Monday, February 20, 2012

Why I Love Jeremy Lin (But Get Annoyed With Tebow)

Photo: edtrigger, Flickr Creative Commons

Floyd Mayweather caught a bit of flack for saying, "Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise." The fact of the matter is that he's almost right. A large part of the hype for Lin is because he doesn't fit our stereotypes of a basketball player. Until Lin caught fire, the only ethnically Asian players of significance were actually from China and they were freak-of-nature huge like Yao Ming. Lin's actually American with family ties to Taiwan and he's not that huge. He's my size, in fact.

The problem is that the only guys who've been managing what Lin's been doing for the last nine games are guys like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwight Howard. Yes, they're black, but they're also names that people who don't watch the NBA recognize instantly. (And Lin's scoring during February very much puts him in the middle of those guys.)

I think the real key to the crazy obsession with Lin is a combination of factors. After all, I am not Taiwanese, or a member of any other ethnic group from the Asian continent and I feel drawn to the guy's story. He wasn't good enough in high school to attract the attention of college scouts. Without a scholarship offer, he went to Harvard where he graduated with an economics degree and no interest from NBA scouts. In his best season at Harvard, he only averaged 17.8 points per game, and Harvard hardly plays the best teams in the NCAA on a regular basis. Undrafted, he managed to get a spot on the Golden State Warriors after college, in part because the team really wanted an Asian player to connect with the area's large Asian population, but they never made use of the kid and he was eventually cut before ending up with the Knicks. Even the Knicks were considering cutting him days before they temporarily lost their top two players and were forced to start Lin. For a geek with limited athletic ability like me, it's like watching every athletic daydream I've ever had play out in the NBA for real, although I've never personally daydreamed about the NBA. And don't forget, the sports writers are largely like me. Outside of the on-air talent, most of them aren't former top-tier athletes. They're guys who were good at English class, but really liked watching sports.

To be fair to Mayweather, he posted that on Feb. 13, though. Lin had only started for five games at that point and it hadn't yet become very difficult to assume he was going to eventually fall to Earth. It's been a little weird to see Lin be so ridiculously consistent. In his nine starts, Lin has averaged 25 points, good enough for fifth place in the league for scoring, if he'd been starting and playing at this level all season. Take away the 38-point game against the Lakers, and he still averages 23.4 points per game, still good enough for fifth place in the league despite his biggest anomaly game being the 10-point night in a blowout against Sacramento when he was rested the entire fourth quarter. All of his stats are eerily consistent, except assists, which seem to be trending up. True, he is mediocre at the foul line, not exceptional with his field goal percentage, and he absolutely turns the ball over at a league-leading rate, but the fact that the guy has gone nine games now, often with little or no rest between games in this condensed season, makes it seem that he's probably the real deal. He may not be able to keep up this level of performance forever, especially when the ball-hogging Carmelo Anthony returns from his injury, but I don't think it's a stretch that he'll remain a starter that the team is very happy to put on the court each night.

I've heard Lin compared to Tebow, in part because his team went on a sudden winning streak as soon as Lin got his first start after a sucky first part of the season. I'll even admit their overtly religious comments during interviews are similar, but I don't get annoyed by the Lin coverage the way I did with Tebow, and I think I know why. Tebow's success was inexplicable. With the exception of a couple of games where he really did produce, Tebow was decidedly mediocre. I also didn't buy the crap about Tebow being able to raise the spirits of his teammates. First, his teammates are professional athletes with tons of experience. They know good and well that Tebow isn't a very good quarterback. They may have liked him better than Orton, but I doubt they thought he had more skills. Instead, I think it was a combination of the Denver defense finding its footing and a decidedly weaker schedule after the departure of Orton that led to the team's success. They got lucky in the playoffs against a beaten up and poorly coached Pittsburgh team that seemed to have not seen a single tape of teams that had successfully played Tebow's offense before getting slammed by a Patriots offense that most definitely was paying attention.

Lin, on the other hand, has shone during his team's resurgence. He has weaknesses (although that's to be expected for a guy who's never started a game in the NBA until this February), but nothing that seems insurmountable. Tebow was a star in high school, a star in college, and a major draft pick. People gave him credit because they wanted him to succeed. Lin was never wanted or even known by most of the fans so he's grabbed their attention purely through his performance. Lin's teammates are playing better with him on the court, and that may be because of Lin, but unlike Tebow, Lin has played well for himself, which makes the hype much more bearable.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I was completely unaware of Lin until I saw the SNL sketch this weekend. I don't care enough either of these sports to have an opinion on either of these players. Meh.