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PORTSIDE  February 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE February 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Lin-sanity: Jeremy Lin is More Than a Cultural Curio

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Date:

Sat, 11 Feb 2012 15:44:06 -0500

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Feel the Lin-sanity: Why Jeremy Lin is More Than a
Cultural Curio

By Dave Zirin
The Nation
February 9, 2012

http://www.thenation.com/blog/166161/feel-lin-sanity-why-jeremy-lin-more-cultural-curio

When frighteningly fickle hoops fans are chanting "MVP"
after your first career start, then you know you might
be something special. When you become the first player
since Lebron James to have at least twenty points and
eight assists in your first two NBA starts, then you
know the sports world will take notice. When you
provide an infectious glee to a group of teammates who
look at you with naked, near tearful gratitude like
you've dragged them from basketball purgatory, then you
know you have made an impact. When you are also the
first American-born player of Asian descent ever in the
NBA as well as a Harvard graduate, and you play with a
black-top flair that defies preconception and
prejudice, then you know you're poised to draw
unbridled attention. When you do it all in New York
City, then you have to know that the hyperbole will not
be constrained or contained. Welcome to Lin-sanity,
otherwise known as the feverish outpouring of adulation
heaped upon the new starting point guard for the New
York Knicks, Jeremy Lin.

Lin has become a magnet for attention. He's, on one
hand, part of a tradition of NBA players who don't fit
in stereotypical boxes and then attract eyeballs.
Remember Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, the tattooed
Caucasian with game courtesy of Rucker Park. Seven-foot
three-point shooters like Dirk Nowitzki or diminutive
players like Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb or Earl Boykins
or tall point guards from Magic Johnson to Shawn
Livingston always drew initial attention just because
they possessed the shock of the new. No sport is as
naked as the NBA, with faces and bodies on full display
for crowded fans and HD cameras and when we have
someone who breaks a superficial mold, attention will
always follow.

But Lin already represents something more significant.
When Jack Johnson became the first African-American
heavyweight champion, using a style both cerebral and
severe, he defied racist conceptions of white supremacy
as well as stereotypes that decreed African-Americans
didn't have the intelligence to apply strategy and
smarts to sport. We can say the same about Jackie
Robinson when he did more than just break baseball's
color barrier and win the Rookie of the Year in 1947.
Robinson also played with a grace under pressure that
challenged white-and even many black-preconceptions
about mental toughness on the highest stage. In
addition, he did so while playing with an energy that
forever changed the game. Or consider Martina
Navratilova. Yes, she blazed trails just by being an
out and proud LGBT champion tennis player. But she also
played with a muscled strength and swagger that changed
women's sports forever. The Williams sisters owe as
much to Martina as they do to Arthur Ashe and Althea
Gibson.

This is the power of Jeremy Lin. It's not just that
he's a cultural curio: "Asian-American from Harvard in
the NBA!" It's the way he plays the game. Asian-
Americans, in our stereotypical lens, are supposed to
be studious and reserved. We would expect nothing less
than that the first Asian-American player would be
robotic and fundamentally sound; their face an
unsmiling mask. In sports, we haven't moved that far
from the days when we expected Jack Johnson to be a
wild, undisciplined brawler in the ring or Martina to
play on the baseline. Instead, we have Jeremy Lin
threading no-look passes, throwing down dunks and, in
the most respected mark of toughness, taking contact
and finishing baskets. Before last night's game against
the Wizards, as the CBS Sports Blogger Hardwood
Paroxysm wrote, Lin had played 136 minutes and had
seven plays where he was fouled and scored. By
comparison, Golden State Warrior star Monta Ellis
played 795 minutes and had only eight. Yesterday, Lin
smashed chins with the Wizards John Wall, and played
the rest of the game with a Band-Aid loosely hanging
from his face.

But most impressive-and transgressive-is that he plays
with a flair and joy that in two games has given a
dour, mopey Knicks team a sense of purpose and joy. His
pre-game handshake alone with teammate Landry Fields
has more intelligent soul than Donald Glover.

The Knicks have been a depressing operation all season,
best exemplified by their all-star starter Carmelo
Anthony, who catches the ball, holds it, holds it and
holds it, as teammates slouch their shoulders, frown
and do everything short of taking out their phones to
make post-game plans while waiting for their star to
shoot. Only with Carmelo's injury have we seen the
emergence of "Jeremy Lin's Knicks." They pass the ball
like they're playing hot potato and at every timeout
the team is on their feet at the bench: smiling,
laughing and looking like they are the luckiest people
on earth because they are being paid to play hoop.

In the middle of every sideline giggling, chest
bumping, mosh pit is their point guard, Jeremy Lin.
This is the true heart of Lin-sanity. It's not the
Asian-American piece, although the pride he's producing
is nothing to dismiss and people of Asian descent have
been breaking ankles on courts for decades. It's not
the Harvard piece. It's not even the flair that makes
you question stereotypes of how he's "supposed" to
play. It's that when he's doing his thing, you forget
all the superficials and all the racial detritus, and
just see his grin and feel the joy. Maybe it won't
last. Maybe he's just played well against awful teams.
Maybe Carmelo will play the role of Nurse Ratchett,
ordering the Cukoo's Nest to stop having fun and making
Coach Mike D'Antoni give Jeremy Lin a basketball
lobotomy. But for now we can relish in the Lin-sanity:
a player who breaks the ultimate stereotype: making
tired NBA players look like they're having the time of
their lives.

___________________________________________

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