Jeremy Lin (23) was born in Los Angeles, California, and is a point guard for the New York Knicks. Right now, he is the biggest story in American sports by some distance and his image has been featuring prominently in their sports sections for weeks. It’s almost always accompanied by a cutesy pun like “Linsanity” or “Linsation”. There have also been some more sinister headlines such as one ESPN piece after Lin had nine turnovers in a loss to the New Orleans Hornets. It only ran online for 35 minutes but that was 35 minutes too long.
Lin is an American-born player of direct Chinese-Taiwan descent. He was passed over at college level and went to play for Harvard, an elite school in education but not when it comes to playing basketball. He then went unpicked in the 2010 NBA draft but was signed up by the Golden State Warriors after impressing against the number 1 pick during a summer league. Not given the game time to prove himself, Lin was cut by the Warriors, then signed by the Houston Rockets who themselves cut him before the season even started. Needing back-ups at the point guard position, the New York Knicks signed him in December of last year to essentially be their fourth choice in this position. His first month in New York mirrored his time at Golden State, not getting enough game time to show what he can do. Then, on February 4 of this year, Lin came off the bench against the New York Nets and scored 25 points, leading the Knicks to victory in the fourth quarter. The Linsanity began.
Lin has started every game since, leading the Knicks on a seven-game winning streak, which includes the game-winning shot against the Raptors and a 38-point haul against the Lakers, before losing last time out to the Hornets. Doing his best work in the fourth quarter Lin has warranted the praise received for igniting his team’s season and inspiring the Knicks to victory. He is looking every inch the superstar right now and the route he took to get to this point tells a tale of perseverance and self-belief, pure Horatio Alger, the American dream.
There is no escaping the race issue though. Naturally, as the most prominent Asian-American star in the NBA, he is being hailed as an inspiration for the Asian community in America. Proud of his heritage he is happy to shoulder this responsibility. However things get ugly when some elements of the media tries to be clever. ESPN’s ill-advised headline hasn’t been the only unsavoury incident. There has been a slew of racially insensitive headlines framed as jokes and sniping claims that if he wasn’t of Chinese-Taiwan descent nobody would care a jot about him. It seems certain forms of racism are still more acceptable than others.
There’s no doubt that Lin’s race has inflated his popularity in the last three weeks but there’s also no doubt that prejudicial opinions about what Chinese players can do on a basketball court held him back earlier in his career too.
Race, media, hysteria and puns aside, Jeremy Lin has worked hard to get where he is and from what we’ve seen so far he deserves to be recognised as the most exciting emerging talent in the NBA right now. How great he can be only time will tell but we can only hope that the longer he hangs around the less we’ll see of the racist stereotypes which have threatened to taint this inspiring story.