Jeremy Lin, unlike Charles Barkley, is a role model. Just not for the reasons you think…
It’s easy to get tangled in the web of hyperbole that now greets Jeremy Lin, the oversignificance of him being the first Asian American NBA player in the modern era. In fact, many are heralding the move for the PR-savviness exercised by new Warriors ownership more than its implications on the hardwood. Because hey, it’s not like the NBA is a cotdamn business, man, where even the best player in the league chooses to play with the other best players in the league, because they can all be the bestest of the best together 4ever, thereby increasing the value of their brand tenfold. (And don’t forget about China!) Oh, wait, yeah, that’s exactly what it is. So shut up, you pesky heralds.
Truth is, J-lin, like the Wu-Tang clan, is for the children. The next-gen of ballers who are calling the shots, running the plays, and not afraid to mix it up with dudes who are meaner, bigger, faster, stronger, and longer than them. That’s right: point guards. What, you thought I was talking about Asian American kids?
Well, in a sense, I am. Talking about Asian American kids and point guards. Because point guards are leaders. Fearless. Willing to speak their minds. The dudes who inspire the other, bigger dudes on the team to have and to hold and watch their backs, because otherwise, they don’t get to score nearly as many points with nearly as much flair. (See: Stoudemire, Amare) When you watch J-Lin go toe-to-toe against John Wall, that’s what you see. Someone who grasps how high the stakes are (and how low the odds of survival), and is totally comfortable employing every last gasp of gamesmanship to make sure they stay that way. High basketball IQ is like the most backhanded of all backhanded compliments (especially with the plucky underdog types), but a leader has to have that too, and Lin knows that he’ll have to BRING IT, along with everything else — novelty act, crowd-pleaser, torchbearer, hustler — to the table at all times. And that’s just on the court.
Off the court, he allows us to speak more frankly about, believe it or not, race. Because, as we witnessed with Shirley Sherrod, many of us are still unsure of how or even why to do so, constantly making excuses for the outrage we feel, qualifying our statements because we don’t want to come off as race-baiting or incendiary. I’m willing to bet that from this point on, Lin won’t necessarily feel the need to put asterisks around all of his accomplishments, to continue to point out how much adversity — racial or otherwise — he’s had to overcome in order to get to where he is.
He won’t have to, because we already know. About the taunts he received while playing at Harvard, by idiot fans who tossed about racial slurs like they were hooligans at a soccer match. About no division I NCAA school giving him a scholarship, because they thought he was too slight in frame, and that he simply didn’t have the “look” of a great athlete. About going undrafted, because there were so many whispers about the brainy Harvard kid who could probably solve a complex math problem quicker than an NBA offense. We know, and we’re probably not going to shut up about it, or muck it up with pointless identity cherry picking.
Instead, I’ll just get the ball rolling by saying that in my mind, his closest NBA comparison also happens to be a point guard with a nose for going to the hole, come Hell or Dwight Howard, and is Black. (In case you were wondering who, it’s Kyle Lowry of the Houston Rockets) Notice I didn’t say he was a point guard who happens to be Black. Nor is Lin a hoopster who happens to be Taiwanese American. Because that would be too easy. That would be admitting the fact that our conversations about sports are color-blind, when in fact, they’re anything but. White ballplayers are compared to White ballplayers. Yi Jianlian is the second coming of Yao Ming. Ron Artest is/was the product of the Queensbridge projects. And so on, and so forth.
The point is, race doesn’t preclude us from offering a more well-rounded appreciation of our beloved public icons and yet from time to time, most of us are unwilling to bring it up anyways. If for no other reason than the fact that it’s far easier to elide issues about race and culture and identity than to acknowledge the inconsistencies, flaws, and gaps in their narratives.
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before somebody, somewhere alleges that Lin’s race, which may have handicapped him for all these years, has become his biggest ally, due to the Bay Area’s thriving Asian and Asian American population. “That has to be, like, some form of reverse affirmative action thing,” I can already hear some ignoramus grumbling.
When that happens, let’s all take a deep breath. And in between rolling our eyes and cracking our knuckles, prepare once more, to enter the breach. Jeremy Lin is a point guard. (Breathe in) Jeremy Lin is Asian American. (Just breathe) Jeremy Lin will not be classified. (Breathe out)