Lifting the Linsanity Veil

Linsanity was different from every other NBA phenomenon. It wasn’t based on skill and style alone. It wasn’t a name that reminded you of performance, like the Splash Brothers, who earned their name from making an insane amount of three-pointers. It wasn’t a name grounded in toughness, like The Bad Boys, whose name sprung from their aggressive defense on the court.

Jeremy Lin was an undrafted bench player who began scoring like a star. If the story had ended there and had not become an international rags to riches tale, life for Lin would be different. But the story didn’t end there. Lin received an extraordinary amount of attention because he was an Asian American player doing great things in a black league.  Asian Americans, who may have been indifferent to the NBA, tuned in to watch him. Asians around the world were transfixed. Lin became a cultural figure, a hero, a God, and someone to aspire to be like. Linsanity was born.

“I agreed to film after my rookie year in Golden State. I was more used to cameras and felt that my journey to the NBA was a story worth sharing. Little did we know how much bigger the platform and documentary would become after Linsanity.” (Lin, interview with Kam Williams)

Knicks ticket prices and stock price spiked in the beginning of 2012, right after Lin’s first 25-point game in February. Jeremy Lin’s story was intriguing and inspiring.

Since the 1970’s, and after the NBA/ABA merger, the NBA has been dominated by African American players. A talented minority player was bound to get a lot of attention in the league. On top of that, Lin was the first. The first Chinese American to have a starting role in the NBA. The first star from Harvard.

“I’m not playing to prove anything to anybody.“ (Lin, San Jose Mercury News)

Lin’s goal wasn’t to create a huge cultural phenomenon. He loves basketball and wants to achieve. Often, that requires him to overcome challenges. Nonetheless, people take his story as  an inspiration to defy stereotypes. His ethnicity probably played a role in his failures in college recruitment and the 2010 NBA draft. That didn’t stop him or his passion for the game, which is a more enduring character trait than Linsanity.

Lin’s athleticism has always been doubted even though he can successfully drive to the basket fairly often. “Athletic” isn’t the first word to describe Lin, but it also isn’t that big of a concern. For the same reason that several colleges didn’t bother to scout him, Lin is stuck in the stereotype box that Asians can’t excel at sports.

“He was becoming a star and I don’t think everybody was pleased with that” (Amar’e Stoudemire, ESPN)

Not everyone adores Jeremy Lin as much as his fans do. His teammates and coaches admit he is a hardworking player, but that doesn’t mean they think Lin deserves everything he is getting.

His new contract, $12 million a year, is the same amount that MVP Stephen Curry is getting paid. Other players of his same skill level and playing value can’t expect to receive offers like that.

This is the darker side of Lin’s career. He represents the ‘melting pot’ of the NBA, but that wasn’t something that could have been accomplished with just a few impressive game stats. Backstage, he has always been treated differently. Many players obviously feel underappreciated in comparison to Lin and may even feel resentment towards how commercially successful he has become without a trip to a conference final.

In terms of skill, a fraction of the players in the NBA deserve similar credit as Lin, and they simply don’t get it.

There’s no doubt that his preferential treatment is because of his race and being a trailblazer for Asian athletes. No one is blaming him directly for this, though. He is the beneficiary of what his ability and skill is allowing him to achieve. The door was already there. He gets credit for walking through it.

Now that he’s entering his prime and returning to one of the biggest cities in the world, there are high expectations for Jeremy Lin. Some are expecting Linsanity 2.0. What that means can be positive or negative, depending on who’s asking and what their expectations are.

Behind the Linsanity veil is a different world for Jeremy Lin – one that he hasn’t quite settled into yet.

In Brooklyn, will he finally find a place that feels like home? Or, is passion and effort the most we can expect from Jeremy Lin?

He will give everything he has, just as always. But will his critics be satisfied?


photo via llananba