He’s the man who needs no Lintroduction.
That’s right, I’m talking about upstart Knicks star Jeremy Lin. Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was struck with a wave of what ESPN was quick to label “Linsanity.” With a few big games for an otherwise-underachieving team, Lin became the most talked-about individual in sports since Tim Tebow. Ability, stats, and media attention aside, there’s one thing underlying the Jeremy Lin phenomenon–one single thing that remains the elephant in the room, and one single thing that our passive-aggressive culture won’t allow us to tackle: race. It probably doesn’t help the issue that Lin just happens to be breaking out during Black History Month.
Now, let me be clear–I’m not looking to start some sort of scholarly debate about sports and sociology here. But we’d be lying to ourselves if we said that Lin’s meteoric rise to superstardom wasn’t at least somewhat attributed to the fact that he is an Asian-American basketball player. There’s nothing wrong with that. We as humans have a natural tendency to fixate on the different, the unique, the distinct. As an Asian American in a sport that is predominantly…not Asian American, he is just that. The problem takes shape when we expand to say that Lin’s acclaim, not just his popularity, is undeserving because of his race.
Lin’s “mistake,” as it were, was becoming a star in a sport that has become primarily the turf of African Americans. There are few things in America that “belong” to African Americans, and that are founded upon African American excellence. There’s a certain mentality here that basketball is “our thing,” and that this kid is the insurgent (or perhaps, Linsurgent) threatening all of that. Take rap and hip-hop, for example. Eminem, a white rapper who began his career as the sun set on the Biggie/Tupac era and now considered one of the all-time greats of his generation, was originally criticized and dismissed as stealing his style from established rappers, such as Nas. He gained media attention not only for his vulgar and reckless style, but for the fact that he was different–he was a white guy who was as good as black guys at their own game.
The not-so-invisible catalyst contributing to Lin’s rise is no different from that of Tiger Woods in golf, Kirby Puckett in baseball, or the Williams sisters in tennis. All noticeably excellent athletes, all even more noticeably unlike the rest of the pack. It’s just the fear of something being “taken from us” that has caused the push back against Jeremy Lin. But like Woods, Puckett, the Williams, and even Eminem, with continued success, Lin will be accepted, embraced, and possibly even revered.
One thing’s for certain: his career should be Lintriguing to watch.