Maybe the spell is already broken. Maybe Jeremy Lin’s glass slipper is turning back to a more standard shoe, Nike or Converse or something like that. His New York Knicks on Friday night finally lost a game with him as starting point guard – lost, at home, to New Orleans, one of the worst teams in the league – and Lin had nine turnovers.
But before the fire dims on the hottest story in the NBA, let’s be clear about a couple of things:
First, the fuss over Lin isn’t because he’s Asian American, because he went to Harvard, because he was undrafted, because he’d been cut from two other teams or because he was a benchwarmer who, until very recently, was sleeping on his brother’s couch.
No. The fuss over Lin is because of ALL of that. It’s because beating those odds is a story in itself. And when it happens in the biggest media capital in the world, it’s bound to be huge.
So when critics like boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. make a comment about Lin like: “All the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Well. Sorry.
But that’s not the point.
Numbers never lie
First, almost nobody does every night what Lin did over his first five games as a starter. He averaged 27 points. Only two players in the league currently average more: Kobe Bryant at 28.9 and LeBron James at 28.0 – and I think we agree both get plenty of praise.
Second, Lin got no more attention for being Asian in the NBA than, say, a Brazilian player who scored six consecutive hat tricks would get in the NHL. It is silly to deny that Lin stands out in a league that is 78% African American and 1% Asian. Of course he’s going to draw eyeballs. But praising a kid who has never before scored in double figures yet suddenly leads his team to seven straight wins is not disrespect to anyone.
In fact, the “respect” word should be dismissed from this discussion.
Lin’s freakish streak of success comes from many things: his desire, his confidence, a sudden huge increase in minutes and opponents still unfamiliar with how to defend him. The longer he plays, the more teams will scheme for him, and the more his production might decrease. He is not big, nor super-quick, and in time, that will be exploited.
Also, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire – both out of the lineup for much of Linsanity – will demand the ball more as they resume their starring roles, thus giving Lin less scoring opportunities.
So while Lin has done the seemingly impossible – made outsiders actually root for the Knicks – it is likely he will fade to less dazzling numbers.
What about his story?
A Lingering effect
Well, there is no reason for that to fade. Lin can be an inspiration to kids black or white, foreign-born or American citizen, no matter what his statistics.
At 23, he is an NBA starter who stayed in college to earn his degree – an Ivy League degree to boot – and he didn’t let going undrafted dissuade him from his dream. He seems humble. He credits teammates. He never had a big contract, makes the league minimum salary for a second-year player and hung in through three different teams until opportunity presented itself.
That’s a good lesson right there, isn’t it?
If Lin is particularly inspiring to Asian Americans, that should be celebrated, not criticized. But I think most of the Lindulation comes from people happy to see a fresh new face, on a famous franchise, doing amazing things in a concentrated period of time. Don’t expect the hype to still be there in two months: Our country and media don’t have that long an attention span.
But for a few weeks in February, this has been a fine, fun, surprisingly engaging story – and it doesn’t come at anyone’s expense, and it shouldn’t be turned into jealousy, cynicism or comparison. Sometimes, when a flash shoots across the sky, the smartest thing to do is just watch and enjoy.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).
The LinSanity continues! Read Drew Sharp’s take on the NBA sensation. 5C