I’m not going to say Floyd Mayweather Jr. was right when he tweeted that Jeremy Lin has only become the hottest name in sports because he’s Asian.
I am going to say that Floyd limited himself – either accidentally because he didn’t put enough thought behind his words, or on purpose within the 140-character confines of Twitter – from what could have started an intelligent debate on race, sports and social conditioning.
Rather than firing a stray race bullet into the crowd, what Floyd and every other Jeremy Lin hater should cite are the historically ignored forefathers to Jeremy Lins that we’ve seen pass through the NBA before.
Flip Murray, a barely-heard-of second-round draft pick out of Shaw University, averaged 21.0 points over the first 14 games of the 2003-04 season for the Seattle Supersonics. Flip was thrust into the rotation when future Hall of Fame guard Ray Allen was injured, and upon Allen’s return, resumed his destined path as an expendable NBA role player.
Tarence Kinsey, an undrafted rookie out of South Carolina, averaged 18.9 points over the final 13 games of the ’06-07 season for the Memphis Grizzlies. “Mayonnaise” dropped 24 on the Lakers, and 28 apiece against the Nuggets and Warriors. He did this while playing with broken bones in his face and a damaged right eye that he sustained in a preseason scrimmage.
Ramon Sessions, the fifth-to-last pick in the 2007 Draft, averaged 13.1 points and 13.1 assists over the final seven games of his rookie season for the Milwaukee Bucks. In one game against Chicago, Sessions had 20 points, eight rebounds and 24 assists – six shy of tying the NBA’s single-game record.
Andray Blatche, a preps-to-pros second-round draftee who was going nowhere special for the first five years of his career with the Washington Wizards, landed the starting power forward job by default in February 2010 after Washington traded veteran Antawn Jamison. Blatche proceeded to finish the season averaging 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds following the All-Star break.
All four of these men – and there are more like them – had brief, unexpected runs of inexplicable dominance in the NBA. All of their hot streaks lasted longer than Lin’s current six-game fairy tale that has captured the sports world’s fancy. None of them received a significant fraction of the media hype and public support that Lin has received. And all of them are Black.
Hold up, though. I’m not ready to make this a racial issue yet.
There are several factors, colorblind factors, contributing to Lin’s rise as an NBA supernova.
There is social media’s increasingly wide swath of influence, which has never been stronger than in 2012.
There is the fact that Lin plays for the New York Knicks, in the heart of the city that never sleeps on an opportunity to declare itself the center of the universe, instead of the Charlotte Bobcats or Utah Jazz.
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There is the good timing of Lin’s hot streak coinciding with the typically slow post-Super Bowl sports news cycle.
There is the adorable side note that Lin comes to us from Harvard, rather than a basketball factory like Kentucky or UCLA or the Chinese government.
There is the fact that Lin is a 6-foot-3 point guard that the average man can relate to, rather than a 6-foot-9 behemoth seemingly bred to dunk a basketball.
There is the convenience of Lin’s open Christianity providing an easy (albeit lazy) link to the sports world’s most recent sensation, Tim Tebow.
And finally, there is the perception that Lin just seems like a nice, humble guy with good parents and a hard-working ethos. Which has little to do with race, as the same perception also applies to Chris Paul, Grant Hill, Stephen Curry and Barack Obama.
All of these factors help explain WHY Jeremy Lin has taken over your television and commandeered your Internet browser over the last week and a half. But more interesting is HOW it’s happened: The part that Lin’s new fans either don’t bother discussing or don’t know basketball well enough to discuss.