Jeremy Lin: Harvard, Hoops and Race

Well, well, well.  So the most popular player in the NBA is Asian.  Will wonders never cease.  As my Chinese boyfriend said yesterday: ‘So, you guys have a black President and the most talked-about athlete in the NBA is Asian.  Maybe the sun will rise in the west tomorrow.’

Jeremy Lin, the 23 year old basketball phenom is the first Harvard graduate to play in the NBA since 1954.  I’m not going to run the numbers here, but it’s more likely that he would end up as President than in the NBA, as we’ve had way more Harvard guys in the Oval Office than on the court.  Everyone seems to like this kid, not only for his undeniable and unexpected athletic talent, but also for the fact that he seems to genuinely represent the ideal of a ‘team player.’  He lends his prowess just as much to assists as he does to actual points, and his coordinating skills on the court, even for a basketball amateur such as myself, are obvious.

There’s been some grumblings, mostly from the likes boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, who made disparaging remarks about Lin’s race.  His sentiments were basically that if a black guy were doing this, it wouldn’t be as hyped.  And for as distasteful as his sentiments are, he’s right.  If Jeremy Lin were black, we wouldn’t be talking about it as much.  But the fact that an American born Chinese is displaying such unexpected talents has more to do with what Americans think about more than even race: the story of an underdog.  He was traded around, not really getting a chance to display his talents.  He came just as close to obscurity as he did world renown.

What’s unique about Lin’s story is not just that he’s Asian, but he’s the classic underdog.  His success is totally unexpected, for many reasons, but not just because of his race.  And one of the underpinnings of his success is the fact that he seems like an absolute class act.  Even though he’s still the new guy and his career is just starting, there’s talk of drafting him to the executive committee of the player’s union.  Given his Harvard degree in economics, his already demonstrated ability to act as a genuine team player, and the fact that people who are well liked generally have an advantage when it comes to negotiations, watch this kid.  I have a strong feeling that we’re going to be hearing about Linsanity for some time to come.

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