Race and the Jeremy Lin story

Can we finally all agree that race played a role in Jeremy Lin's career?

Can we finally all agree that race played a role in Jeremy Lin's career?

Can we all just agree on something? Can we all just accept that an overlooked form of racial stereotyping factored into the Jeremy Lin narrative?

Lin just said so on “60 Minutes,” and it hardly seems controversial. NBA commissioner David Stern just reckoned so on “60 Minutes,” and it hardly seems controversial. The seasoned talent evaluators of college basketball and the NBA somehow offered neither a scholarship nor a draft pick to someone this capable, and it owed partly to notions about Asian-Americans they might not have even realized they harbored.

Oh, I know, I know. It owed to other things, too. I learned those while researching a feature for the New York Times in 2010, just after Lin signed with Golden State. I learned from Lin’s high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock, and from the previous Asian-American NBA player, Rex Walters, himself a college coach at San Francisco. Even with his sterling Palo Alto High School line of 15 points per game, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals, Lin might have exposed kooky flaws about the whole array of scouting systems.

His game required a night-in, night-out look that went overlooked in a country of film snippets viewed by overworked college coaches, even those at a university just up the street. And after a glistening array of basketball numbers at Harvard — 1,483 points, 487 rebounds, 406 assists, 225 steals — his game didn’t wow in NBA tryouts, a format that, amazingly, didn’t specialize in five-on-five.

So Lin said then that it had been a relief to veer from those NBA tryouts to Don Nelson’s invitation to the Dallas Mavericks’ summer team, where he could audition among four teammates, five opponents and three referees. (Imagine!) And Diepenbrock said then, “He knows exactly what needs to be done at every point in a basketball game.” And high school teammate Kheaton Scott said then, “It was kind of crazy how he knew the game … He always knew how the defense was set up and where the weak spots were.”

After all of that, after he soared against John Wall in a summer game in Las Vegas and went through Golden State and Houston to get to New York and to “Linsanity” in February 2012, a keen basketball fan, President Obama, made the cogent point to ESPN’s Bill Simmons: “What’s interesting is the fact that somehow, folks were missing it in practice, and that’s what’s interesting, because you’ve got to assume that during scrimmages, he was running that pick-and-roll pretty well …”

So many basketball scholars on so many levels missed for so long on Lin that an absence of ethnic or cultural bias seems just about mathematically impossible. Walters found the presence of prejudice unquestionable but allowed that it stemmed from the historic paucity of Asian players. And a telling side note came from Lin and his mother, recollecting separately on “60 Minutes” the slew of anti-Asian barbs from opponents and opposing fans ringing through his background, even in the Ivy League.

So maybe we can agree that here came a pioneer, and that pioneers tend to have rockier roads, and that the extra rocks sometimes result from something approaching — or reaching — ignorance. Yet if we all can’t agree on all of the above, let’s see if we can agree on this: Somewhere out there, there will be Asian-American kids who can play, and they figure to get a fairer look because of Jeremy Lin.

12 thoughts on “Race and the Jeremy Lin story

  1. Jeremy Lin, only famous because he is Asian, since his numbers scream nice average player….I guess that Race card works both ways.

    • He had a rocky start at the beginning of the season, but now he’s really heating up. He’s averaged over 19 points and 9 assists in his last five games. I think you should reserve judgement on him until he’s had a chance to reach his ceiling, and clearly he’s nowhere near that yet.

    • Lin is way above league average in pts, assists, steals. Go look it up.

      And that’s not even considering how hot he’s been as of late.

    • That’s exactly the point of the article. Ignorance and prejudice that you don’t even know you have. Lin in only his first FULL season is an above average point guard among the best players on the planet. You can’t score 38 on San Antonio if you’re “average”. You can’t average 22/9/4/2 if you are average. This was a season of adjustments. To a new team and a new coach and a new system. After he’s stop learning to defer to James Hardens name he’s been able to be himself. He will make the Allstar team on merit just watch.

  2. An average pro player should be heavily recruited for college and Lin is at least that.

    Race is part of it. Anyone whose game does not depend so much on physical skills is often left behind. The college I went to has managed to make the NCAAs just twice in the last 50 years. In that case, the star player was scouted by at least four Big East teams and passed on because, despite being the leading high school scorer in NY state he was a tweener, a 6’4″ forward (15 years ago) deemed too slow for a guard and too short for a forward.

    The same biases extend to other sports. The Dallas Cowboys passed on Walter Payton because he was under 6 feet tall. The only reason that Greg Maddux was taken as high as the second round was because one scout, and only one scout, was absolutely sold on him. Everybody else just saw a kid who was a few inches too short.

    Looks like Moneyball has a future in basketball, too.

  3. Sure, as long as you concede that the entire narrative since last season was driven by race, too. This includes 3 straight SI covers, Linsanity, and all the rest while a decent player got hot for a couple weeks. We see black players do the same thing constantly, and there isn’t a single story on them, let alone national magazine covers.

    Basically, the entire Lin story, from the overlooked high school player to the completely overblown NBA player, is a travesty. Let’s all move on, please.

    • How is it 3 SI covers? It should be 2…and that shows how ignorant you are already.

      Yes there are many decent player got hot for a couple of weeks, but those are already nba players.

      How about a ‘rookie’ that got hot for couple of weeks who was undrafted, Harvard, and broke the record for ppg and assist for the first 5 games. Not to mention he substitute well for his replacements.

      If this 3rd paragraph doesn’t make thing anything is special, you are purely ignorant in bball. case close.

  4. why do people need to hate. appreciate the lin story for what it is. a kid that fought through all the stereotypes and pioneered a way on his own to achieve his dream. danica patrick made it in a man’s sport, tiger woods made it in a white sport, lin made it in a black/white sport. yeah he gets all that benefit now, but only after he fought through the adversity and never gave up. I know that Asian kids around the world now believe they can play b-ball at an elite level, so yeah that’s something worth celebrating.

  5. I can agree that race played a role. Then again, I grew up in South Georgia during the sixty’s and seventy’s, and remember spotting some of my highschool classmates walking down the center of Main Street, carrying signs saying “Jim Crow Musg Go.” For 30 years I’ve lived in New York City, the melting pot, and I’ve not been ignorant of the longlasting effects of racism in the workplace, and on the street. It is a scurge. And Jeremy Lin is a leader among men. Bravo.

  6. If there was really any bias, don’t you think it would still exist? Or do bigots only hate bench players?