Thursday, February 16, 2012

What If Jeremy Lin Were Black?

Special Prologue by Snoot: Johnny Bagels and Hater J have had some intense email exchanges debating whether the fact Jeremy Lin is Asian is impacting his rapid rise to fame. The vicious email wars wore down on Bagels and he decided not to finish this post. I thought it was a shame for this work to go unpublished, so below you will find the mostly finished thesis of Johnny Bagels. Also, I spent time photo-shopping World Peace's head onto Lin's body and wanted an excuse to post it...ENJOY!
Noted scholar Floyd Mayweather made a somewhat controversial statement yesterday that has caused a bit of an uproar. In typical idiotic Money Mayweather fashion, he took to Twitter to give his view of the recent Linsanity craze that has been sweeping the nation:
"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".

This is characteristically stupid and racist and Floyd is just doing his usual race baiting clown act but- I can't believe I'm going to write this- there's an element of truth to what Floyd Mayweather said.

It's patently ridiculous to say that black players do what Lin is doing every day. Sure, it's true that black, white, European or whatever players score in the realm of 25 points and dish out 8 assists every day, but what makes Lin's week and a half so special is exactly that: it's been done in a week and a half. No player ever in the history of mankind has ever scored this many points in his first 6 starts (all wins of course). Not to mention he came out of seemingly nowhere to do this, literally hopping off the couch to rescue a sinking ship. But the truthy part (to quote Stephen Colbert who dedicated part of his show recently to Lin) of what Floyd tweeted is also found in the short time span. The hype machine has been working in overdrive for Jeremy, so much so that he's already made the leap to non sports media star, something that takes most athletes at least their full rookie season to accomplish. How different would the Linsanity craze if he were not the first ever Asian American player in the league, but a run of the mill black dude?

Without a doubt, a black J Lin- for our purposes let's refer to him as Jamaal Jones- would still be a huge star and bring about a great deal of hype if he shared the rest of Lin's story. Jamaal Jones grew up in Palo Alto California to middle class parents, eventually worked his way to Harvard despite attracting barely any offers to play college ball, found a spot on a couple different NBA teams without being drafted and then was chosen to be the Knick's last resort at point guard to unbelievable results. That would be a big deal in the sports world, especially since it happened in the largest market in America for the Knicks. But Jamaal Jones having a great week for the Knicks would not have entire Sportscenter episodes dedicated to him, never mind the CBS nightly news and the aforementioned Colbert Report or the countless other newspapers and tv shows he's been discussed on in the past 11 days. None other than Sarah Palin would not be toteing a bootleg Linsanity tshirt. President Obama had to throw in his two cents. It's deeper than sports. To say that the underdog Ivy Leaguer who slept on his brothers couch last week is enough to cause this level of hype is severely understimating how big Linsanity is right now. It's a bona fide phenomenon, one that is helped in great part by the fact that Jeremy Lin is the first ever Asian American to play in the league, and he's dominating. People don't like to believe that they are affected by stereotypes, but the fact of the matter is, Asians are looked at in America as at best meek and subservient and at worst, weaker than other people physically. An Asian who's not a giant like Yao Ming excelling against African Americans stands out. Just like a black golfer or hockey player stands out. This is nothing against black athletes. It's more a human nature thing to have your attention drawn to what is different. Looking at this phenomenon from a human interest perspective -and not anything else- casual sports fans and those strange souls who have no interest at all in bats and balls are not going to care about some guy playing well for a week in the NBA in February. They just won't. The NBA barely draws any attention anyway, but if Jamaal Jones averaged 25 and 8 and led the team to a 6 game winning streak, it wouldn't matter if he was living in a dumpster 2 minutes before that Nets game tipped off, and he graduated with honors from every Ivy League school on the East coast, a great percentage of Americans would not so much as bat an eyelash. Without the cache of being the Jackie Robinson of ABC's, the story goes from inspiring story of the year to merely inspiring sports story of the year that might get a profile on Nightline or something, but not complete and utter mass Linsanity. There's been a handful of sports stars who have transcended their sport through out history (Fernando Mania, etc). None of them did it by leading an 8 and 15 team to a great week in February. Yes, everything moves faster now and there is of course Twitter and Facebook and ESPN news and even people like us can have blogs examining race in sports. But that doesn't change the fact that a yellow dot stands out in a sea of black and white.

I should stress once more that I am not trying to denigrate black or Asian people in any way. This isn't anything against black or Asian people nor am I saying Asians are any better than other types of people, and I'm not even saying that the majority of Lin's new fans are consciously rooting for him because he's Asian (except for maybe the Asian ones). I'm also not implying that the hypothetical America I'm describing wouldn't root for the hypothetical Jamaal Jones because they were racist or that Jamaal Jones deserved it. What I am saying (and I can't stress this enough) is that him being a minority in his sport (the only God Damn one as a matter of fact) helps Jeremy stand out in a way a member of the majority race in the NBA would not. But it's also true that you can't deny race being the part of any story in America (at least that's what I believe). We don't like to admit it but it informs everything. Presidential elections, what tv shows movies and music we choose to watch and who we choose to hang out with and date. And it affects how we root for athletes. If Tim Tebow were black, regardless of how outspoken he was about his faith, the fanaticism for him would be greatly diminished. He's a broad shouldered, blue eyed, blond haired person who loves Jesus. The ideal athlete for much of America. Take that away and you take away some of his appeal. Eminem is a terrific rapper, (maybe the best ever) but there's a reason he's sold more albums than the entire Wu-Tang clan combined, and it's not his funny lyrics.

But all that is besides the point. Race isn't the only factor in Lin's jaw dropping popularity, not by far. It's not even the biggest factor. It's one of the many factors that have made this the perfect storm of hype. The Harvard and undrafted thing, the New York thing (which is right up there with any other reason), the prevalence of social media and the race thing. Take away one element and the perfect hurricane that is Linsanity is severely downgraded. Not that the hype is undeserved. It's more like Lin deserves the attention that most Americans would not give NBA basketball in February. People always look at the discussion of race as taking away from a person's worth since you're focusing on something they can't control. Race is a dirty word in most circles, particularly in sports, where even acknowledging an athlete's color is grounds for a public crucifixion. But it's naive to think that race doesn't play a part in how everyone is perceived for good or bad. People might first take notice of Lin because he's the small Asian guy dominating a mostly African American sport but they'll stay for the insane passes, clutch shots and finishes at the rim. Even in the current age where that "15 minutes of fame" is seemingly given out to anyone with a Twitter account and a the ability to let cameras follow them around, there has to be a catch to hook people beyond a sweet story and a nice crossover dribble. His race is the gimmick that has to be part of his story, just like if he were 5 feet or 7" feet 8' tall. He would be the ridiculously tall or dwarf like basketball player who's tearing up the league instead of the first ever Asian player who's tearing up the league. It's so much deeper than sports. The fictional Jamaal Jones (if he actually existed) would be another ultra talented black guy in shorts with a charming back story. Sarah Palin wouldn't even give him a second look.

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