the Knicks’ turnaround. He’s smart enough to know that it’s unrealistic for him to be carry the pressure of being a megastar when he’s only had six games under his belt, and Mike D’antoni is already trying to burn him out so fast he’s going to have to change his name to “Amar’e Stoudemire’s Knees.” (The good news, D’antoni is probably too smart to sabotage Lin’s confidence by making him split minutes with Baron “Doctor said I need a back-eotomy” Davis if and when the latter comes back; probably.) He’s going to have nights when he goes for 8 points and 6 assists and 7 turnovers, and then the members of the “Lin’s Overhyped” choir will start singing “We told you so” at the top of their lungs. And that will be a ridiculous overreaction as well. Who knows what the future holds for this dude? He might eventually taper off like Fernando Valenzuela and be “merely” good, instead of being an all-time great. He might be a future journeyman who’s enjoying a relatively brief, but stellar, moment as the center of the sports universe. Or, he might indeed be the next Steve Nash.

As a sports fan, I’m hoping for the latter. I’m hoping he, Melo and Stoudemire develop a court chemistry and bring the Knicks back to prominence, even though I’m a Laker fan, because I’m one of those people who believes that the NBA is more fun and interesting when the Knicks are good. I’m hoping he continues to bring new fans to the NBA, the way Tiger once brought new fans to the PGA. I’m hoping this brilliant 6 game run turns into 60 games; turns into 600 and beyond.

Above all else, I’m hoping that people will stop saying “Linsanity,” “All he does is Lin,” etc. And I say this as a guy who has an arsenal of bad puns at his disposal, but we can do better than this. We must do better than this.

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