Linsanity Sanity

For a brief moment I too was caught up in the hype, in the mad sensation, amazed by the breakout performances of Jeremy Lin. This is truly surprising because I am the sort person who rarely gets emotional about sports. For me, I stopped caring too much about sports after the age of 16. After all, there were way more important things that could use my attention. Sure, I still do watch sports occasionally, but I only watch them for the competition,  the drive and determination, the incredible skills and creativity athletes display. I do so without feeling attached to any certain player or team.

It seems like that the world is amazed by story of Jeremy Lin. He became an overnight sensation in the basketball world. You may have heard of him by now, I’m not going to repeat what’s already been said . Sure, he’s no Steve Nash, but for a 23 year old player, he is showing incredible potential. The poise he shows, the ability to pull up and shoot, the court vision, the ability to penetrate and spot teammates are pretty incredible. Frankly speaking, in the NBA, one does not score 25 points and 8 assists per game without having decent skills. No doubt, he’s good, he’s got talent.

It boggles the mind that someone with talent and potential was never drafted by any of the NBA teams. Why is that the case?

Before we answer that question, let’s step back a bit and look at the big picture. America’s professional sports industry has been viewed as the ultimate model for fostering great athleticism and sportsmanship around the world. American athletes consistently top each Olympic game in the number of metals won.  America’s NBA, especially, has been heralded as one of the most successful sports entertainment associations in the world, and by far, America produce most of world’s the best basketball players.

Sure, the former USSR and China both have very high metal counts at the Olympic games, but the ways in which those metals were won are completely different. Fundamentally, USSR and China had state sponsored program in which potential athletes are hand picked at a very young age. These children are then trained vigorously for a particular sport, til their retirement. Although these state programs are hugely successful at producing good athletes, their existence depended upon huge sums of state funding each year. In the West, however, major sports are fundamentally market driven. This means athletes are often motivated by their love for the sport and perhaps by the prospect of becoming rich and famous once they succeed. Leagues such as the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and NFL are industries that create enormous economic value.

The NBA is a huge business, generating billions of dollars a year. There are thousands , if not tens of thousands of professional scouts, coaches and recruiters who are constantly on the lookout for new talent such as Jeremy Lin. Kids as young as 16 are being scouted. High school graduates, if they are good, can make it straight to the NBA. Jeremy Lin’s high school team captured the state championship when he was the captain.  Jeremy Lin must have stood out by then.

Yet when the time came, there was no offers from the major sports colleges. The same thing happened when he graduated from Harvard, albeit captaining the Ivy League team to one of the best records in its history. Again no one bothered to scout him. Jeremy Lin quietly slipped under the radar and became undrafted.

Why had he been always overlooked?  Well, we don’t have the answers, but we’re free to speculate and Jeremy’s high school coach did so. In an interview with the LA Times, he was quoted saying “If [Lin] was African American or Caucasian, it might have been a different deal.” The same sentiment is re-enforced by Lin himself in an interview with the NPR – “I’m not saying top-5 state automatically gets you offers, but I do think (my ethnicity) did affect the way coaches recruited me. I think if I were a different race, I would’ve been treated differently… I think in America, Basketball is predominated by black and white people…in general, there might be some discrimination.” Former NBA player Rex Walters, who’s Japanese-American laid it out on the line, “People who don’t think stereotypes exist are crazy. If he’s white, he’s either a good shooter or heady. If he’s Asian, he’s good at math. We’re not taking him.”

The ignorance, or racism from those coaches and scouts,  whether intentional and unintentional in nature, may have been the major cause of Jeremy Lin not being discovered. That’s the ugly truth behind this story. This started out as a great story about basketball, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the sad and disheartening ugliness that still exit in American society. It is sad to see that in this day and age, the American society is still ripe with racial stereotypes. And if you’re an ethnic minority in America, you probably know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter if you’re born in America, if you have a skin colour other than white, you probably had to deal with hassles of racial stereotyping and in some cases, plain and direct racism.

No doubt, what has transpired is great for Jeremy Lin, but his story is nevertheless a bittersweet one. His unusual success has revealed less about basketball, but more about racial ignorance, stereotypes and racism in America. Hopefully from his sudden emergence, average Americans can see past his skin colour and become a little bit more open-minded.



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