By Leland Stein III –
Okay, I know I’m jumping on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon of hype, but I cannot help myself! It’s too much fun!
I’ve been covering the NBA as a writer for 20 years and I have never, ever seen a feel good story like this one.
Personally, I think Lin has been a victim of discrimination during his path to the NBA. Major collegiate programs and the NBA overlooked him because he is Asian American.
We all have personal bias no matter how hard we try to ignore it. When a recruiter or scout watched Lin, they saw an Asian kid, not an athlete. That clouded their ability to recognize he can penetrate and distribute the ball on a high level. Their eyes contradicted their bias and they couldn’t overcome it. If Lin were African-American he would have been drafted and very likely stuck on the bench of an NBA club.
Lin would have been better off born in China. But being a Chinese-American, Ivy-Leaguer from Harvard, outplaying Kobe Bryant, breaking the stereotypes has driven the New York fans and even the nation to join in the obsession that is “JLin”, "Linsanity", "Linspiration", and "Lincredible"!
Since entering the Knicks' starting lineup on February 4, Lin has averaged 26.8 points and eight assists on a true shooting percentage of 58 percent. The 13-15 Knicks have won all five games Lin has started.
What may have hampered Lin in the beginning has turned into his blessings. Being Asian has put him in another level of humanity. He has become an extremely hot ticket. In fact, in a recent road game the Minnesota Timberwolves sold standing-room only tickets to pack in an announced crowd of 20,232 -- the largest crowd here since 2004.
The first American-born NBA Chinese player is drawing the casual fan even in road games. I am one of those! After he busted 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, giving him 89 points in 3 starts, the most by a Knicks player in his first 3 starts with the team since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77, I was all on board the Lin train.
U.S. media outlets are not alone in the coverage of the undrafted point guard from Harvard. He has emerged from the end of the bench to become a worldwide phenomenon in a week. His Twitter followers have risen by 50,000 to a total of more than 155,000. The Asian media are so taken with Lin, crowding him at shoot-arounds and post-game.
The fact of the matter is the Knicks were in the NBA toilet and the coach, Mike D'Antoni, was in jeopardy of getting fired. New York came into the season with such high hopes with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, plus free agent signee center Tyson Chandler had all the Knicks faithful believing, hoping that this would be the season.
Smartly, Lin went to Harvard and has embraced his heritage. Former Rockets All-Star center Yao Ming was the subject of a documentary entitled "The Year of the Yao," and is single handedly the main reason basketball is the favorite sport in China.
Unexpectedly to me, Lin and Yao are actually very close friends. "I talk to Yao after every game," said Lin, who took part in Yao's foundation tour in Taiwan in August 2010. "He's taken me out to eat every time we're in the same city. He's obviously a role model and a big brother and mentor to me. We keep in touch all the time."
For nine seasons, Yao was the Asian ambassador of the NBA, but unfortunately various injuries cut his career short, and he retired last summer. With Asia the fastest growing NBA market, it is primes for Lin to take over that prestigious position. With the way word spreads around the world nowadays, especially through the advent of social media, that may have already happened.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @LelandSteinIII