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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lin-sanity…So What?

Jeremy Lin (12 PPG, 4 APG) is the starting point guard for the New York Knicks. He is in his second NBA season. He has started four games in his career. In those four starts, Lin has averaged 27 points per game, shooting 51% from the field, averaging 8 assists and two steals per game. Not bad…in fact…pretty darn good!

Every year there are a few players that have breakouts. Every year they get a few minutes on SportsCenter. Every now and then, they go on to have long and productive, if not great careers. Every year, those who continue to perform gradually get increasing coverage. Those who don’t face back in to NBA anonymity.

So why, after four starts, is Jeremy Lin the hottest story in sports during the past week? How did this “Linsanity” come about? What makes him special?


Let’s put our cards on the table right away and not dance around the subject: Lin’s demographics help feed the Lin-sanity. Lin is of Asian descent. Lin played his college ball at Harvard. Yes, “Haaaa-vard”…that Ivy League place. Lin was not drafted. Lin is on the NBA team in The Big Apple, the nation’s largest television market. All of that augments the heat that Lin’s story has received.

If Jeremy Lin were a black guy named Jeremy Jackson who went to Louisville and played for the Milwaukee Bucks, with the same performances, he would likely be a guy getting props on SportsCenter and TNT’s NBA panel. The sports world would keep a keen eye on him. He would not be a headliner. He would not get 10 or more minutes of coverage on sports highlight shows as he did following his 38 point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers.

I don’t have a problem with that. Sports help unite people. Ordinary strangers start conversations over sports, get to know each other, then become friends in some manner on a daily basis in America. I enjoy sports and I think diversity is great for stimulating wholesale interest in basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, and other sports. The only sport that I think will never need any help in my lifetime is NFL football. Make no doubt about it; Jeremy Lin’s profile is a significant driver in the popularity of his story.

What elephant? That's paper mache! 1


“Asian-American invasion? What Asian-American invasion? What are you talking about?” One might ask….

That is precisely my point! There is no Asian-American invasion in the NBA and there never has been. According to an article today at, Lin is only the 4th Asian-American ever to play in the NBA. There have been Asian players from overseas, such as former All-Star Yao Ming of China, but Americans of Asian descent, playing basketball at the highest level, are extremely rare.

Lin isn’t a behemoth standing over 7 feet tall from thousands of miles away. He is a man of above-average height from Northern California. Other than being a little tall he fits the profile of what comes to mind upon reading or hearing the words “Asian-American”.

If we are honest with ourselves about the profile of any type of NBA player – star, role player, big man, sixth man, distributor, dunker…I don’t care what descriptors you use – an Asian-American man is never, ever the image that comes to mind. There is a difference between political correctness, which I define as using verbiage in a manner that will make most people comfortable, and political “over-correction”, which I define as discounting or ignoring reality because discussing a topic with a demographic component could make people uncomfortable (I think many people, incorrectly, define political “correctness” as “over-correction”). Anyone ignoring the racial/ethnic component in the appeal of Lin’s story is over-correcting.

This image is the exception, not the rule. 2


Harvard University is one of our nation’s greatest assets, responsible for developing many of our nation’s most important research, brilliant minds, and powerful leaders. Like any major university, it also competes in athletics and wants to win. However, Harvard’s uncompromised mission has always been to develop the most brilliant minds in the world.

Harvard graduates are smart. They are extremely competitive (as one would have to be to simply be admitted to Harvard). They don’t send a lot of guys to the NBA. To play any major league pro sport, one must exhibit the acute degree of competitiveness in developing one’s game as a Harvard student must exhibit in developing knowledge and understanding of one’s field of study. There are only 24 hours in a day. Very few people can do both. Lin did.

Lin was no threat to win Most Outstanding Player during March Madness. 3


Jeremy Lin was not drafted. Undrafted players reach the NBA, often via the Developmental League, every year. However, the number of players who try dwarfs the number of players who make it. America loves an underdog and Lin is an underdog, by any definition.

Remember LeBron James’ declaration that the Miami Heat would win, “Not one…not two…not three (and then some)…,” championships? Jeremy Lin’s rights have belonged to not one, not two, but three different NBA teams in the past year and a half (Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and New York Knicks). This man has suffered hard knocks and paid his dues as much as any player ever to reach the NBA. America loves an underdog and sports media feasts upon them when they arise.

What's worse? Failing to meet high draft day expectations or exceeding low expectations? 4


Jeremy Lin could not have landed in a better place to begin realizing his basketball potential. New York is a basketball Mecca. New York is a media Mecca. New York is a marketing Mecca. New York is a Mecca for the rich and famous. New York is the most populated city in America.

What this means, for any rapidly rising star, is that accomplishments will be amplified and observed by many, possibly more than in any other city. When there is a good basketball story, it is news. When there is a good Knicks story, it is a headline. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Lin could not have had any greater fortune, should he choose to capitalize on his newfound fame, than to land in Gotham.

Only in New York, baby! 5

As I said, if Jeremy Lin were a black guy named Jeremy Jackson who went to Louisville and played for the Milwaukee Bucks, with the same performances, he would be the highlight of his team’s highlight reels. Conversely, if Jeremy Lin of the Knicks averaged two points, less than one assist, and ten minutes played per game, he could possibly be omitted from the box score. Sports are about winning and individuals receive recognition, ultimately, because of their performances.

Lin’s stat lines for the first four starts of his career are staggering, by any standard. His 38 point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday is lead-story material on its own merit. Some of his moves to the basket are poster-worthy.

Josh Innes, a personal friend of mine and co-host of the J & R show in Houston, raised the point yesterday that the driver of Linsanity is Lin’s performances, augmented by his off the court profile. Innes went on to point out that the anchor of Lin’s press clippings are in contrast to the mania surrounding NFL quarterback Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos, which is anchored as much, if not more, by Tebow’s outward expression of his Christian faith as Tebow’s performance on the gridiron and the Broncos’ rapid, unexpected turnaround last season.

I could not agree more. Lin’s Asian ethnicity draws attention to his story. Lin’s unlikely path to the NBA draws attention to his story. Lin’s place of employment amplifies everything about his story. Without the on-court achievement, there would be no story. The story continues tonight at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Raptors. To quote a Daily Hat Trick favorite, Bart Scott, “CAN’T WAIT!”

Moves like this are the glory of the story. 6

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