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MANILA, Philippines – @FloydMayweather: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”
This statement a few days ago by renowned prizefighter and notorious blabber Floyd Mayweather, Jr. caused a major stir in the sports community, especially to those very sensitive about racism. “Shut the f__k up, Mayweather,” one tweeter responded. “You’re giving us black people a bad rep!” Even UFC President Dana White expressed his disapproval over Mayweather’s criticism, calling him a racist.
In what surreal dimension does the exploits of an undrafted National Basketball Association (NBA) player of Taiwanese descent, cut by three teams in a little over a season, get the people’s shield from a racial tirade by arguably one of the best boxers in history? That is the enigma of Jeremy Lin, or the mania now trending as “Linsanity”.
Before February 6, 2012, very few people knew about the odyssey of the Harvard graduate who was looked upon by scouts as “deceptively quick” and “has great potential”. In the 2010 NBA Draft, the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers considered drafting the Southern California native with their second round pick.
“We took a long, hard look at him and almost made the move to draft him,” Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak was quoted as saying to ESPN. “But eventually we decided to get Derrick Caracter with our second round pick.”
Caracter has since been waived by the Lakers, ironically the day after Lin made his historic start for the New York Knicks this season.
Who is this virtual unknown who has captivated the consciousness of sports fans and Asians across the globe?
Jeremy Lin is the second of three children of Chinese Taipei immigrant Gie-Ming Lin and wife Shirley and was born in Palo Alto, California on August 23, 1988. Lin first gained acclaim as a high school phenom under coach Peter Diepenbrock in unheralded Palo Alto High School. He blended studies, extra-curriculars and athletics so well that he still had time to be his school paper’s editor-in-chief, along with a grade point average (GPA) of 4.2 and attaining multiple accolades as budding basketball star.
Lin went to Harvard University and played varsity basketball throughout his entire four years there. He finished his college career ranked first in games played (115), fifth in total points, fifth in assists and second in steals. He was also named to the all Ivy League First Team in both his junior and senior years and was among eleven finalists for the Bob Cousy Award as a senior, eventually losing out to Venezuelan Greivis Vasquez from Maryland.
Going undrafted in the 2010 NBA draft, Lin was signed by the Golden State Warriors on July 21st. On October 29th, Lin played an anemic 2:32 off the bench in the Warriors’ victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Not only did that mark Lin’s first game as a professional basketball player, but it was also the first time in seven years that a former Ivy Leaguer played in the NBA—the two last being Chris Dudley of Yale and Matt Maloney of Pennsylvania in the 2002-2003 season. Besides that, there was nothing remarkable to usher in the career of the man who just over a year later would be the talk of the entire league.
After an uneventful rookie season wherein he had norms of 2.6 points per game (PPG), 1.2 rebounds per game (RPG), 1.5 assists per game (APG), 1.1 steals per game (SPG), over 9.2 minutes per game (MPG) in 29 games for Golden State, Lin was cut by the Warriors prior to the next season. He hooked up with the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets but when he was waived right before the lock-out shortened 2011-2012 regular season commenced, Lin began looking at the possibility that professional basketball might not be in the cards for him.
“I was literally in tears,” Lin said on an interview on CNN. “I began weighing my options. Do I go to the D-League (The NBA Developmental League)? Do I play overseas? Do I just quit altogether? It was tough not knowing what to do.”
Eventually fate knocked on Lin’s door one more time when the Knicks signed him to what was supposed to be a 10-day contract in late December. Lin ironically saw his first action of the new season against his former team on December 28 when he played 1:27 in invisible scrub time in the Knicks loss to the Warriors.
Lin, however, was signed to a contract extension when rookie Iman Shumpert suffered a minor knee injury as an insurance policy that there would be backcourt help for New York. Over the course of the succeeding weeks, he would see action sparingly under coach Mike D’Antoni. The news of the Knicks signing veteran point guard Baron Davis assisted in putting a damper on any long term hopes Lin had for his new found team. But it was still business-as-usual for the positive outlook of Lin who is also a devout Christian.
He knew things would be better sooner or later. He just didn’t anticipate how soon “sooner” would be.
The Lin Experiment
In an experimental move last February 4th against the lowly New Jersey Nets, D’Antoni tried to diffuse the Nets’ perimeter offense by inserting three small guards along with his two superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
Instead of finding a way to limit New Jersey’s offense, D’Antoni stumbled upon offense of his own when Lin erupted for 25 points, seven assists and two steals, totally mesmerizing the Nets’ backcourt defense led by all-star Deron Williams. New York went on to win the game and many considered Lin’s performance a fluke against a lower tier NBA team. D’Antoni gave Lin the opportunity to prove his detractors wrong by giving him the starting job in their next match up against the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden.
What followed was what is today known as “Linsanity”.
Jeremy Lin proceeded to set an NBA all-time record for most points recorded by a first-time starter over four games. His 109 point output categorically eclipsed the previous mark of 100 points set by then rookie Allen Iverson and was also miles ahead of future hall-of-famer Shaquille O’Neal, hall-of-famer Michael Jordan and Philippine legend Billy Ray Bates.
Lin’s individual achievements also rubbed off on the Knicks themselves as they went on a six-game winning streak, most of the wins with Anthony sidelined due to an injury. In fact, Yahoo Sports reported that in the first five games Lin carried the Knicks in Anthony’s absence, Melo made approximately $1.1 Million without even suiting up. Lin made $48,100.00 in the same spell.
Over that wicked winning run, Lin averaged 24.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 9.1 APG, 1.6 SPG in about 38 MPG. Although New York eventually dropped a close decision to the New Orleans Hornets, they bounced back and upended the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and defenders still can’t figure out how to stop the feisty guard.
If the star has any flaws, it is his penchant for accumulating too many turnovers. In the games he has started, Lin has averaged 6.5 turnovers per game and unless he finds a way to take care of possessions better, opponents may begin to exploit this glaring weakness.
But for now, “Linsanity” rules.
Over the nine games the Knicks have played with Lin as their starter, the only time “Linsanity” took a trending backseat was for a few hours on February 12th—the death of music legend Whitney Houston. But after the news of the pop diva’s demise became common knowledge, “Linsanity” trended stronger once again. Blame that on the excited Asians who now see one of their own excelling in a sport dominated by big, burly African-Americans.
Lin’s family in Taiwan is now constantly stalked by paparazzi and most local talk shows in the region have made Jeremy Lin or “Linsanity” a topic at one time or another during this stretch. In fact, ESPN has allegedly fired one employee and suspended another for a racial headline that has since been pulled out of the sports broadcasting giant’s website. ESPN has also issued a public, written apology.
Had this happened during Lin’s limbo days, would this have garnered much attention? Mayweather’s comments which have been shrugged off as the rantings of a loud-mouth now because of the sudden upsurge in Lin’s popularity, people berate a boxing icon for his uncouth racial slur.
The underdog theme
The big story here is the triumph of the underdog; a theme that many Filipinos, Asians (remember Bruce Lee?) and even Americans can relate to. It just so happens that Lin is in the midst of the brightest lights of Broadway where the Knicks fans are now embracing basketball with a passion, perhaps for the first time since the drafting of Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing in 1985.
Some Filipinos have their take on the Lin-Mania.
DJ Suzy of Magic 89.9 once quipped, “I don’t know about you guys, but watching Jeremy Lin is making me believe in the Illuminati!”
Sports broadcaster and avid NBA fan TJ Manotoc says, “No one saw this coming except JLin himself. What makes him so hot is he’s the underdog. And since (Former NBA player)Yao (Ming, of the Houston Rockets) retired, non-whites and non-blacks have been looking for another hero. (Lin) steps in with the most unlikely stories, plus it’s a given that he’s in New York in the worst times of the season, losing 11 of 13 (to start the new season).
“He’s the American dream. Work hard and get your dreams.”
“If Bruce Lee were alive today, he would be sitting beside (award-winning film director) Spike Lee (a rabid Knicks fan) with his ‘I-Told-You-So’ look,” sports fan Maximillian Fuentes so eloquently explains. “The Bruce Lee-ish nature of Jeremy Lin also helps bring out what is unique about the Asian culture: speak softly, but kick the guy with the big stick back to kingdom-come.”
So true for many Asian athletes that have conquered the world by actions and not words such as baseball’s Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsusaka and Hideo Nomo, tennis’ Michael Chang, Paradorn Srichipan and Na Li, bowling’s Paeng Nepomuceno, snooker’s Marco Fu, the countless billiards greats from the Philippines, China, Japan and even Taiwan, and, of course, boxing’s fighting congressman from Saranggani Province, Manny Pacquiao.
Jeremy Lin gives many Asians a glimmer of hope – and that possibilities are boundless.
Perhaps the most famous and influential Asian the world has ever known said it best: “Man is the center of a circle with no circumference.” –Mohandas Gandhi – Rappler.com
Noel is a musician by education, a sports broadcaster by profession, a fantasy basketball expert by nature and counts online poker, running workshops and cooking as hobbies. Follow @NoelZarate.