The Jeremy Lin craze has made Knicks games must-see for all but the most disinterested sports fans, drawing into the convenient trap of Tim Tebow comparisons with his sudden success and commitment to his faith. Heck, even the New York Times has gotten into the act with a new David Brooks column attempting to frame the humility associated with Christian devotion as incompatible with the ambition and drive to win that comes with modern sports. While I am not much of a believer myself, I always assumed that the Christian faith encouraged people to work as teammates (the ultimate facilitator is the point guard) and work to be the best they could be at their given craft. Certainly Mr. Brooks wouldn’t argue that a Christian businessman should feel guilty if he beats out a competitor for an account or that any of us shouldn’t work as hard as we can in our lives to be the best we can at our craft.
But like the Tebow comparisons, the very existence of “Linsanity” or any phenomenon that takes sports past the sports pages, people are making up facetious connections when they should simply be enjoying the ride. It’s the “second wave” of reporting that comes after a story has gotten too big for the confines of sports media and people try to get another spin on an on-the-court story.
First of all, let’s dispense with the Tebow connection. Jeremy Lin is certainly fallable- his turnover rate is too high and he still has an odd shooting motion that could cause his shooting percentage to return to his Golden State levels if he falls into some bad habits. However, he doesn’t have the obvious deficiencies in his game that Tim Tebow did when he became a starter- the offense in New York isn’t becoming something new to fit his abilities, it is becoming what Mike D’Antoni wanted it to be the whole time. Do you really think he wanted to rely on Carmelo Anthony to bring the ball up the court the way they experimented at the beginning of the season? Additionally, Tebow was a first round pick with two national titles and a Heisman award under his arm. Lin was a free agent pickup after being very good player at Harvard where the Crimson never made the NCAA tournament.
Good, we have that out of the way. Then there’s the racial component. Whether it’s Jason Whitlock making racist remarks (what else is new) or current NBA players trying not to or even columnists attempting to make social commentary, Jeremy Lin’s Chinese and Taiwanese heritage has been at the heart of stories on this “second wave” of reporting. Has race contributed to his popularity? Certainly among the Asian Americans that make up 5% of the U.S. population (as of 2010). And I suppose his background does make his story more interesting for those of us who carry racial stereotypes around, but that is a small part of the story, and not one that does justice to how well he has actually played.
Ah yes, the play on the court, the part that most of these second wave columns seem to miss. How well does Lin’s style fit with the offense D’Antoni is trying to run in the long term? How has he been defensively and as a leader on the court? How will his responsibilities change when Carmelo Anthony returns (thankfully at least Ian Thomsen has more than a pessimistic guess). What has allowed Lin to score so much more prolifically than most point guards, and is that good on an offense that has such great weapons like Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire?
I guess those topics are too boring for the average fan, but they are the stories that will define Lin’s long-term success with the Knicks and in the NBA at large. Of course if he becomes even an average NBA starter there will be columns about the pressure being too much for him or defenses “figuring him out” or some other clichéd way of hiding the fact that the Law of Averages took over. Jeremy Lin is clearly more talented than almost all of us saw coming, and his play on the court demands an explanation of why both the Warriors and Rockets found him expendable. There is so much more to this story than race or erroneous Tebow comparisons. The more we focus on his game, the less we may have to worry about second wave remarks from sports and sociological journalists operating far out of their areas of expertise.