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.