So… I have to, up front, confess that I don’t really follow basketball. For most of my life, my refrain has been that I’d rather play sports than watch them.
In high school and college, I swam and played water polo… and, of course, I ride a bicycle all the time. A bit of a knee injury almost two years ago now has made just a bit less active. I still play some ultimate frisbee, but I’ve been becoming more of a spectator, following soccer a bit (a bit more than I’d like to admit.)
About a week ago, I started seeing some facebook stories about Jeremy Lin. As the week went on more and more folks were posting about him. It was coming from all quarters – folks I went to high school with, my brother-in-law, African-american friends, political friends, Asian friends, and others. I gave in to the hype and decided to watch some videos on youtube… and I am really impressed.
Jeremy Lin is sometimes called J-Lin, which makes him a sort of tocayo for me… though that’s pretty much where similarities end (though he’s also 6’3″ – same as me.) He’s been a professional basketball player for a little over a year, but I’d never heard of him until this week. He’s a 23-year old guard currently having the week of his life scoring massive points for the New York Knicks. He’s Taiwanese-American the first American-born Chinese or Tawianese in the NBA.
Though he won a California state championship with Palo Alto High School, he was not recruited by colleges. He went to Harvard, where he played basketball to great success, but he was not drafted at all by any NBA teams.
He played for a season with the Golden State Warriors, where he saw little play time. He was cut from them, played during the summer with Mavericks, then cut from their squad. The NY Knicks brought him on, but he sat on their bench and was sent down to their “D-team” in Erie where he played briefly brilliantly, and was then brought back up to the first team due to other players’ injuries.
About a week ago, Lin came off the bench and played longer and scored more (25 points) than he ever had in his professional career. He started his first NBA game a day or two later, and now he’s breaking records with the most points scored by any other player in his first starting games. The Knicks are on 5-game winning streak, first time in the season. Lots of folks are excited about his story and coming up with silly plays with his name, including: “Lin-Sanity” and “all he does is Lin, Lin, Lin.”
I like stories about athletes that don’t fit the racial molds we might have for them (see my earlier post about Mesut Özil – the German-born Turkish-heritage soccer player), especially stories where sports meet politics and culture and grace. It’s pretty clear that Lin was consistently overlooked due to his race. Lin persevered and worked really hard and and ultimately shined when the opportunity he had created finally presented itself. Though folks have been saying that he “just came out of nowhere,” it’s clear that he’s been honing his skills and playing really well for some time. It seems like his time paying some dues, mostly away from the limelight has allowed him to develop as a player.
What’s also impressive is his humility. In interviews, he credits the great work of the entire team. You can tell he has some confidence in himself, which he should have, but he’s not cocky or carried away with his own importance. His playing style reflects this; his assists are wonderful (a tiny bit like Özil) so he makes his teammates play better.
There are lots of great easy-to-find videos of his great run this week (maybe watch this.) I really enjoyed watching the video below, which is mostly in Taiwanese (?) though Lin responds in English. I kind of like listening to languages I don’t understand – especially when there’s a tiny bit of English tossed in (like “Xxxxx-xxxx-xxx-xxxxx-Stanford-scholarship?”) It’s a bit long, but worth watching if you’ve caught Lin-mania. Jeremy Lin appears with his mother. He’s very humble. He gives credit to God, and demonstrates a very Christ-like Christian faith. He clearly believes, and it makes him bigger, stronger and more loving… but he shows this by example, by conscience, by generosity of spirit… not in any kind of pushy way.
I think he’ll be around for a while, though his current streak (averaging something like 28 points a game for 5 games) may not continue at such a phenomenal level… though… who knows? maybe he’ll keep surprising us! He’s exceeded expectations before. I suspect that teams are still underestimating him and they’ll kind of figure him out, at least some.
Even if somehow he goes on to do nothing else, this week will go down in history. Wishing you well, J-Lin!
Some other interesting links (from my Facebook friends) with worthwhile political takes on the Jeremy Lin story:
The Subtle Bigotry That Made Jeremy Lin the NBA’s Most Surprising Star (Colorlines)
What We Talk About When We Talk About “This Jeremy Lin Nigga” (Deadspin)