Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

Perfecting the Round Table: The Passion for Jeremy Lin

February 15, 2012

Perfecting the Round Table is a series where our contributors discuss various topics back and forth.  We encourage you to participate in the comments below.

Rahat Ahmed (): How important is it that Jeremy Lin is an Asian-American? Would we care less if he was black or white? Is Lin’s rise to sudden stardom more important for basketball, New York or Asian-Americans?

Douglas Chau (): Asian American identity, by far. It doesn’t hurt that he plays in NY, where he’ll get huge media exposure, but it’s more the curiosity that comes with being unfamiliar. If this was a black player, we wouldn’t give it a second thought. That black player would be thought of as keeping the seat warm until STAT and Melo get back. Instead, the media is making this a team of Lin, Stat and Melo. While I don’t think he’ll keep this up, I’d be more than happy with a 15 and 8 line at the end of the season. The scouting report still holds true on him: He can’t go left very well, he certainly can’t finish left and his jumper is shaky, at best. Plus, he is Turnover City. Besides, his first games have come a third of the way into a season where the schedule is compressed, and everyone he’s playing against is tired of the back-to-backs.

In essence, J-Lin plays like every Asian guard you’ve ever played pickup ball with: He has a quick first step, gets into the lane and keeps coming. You probably won’t see him mentally check out at the end of a game. That’s what I like best about his game, but let’s leave all that “on pace for hall of fame numbers” hogwash to Skip Bayless and the “tiny pecker” jokes to Jason Whitlock.

Marcus Bui (): Everybody loves the underdog story: David “pwnz” Goliath in a 1-on-1 duel, ’84 Americans beat the Russians, Eli does it again against the patriots.

I’m personally happy for the guy because as much as I’d love to be an NBA Basketball player, there’s simply no hope for me: I’m just lacking way too much.  Size, strength, skill, a last name that is catchy, etc. Jeremy Lin represents the average American—not just Asians—that similarly lacks elite athleticism but has a high basketball IQ. In a league where players are drafted and given millions of dollars based on just potential and physical size/strength (e.g. Kwame Brown, Hasheem Thabeet, Bismarck Biyombo), these types of players are deemed much more valuable than the plethora of players who are 6’10 or shorter and are much more skilled (i.e. hit at least 3 consecutive free throws) because, in the end, “you just can’t teach size.”

However, I’m annoyed at certain publicity that Jeremy Lin is getting. Because Lin is in a Knicks uniform and is on the “Big Stage,” there’s just simply way too much knee-jerking about how great this guy really is. MVP chants? Come on MSG, you’re better than that. The thing that irritates me to no end is that the Rockets and Warriors forums are filled with hundreds of posts regarding the “Lin-sanity” DNPs and how they lost out… These types of reactions are big slaps in the face to Kyle Lowry, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis who are truly elite PGs in the NBA. Don’t get me wrong, what Lin has achieved in his starting position for the Knicks is great, but there are many factors playing into how “great” he really is.

1) The level of competition/matchups have been really generous to Lin. The one team that should have posed a threat to the Knicks, the Lakers, have their biggest weakness at point guard. When you’re seriously considering a 36-year-old Allen Iverson as an upgrade offensively and defensively, you’ve got some serious issues.
2) The Knicks offense stuffs PG stats. Look at Raymond Felton and Chris Duhon as examples. Their statistics as a Knick are much higher than their career averages.
3) Any wins right now for the Knicks are much better than the amount of losing they were enduring—especially with two all-star players at the helm. It’s extremely irritable to see knee-jerk reactions like “What are we going to do with Melo and STAT now? Trade?” You just gave up 6 players for Melo!

In the end, Jeremy Lin is displaying some enjoyable entertainment—it’s not everyday my wife (who has a minimal desire to watch sports) will sit glued to a Knicks-Timberwolves game and complain about me switching channels during commercials for fear of missing a Lin highlight.

Nick Britton (): I’m not Asian-American so his being Asian doesn’t really have the impact on me that it would if I were. I was a little amazed at all of the comments along the lines of “this is the biggest story in Asian-American sports history!” but after a little discussion, it dawned on me that in the big four, there really hasn’t been that much in the way of Asian American athletes. Or, perhaps more telling, the Asian athletes, your Ichiros and Nomos and Yaos, have dominated the discussion of Asian, American or not, influence on sports. When I made a mental list of Asian-Americans in the big four, I got Dat Nguyen and Kurt Suzuki. That’s it.

Jeremy Lin is a good story for the traditional underdog reasons: He was all-everything in California, but no one recruited him. He went to an Ivy League school without a scholarship, led Harvard to their best season and got very little love from the pros. But he’s interesting because underdogs in the NBA are just more interesting: The elite college kids get the hype, all of the love, the focus from ESPN and all of that. And it’s non-stop. So when a smaller kid from an Ivy League school who played four years in college comes and shows up Deron Williams, John Wall and Kobe Bryant, I’m interested. Especially Kobe Bryant.

Douglas Chau (): Being Asian-American is a big part of that underdog story that people are talking about, whether they admit it or not. If he was a black kid (using black because they’re the majority of basketball players, not because I hate white people) and he was Mr. Basketball in California, he wouldn’t have gone unrecruited. He wouldn’t have gotten zero Division I scholarships. Whether people care or relate to him because he’s Asian-American is one thing, but it’s a big part of why he’s the underdog that those people identify with.

To a certain extent, he’s easy to identify with for some of the same reasons that Iverson was. He’s relatively small, and he’s going at bigger foes (how I’d imagine most people view their challenges in life).

Rob Boylan: I’m pretty sure Richard Park and Devon Setoguchi (and Nazem Kadri is from Lebanon, to be fair) are the only Asians in the NHL. Park is a good fourth line grinders/penalty kill guy, the kind of guy who gets under your skin with hard work (I remember him scoring a 5-on-3 short handed goal against the Rangers a few years ago), while Setoguchi is probably an AHL player who got a huge bump in his rookie year by playing with Joe Thornton. If any of us played on a line with Joe Thornton we’d score 30 goals too.

Not being Asian or a basketball fan though, I have a limited interest in the story, but I do admit to finding it interesting as long as he doesn’t start writing bible passages on himself like Tebow.

Andrew Feingold (): Bottom line is if he didn’t play in New York, his jersey would not be the top seller. The media loves this, and it’s saved D’Antoni’s job for now.

Rahat Ahmed (): We’ve read that Lin was Mr. Basketball in California, but that is incorrect. Chase Budinger, incidentally, won it before going onto Arizona and then getting drafted by the Houston Rockets—the same team that cut Lin earlier this year. He was, however, Northern California Division II Player of the Year and first-team All-State. So, while it wasn’t Mr. Basketball, that’s still a resume that should have gotten some attention for a Division I basketball university. Alas, such was not the case, and I cannot help but agree with Doug that it was because he was Asian. Other than that factor, what other reason could there be? Because even if you’re not a prototypical size, the kind of production he had in high school still demanded attention from some podunk college of mediocrity. And even that he apparently did not receive.

Andrew Feingold (): Fun listening to New York sports radio and a caller already comparing him to Steve Nash…

Rahat Ahmed (): It’s true that he’s got the basketball IQ to possibly manage D’Antoni’s court game, but we’ve seen that in the absence of the $180 million men, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. His fearlessness reminds me considerably more of Russell Westbrook than Nash, though I worry if he’ll continue forcing it as he did against Minnesota when Melo and Amare come back. What I can’t tell, though, is if him taking 20+ shots a game is a bad thing or a good thing. If he ends up disorienting defenses, creating space (especially on the perimeter for a sharpshooter such as Steve Novak) or simply being more efficient than Melo, maybe he should shoot 25 a game!

Marcus Bui (): ESPN SportsNation asked, “Who is the NBA’s best point guard?”  Clearly 14% of the country has gone full retard.  It was 20%+ earlier…

Rahat Ahmed (): It’s Paul, Williams or Rose. Anyone who answers Lin is clearly not a real basketball fan. And non-basketball fans do read ESPN.

Douglas Chau (): It’s CP3 in my book. But seriously, I hate the Internet generation because of things like this. Jeremy Lin hasn’t played nearly enough for him to even be allowed to be in this conversation, yet somehow Facebook and Twitter allowed him to be mentioned. Did anyone realize that Rondo threw up a 32-10-15 trip dub last night?! And we’re still talking about a dude that struggled to finish against a long armed Spanish rookie?

Andrew Feingold (): Skills-wise, Kyrie Irving is better than Lin, just on a worse team and now hurt. Again, look at the numbers Felton was putting up with the Knicks…

Ethan Kim (): I’m Asian-American. I am a die-hard hoops fan. Lifelong Knicks fan. This approach is not about his skills on the court, something I can address later as I’ve tracked his career since Harvard and have been to every Knicks home game since his breakout Nets game.

This time of year, like all other years, there are no pro sports of significance (sorry hockey fans). The New York media was busy focusing on the Giants’ incredible run but once that was over, all eyes were going to be on the Knicks anyway. This Jeremy Lin thing just gives them much more ammunition.

Identity: I really really want to say, “I don’t care that he’s Asian-American, as long as he can put the ball in the hoop, make the right pass and win games for my beloved Knicks.” If I said that, I know I’d be lying, and nobody likes a liar. As a die-hard hoops enthusiast who plays in multiple basketball leagues, all that matters to me is how you perform on the court. That’s the bottom line. But in this case, it’s different. I was, and still am not (although I may sound like one after reading this), one of those overly “Asian Pride” type of guys. Growing up on Long Island, I guess you can call me the cookie-cutter Asian-American embracing both cultures due to my parents’ influence, but identifying myself to the American culture more. What I’m trying to say is, I identify with this guy Jeremy Lin so much and I’ve never had someone like that in the sports/entertainment industry before. Jackie Chan? Jet Li? Yao? Yi? Nope. The closest I have is Anthony Kim but golf just doesn’t do it for me. Jeremy grew up as an Asian-American and had to deal with the same issues that come with that territory. He’s not a Yao nor a Yi who I have nothing in common with except the way we look. I grew up watching Saved by the Bell, Fresh Prince, etc. I’m sure Yao nor Yi have watched Saved by the Bell, but I’m pretty sure Jeremy has. Yao and Yi are products of the Chinese Government athletic programs whereas I just tried to make the varsity basketball team in high school. To put it simply, that’s the difference in why I never found myself rooting for or even being a fan of Yao/Yi. I can see myself in Jeremy, and if I were younger, he’d be my role model and inspiration that if I work hard, I can make it to the NBA and not have to be 7 feet tall.

Pressures: Being the starting PG for the Knicks is pressure enough for any basketball player with the New York media and fans watching and judging every move. Throw in the fact that we were supposed to contend for a title this season. We’ve also been on a ridiculously horrible losing streak that was temporarily masked by the Giants’ success. Factor in the insane media hype of “Linsanity” that is now reaching Tebow’ish proportions. Don’t forget the millions of fans in Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Philipines, Thailand, etc.) who are also getting enamored with this guy. Then there are guys like me all over the country: The Asian-American kid who instantly identifies with hm. And then to a smaller degree, there are religious people who see him as an ambassador for Christianity in sports. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid to deal with. He’s dealt with it humbly with a certain maturity beyond his years while putting up numbers and winning games.

So while the Knicks finally found the PG that can run the offense, Jeremy Lin’s impact transcends just the basketball court into a whole new arena of cultural and social importance. It gives hope to the Asian American male that it is indeed possible, and shows mainstream America that hey, an Asian-American guy can also be a sports “star.” What made me the most happy at the Lakers game this past Friday were the 6 Caucasian kids (ages 6-12 roughly) begging their dads to get them a Lin jersey.  Every time Lin made a play, these kids were cheering hard because Jeremy was a good basketball player.

Personal Note: I’ve actually met him twice through a friend and got to hang out with him. I’ve seen him play in person in college many times as I tracked his career since his junior year at Harvard. What you see in the interviews is the real deal, this kid isn’t letting this get to his head. That’s refreshing especially in the NBA.

With that said, Kobe is still my favorite player.

Douglas Chau (): The interesting question from a basketball perspective is whether the Knicks will have this type of stifling defense when the stars come back.

And very well thought out, Ethan.

Marcus Bui (): That was a refreshing read Ethan, I thoroughly enjoyed your response.

I play a lot of basketball—both leagues and for fun at the gym. I’m taller than the typical asian guy, just a tad over 5’11. The thing is, Jeremy Lin is 6’3, and they were surprised that he could dunk. He has a standing reach of 8’2—that means he has to jump approximately 26+ inches to dunk a basketball, which is pretty low standard for a professional athlete. I know plenty of Asians that can dunk that are much shorter than him or me.

This is the Asian bias that we have come to tolerate. At the gym, there are plenty of times when people are selecting teams and the black guy gets picked over an Asian guy with superior athleticism, skills and basketball IQ. You choose an Asian guy to do your math homework, not score you buckets.

I have been following him for a while too as I also have a sense of AzN PrYdE (you have to write it that way… you just have to), and I do consciously/self-consciously look for that similar identification. Herein lies the issue that I have with Lin right now: It’s not that I hate Lin, I want him to succeed. It’s the awareness of what you’re capable of. As you stated before, Lin has been really humble about his play, I believe he knows that the stars just lined up for him perfectly, and it won’t last long. It’s the “fans” that make this hype truly unbearable for me.

It’s my opinion that it’s CP3 > D-Rose > D-Will > everyone else. It’s still amazing how many people who you imagine would know better are proclaiming Lin to be in the same ranks.  When it comes to point guards, my arguments are along the lines of “Nash vs. Kidd” (aka pure offense vs. everything but a shot pre-2008).

However, this Lin hype is ridiculous. If you watched the Knicks-Wizards game, you would know that Wall outplayed Lin on almost ever single facet. That dunk wasn’t even the product of Wall’s bad defense but Trevor Booker’s failure to pick up the help defense.

Again, I reiterate that I am not hating on Lin but I’m definitely more “grounded” on what it seems he is truly capable of. As I’ve pointed out to people before, Nikola Pekovic is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in 7 games as a Wolves starter—should I start thinking that he’s better or on the same level as Al Jefferson, Marc Gasol, Al Horford and LaMarcus Aldridge?

Ethan Kim (): John Wall played great but a point guard’s job is to run the offense. John Wall didn’t do that. He looked to score more than run the offense. John Wall is a better basketball player than Lin, no doubt. Also agree with you on the dunk thing. Wall was expecting Booker to hedge early and high on the screen.

You can’t discount how Lin took over the game in key moments and ended with a dub-dub playing with the likes of Jeffries and Walker.

CP3 is the best point guard in the nba. Then Rose. Those two are by far the top two in the league.

Marcus Bui (): I agree to a point about your point guard comment. I believe the better statement is “your most skilled player” should be directing the offense, and generally, the shorter you are, the more skilled you have to be to be in the NBA. You have to be insanely skilled at the height of Muggsy Bogues or Earl Boykins to make it in this league, but you have your LeBrons and T-Macs that kind of go against the grain.

John Wall is a pass first PG. He’s just asked to score on a very crappy Wizards team. I don’t want to compare Lin to Wall.  To me, there isn’t a comparison.  It’s just that the public makes these comparisons that drive me up the wall. Right now, I can guarantee that the Knicks would rather have (pick one): Teague, Rondo, Augustin, Rose, Irving, Knight, Monta, Curry, Lowry, Collison, CP3, Conley, Jennings, Rubio, D-will, J-Jack, Westbrook, Holiday, Lou Williams, Nash, Tyreke, Parker or Wall. That’s just the PGs that I know for sure that the Knicks would rather have and not the debateable ones like Jameer Nelson, Felton, etc.

Rob Boylan: Excuse me everyone, but it’s now Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jeremy Lin, not just Jeremy Lin.

Douglas Chau (): Thoughts on Mayweather’s comments? I think he’s right. Lin is getting tons of press because he’s a novelty who happens to be playing in the major media market. If it was a black dude in Milwaukee putting up the same numbers, I highly doubt he’d be generating this much interest.

Also, I had someone argue with me that Lin’s appeal is that he’s an underdog (cut from two teams, D-league, etc), not that he’s Asian. Opinions on that?

Nick Britton (): His appeal is that he’s an underdog.  It’s a feel good story about a guy making the best of his opportunity despite being cut twice and being a D-Leaguer in a league that offers very little in the way of opportunities for guys like him, of his size, etc. Him being from Harvard and not being recruited is way, way, way more interesting to me. His being Asian is part of that, sure, but I really don’t find his being Asian on its own that huge of a thing. I’ve seen Asians in the NBA before. His being Asian-American doesn’t really mean all that much to me personally.

But, to address your first point, he very much is a novelty to many—possibly most—people and him being in New York absolutely helps that. And, to be honest and probably a little crass, black dudes putting up the same numbers in Milwaukee… as long as we have the Bucks and Marquette, we’re always going to see that.

Isn’t this similar to Jason Williams of the Kings back in the late 90s? A white guy from West Virginia playing street ball at the pro level? Perhaps it’s not as novel, but it’s just the perceived fish-out-of-water thing.

Douglas Chau (): Granted, it’s all a package with this guy, but I don’t know if many people are relating to him because he’s an Ivy League grad. He’s also not undersized at 6’3, 200. There have certainly been guys smaller than him that were better (Iverson for one). Isn’t part of the reason he wasn’t recruited in the first place because he is Asian? The PC thing to say is that judgment was based on ability, but those judgments were made by humans.

I understand the underdog aspect of the story, but even in terms of that, his story doesn’t really stack up with other recent stories. Kurt Warner being exhibit A and Tom Brady being exhibit B. Those guys went from out of the league/end of the roster to Hall of Famers. This dude has played well in a few games by jumping into the middle of a compressed schedule where everybody else was already tired. Maybe my exasperation with the Internet age is manifesting itself with hate against Jeremy Lin. To me, this is like knowing about an indie band before everyone else and then they hit it big and everybody jocks them and then everybody hates them. (Read: Black Eyed Peas) Honestly, I’m just preparing myself for the backlash.

Total side note about the fish out of water thing: Since you brought up J-Will, I want to bring up his running mate from high school. Why doesn’t Randy Moss get more love for owning a NASCAR truck team?

Rahat Ahmed (): Nobody actually cares that he went to Harvard (at least not anyone outside of Ivy institutions). It’s more about the underdog combined with the racial angle that creates the perfect storm. Of course, he’s performed on the court, and that’s the most important part. And as you say, Doug, he wasn’t recruited because he was Asian. There’s no other reason at all to think why he didn’t get a scholarship. There are too many schools who scout in California for there to be another explanation.

And David Stern has said he will not send a special invite to Lin for the Rising Stars game. I’m all for tradition, but they run the All-Star game on such a whim that I find this decision to be ridiculous.


Lin just drained the game-winning three against the Raptors with the coldest of staredowns. Are we buying? If so, at what value?

Andrew Feingold (): What a second half comeback. Real nice game out of Calderon but the Raptors are not very good either.

Rob Boylan: You can only beat what’s in front of you. It’s a professional league.  Even the bad teams are pretty good.

Andrew Feingold (): Bobcats and Wizards would say different…

Marcus Bui (): I’m buying in that Jeremy Lin is an NBA player, though I’ve felt that way the whole time. I’m not saying that Jeremy Lin doesn’t deserve to be in the NBA, what I’m saying is that he isn’t a “superstar.” We’re being critical over 6 games, in a shortened season that Lin hasn’t been exhausted in the first 20+ games.

Against the Raptors, he was:
1) Getting manhandled by Jose Calderon (who isn’t by any means a top-tier PG) for the majority of the game
2) Scored alot of tough baskets, which were only tough because he can’t go left
3) Had 11 assists, many of which were really bad passes
4) Made the game tying 2 + 1 on a layup that was harder because… well, he couldn’t go left
5) Game-winning trey was good

For as much as everyone (and by “everyone” I mean everyone) talks about how meaningless the NBA regular season is, people sure are making a big deal out of Jeremy Lin. Again, there are a lot of factors into play: Nothing else for New York to talk about right now sports-wise, Asian-American succeeding, undrafted player riding an awesome roller-coaster ride, etc.

Congrats to him and his success.  I personally feel that there are decisively 20+ players I’d much rather have over Lin as my starting PG and another 20 I’d most likely would rather have. If his play continues against better competition, through the end of the year, through the end of his career, then I’ll eat crow; but I’m legitimately asking: Would you want him as your starting PG for a championship contender?

Also, anyone else wonder where the defense was on that game-winning three-pointer?

Andrew Feingold (): I don’t think it wouldn’t have mattered. That shot was destined to go in?

Douglas Chau (): I don’t think anything is destined at the end of a game when your moron coach is playing you 43 minutes.

Sreesha Vaman: I’ve been away so missed most of Lin-sanity. But this is much more about him being in New York than anything else and helping the Knicks make a run to the playoffs finally. He wouldn’t get nearly the attention he does if he was in Oklahoma City or New Orleans or any of the 20+ “fodder” markets in the NBA.

The racial angle is secondary to him being on the Knicks.  It’s the side salad of the story but isn’t the main course. The NBA made tremendous in-roads into the Chinese-American community over the past decade through players like Yao coming over to play in the NBA, so I wouldn’t say that Lin has galvanized a new fan base for the league.

Plus, like Marcus, I’m reserving judgement on his game until the end of the season. He’s on a great 6-game run, but let’s see what happens when teams get enough film on him to be able to figure him out. And. he started getting big-time minutes because the Knicks took a lot of injuries; what happens when those guys come back and his playing time is reduced?

I’m glad that David Stern didn’t send him to the Rising Stars event at the All-Star Game. Six games do not make a season. Saying that, if there is a last-minute injury, gotta think Lin is the first name to go as a replacement.

Rahat Ahmed (): The most important thing at this moment is perspective: We’ve got to let his game speak for himself, not the media hype.  That being said, I’m going to bite the bullet and agree with Momofuku’s David Chang that Lin’s emergence is “the most important event for Asian-Americans in sports history.”  As much as we want to praise Michelle Kwan, figuring skating is simply not a mainstream, national sport. In effect, there are three: Football, basketball and then baseball. The latter has had its share of successful Asians, but no Asian-Americans that I can recall. Football has had players, but none that have stood out. Dat Nguyen was a beast, but he was generally under the radar and made his biggest impact in college. Yao Ming, may I add, is not “Asian-American,” and his success can be attributed heavily to his size. But Lin, at a “normal” height and body, is doing wonders through six games. He’s made a dent into the mindset of vast areas of America (and the world) that lack a masculine, athletic Asian presence.  Lin has also, in a span of a week, given hope to all the Asian-American kids who play basketball but never follow through past high school because it isn’t considered something “Asians” can do. Going pro is now suddenly a reality.

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