Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The NBA in Black and White (and Now, Gold, Apparently)


I don't follow the NBA at all, really, and don't much care about the games, let alone the implicit politics of the league.  When the over-paid adolescents who play the game went on strike against the overly-wealthy adolescents who own the teams, I didn't miss the NBA, even a little bit.

Recently, though, living in the greater New York metro area, it's tough not to be aware about the somewhat odd sensation of the Knicks ' Jeremy Lin, who joined the team after having been waived by the Golden State Warriors in December, and failing a try-out with Houston, had more DNP (did not play) games for most of the truncated season than games he had appeared in.

Jeremy Lin

Then, among other things, Baron Davis, the team's starting Point Guard, was hurt, and Lin went from the end of the bench to something of a sensation, scoring 25, 28, 23, 38 (against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant), and 20 (the final two on free throws to win the game) points.

The performance, according to some sources, is the most points a player has had in his first five starts since the NBA-ABA merger.   Lin has become something of a sensation since, rocketing to the top of various internet blogs and "Twitter."

Not bad for a guy who received exactly zero college scholarship offers, who played his NCAA games at Harvard (yes - that's not a typo), a school that has not even been in the NCAA tournament in more than half a century, was undrafted, and cut twice in the space of a month.

It's a terrific human-interest story, but now, has drawn a sour comment from a Daily Beast blogger called Buzz Bissinger.  Mr Bissinger, as certain folks are wont to see, has distilled the whole phenomenon down to white racism.

No joke.  Jeremy Lin, a Chinese-American, represents a totem of white bigotry against black basketball players.

Mr Bissinger, quick to dismiss Lin's performance, points out that five games do not make Jeremy Lin the next Michael Jordan.  He points out that Lin is hardly the first guy to go undrafted and make waves, listing among others, John Starks and Ben Wallace.  Furthermore, he offers the cheap shot that Lin "has no outside shot," dismissing his pair of tres against Kobe with a glib "I know he made two three-pointers Friday against the Lakers, but so can some schlump picked out of the crowd at halftime to win a restaurant coupon to Applebees."

What a brilliant observation from an allegedly professional writer.

Well, no one I've seen has said that Lin is the next anything.  No one is suggesting he is headed for the NBA Hall of Fame, or indeed will not go straight back to the bench once Davis and Carmelo Anthony return.  I would bet that Jeremy Lin, if asked, would in fact be damned happy to be the next John Starks, who had a 13 year NBA career.

So what motivates Buzz Bissinger's animus towards Jeremey Lin?
And sorry, because people hate to hear the cold truth, but there is a factor of race: if he were African-American, would there be the same type of hysteria—oops, I’m sorry—Linsteria? Nope. He would be perceived as a potentially very promising black player, but because of the eternal and wrongheaded assumption that all professional black athletes are naturally gifted, there would be none of the linsteria.
For the past 20 years, the NBA brass and fans have been craving a Great Hope, and Lin has become the latest candidate. Yes, he is Asian-American and his ethnicity should not be mitigated. From what he said in an interview withTime, he took his share of shocking racial abuse when he played opposing Ivy League teams. 
But I don’t think fans are going wild over him now because of his breaking the Asian-American pro-basketball barrier. They like him because he is talented and exciting, at least so far. They also like him because he is light-complected and, in his Christian beliefs and prayer penchant, echoes much of white America.

There you have it.  He is being embraced because, well, he's basically white.

I recall Rush Limbaugh being essentially run out of town on a rail making the same sort of comments about a quarterback of somewhat marginal ability being hyped because he was black.

Incredibly, Bissinger goes on to comment that
Some speculate that Lin wasn’t drafted because he is Asian-American, but that’s ridiculous: pro franchises would draft a kangaroo if he could hold on to a rebound and not put it in his pouch and get whistled for traveling. Lin tried out for eight different teams after his senior season in 2010.
Really?  So the fact that Lin, who was the MVP of the Palo Alto High School basketball team that won the California Central Coast championship in 2005 (In California, there are not "state" championships - in a state of 30 million people, that becomes somewhat of a logistical challenge), ended up at Harvard because Berkeley, UCLA and USC and other more traditional basketball powers would not even give him a place on the bench had nothing to do with his ethnicity?  At the time, we were living in Los Altos, California (the next town down the 101 from Paly), and there was, to put it mildly, surprise that no local schools wanted him.  One of the best players in the entire Bay Area, and no one wanted him.

There was a famous story where Lin went to an AAU workout, and the coach looked at him and said "Volleyball practice is tomorrow."

Incredibly, Bissinger winds up his misguided diatribe complaining that the adulation for Lin is misplaced, and that offers as evidence that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are simultaneously among the best and most reviled players in the league.  His argument is that neither has been "charged with a crime."

I know that a lack of a criminal record is not high on my list of criteria when evaluating my choice of role models.  It would seem to my that once upon a time, it was a minimal, but necessary, criterion.

I don't know how good Lin really is, or how long his fame will last.  But I find it ridiculous that buffoons like Buzz Bissinger need to apply their own idiotic racial prisms of black and white to *every* issue, no matter how misguided or inappropriate.  I hope Jeremy Lin, Harvard graduate, quiet Christian, and quintessential underdog goes on to a good if not great career.


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