Jeremy Lin’s rise to stardom brings challenges, opportunities for NBA

February 15, 2012

Jeremy Lin has led the New York Knicks to a six-game win streak while the team batted injuries to stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. The fact that he is the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent is not the only part of the story. As Jason Reid reported:

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. missed the point about surprising New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin. Granted, Lin’s Asian-American heritage is part of his intriguing story — but the player’s unexpected success is what’s most compelling about him.

Commenting about the growing national interest in Lin, whose unprecedented scoring run has ignited the Knicks’ season-high, six-game winning streak, on his Twitter account Monday, Mayweather observed, “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”

Two ideas. Both wrong.

Undeniably, race is often a factor when discussing the NBA, whose players are predominantly African-American. Lin is the league’s first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent. Those facts alone make him newsworthy.

Lin’s actions on the court, and how the Knicks have benefited from what he does, are what’s most important. That’s the real story.

This is one of the few instances in which the hype is warranted. When an undrafted, Harvard-educated point guard has a historic stretch while leading a resurgent team in the nation’s biggest media market, that’s a big story, regardless of his heritage.

In another inspiring chapter Tuesday, Lin made a winning three-pointer in the final second to lead the Knicks to a 90-87 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

He scored 12 points, including New York’s last six, in the fourth quarter as the team rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit. Lin finished with a game-high 27 points and a personal-best 11 assists.

The issue of race in the NBA is one that has a long history. As Elizabeth Flock wrote:

The meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks’ Asian-American point guard phenom, seemed like an all-around feel-good story until the comments involving race started pouring in. First, there was this, from heavyweight champion Floyd Mayweather:

Next came an especially low blow, from Fox Sports Columnist Jason Whitlock, who tweeted a stereotype about the size of a Asian male’s certain body part: “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.” (Whitlock later apologized.)

This week, some sports commentators seem shocked by Mayweather’s comment, calling it “a disgrace.” “Mayweather should know better,” Yahoo sports writer Shawn S. Lealos wrote.

But the boxer isn’t the only one in sports who doesn’t know better.

The Lakers’ Shaquille O'Neal, for example, famously used a mock Chinese accent while talking about Houston center Yao Ming. At one point, O’Neal said: “Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.”

Last year, after a goodwill trip to China for the Georgetown men’s basketball team descended into an all-out brawl with the Chinese professional club they were playing, racist comments were flung the other way around.

Lin’s growing popularity prompted Yenchin Chang to file a trademark application for the word ‘Linsanity’. As Cindy Boren explained:

And the Pat Riley award for opportunism goes to ... Yenchin Chang, a 35-year-old Alhambra, Calif., resident who was the first to file a trademark application for the word “Linsanity.”

Jeremy Lin’s success — you may have read about it or seen something about it on LinSPN — with the New York Knicks got Chang to thinking and he was the first of two people to file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“I wanted to be a part of the excitement,” Chang, who, like Lin, is of Taiwanese descent, said (via Bloomberg). “I’m very proud of Jeremy.”

Chang said he would be willing to sell the trademark, if he were to get it and if Lin wanted it. “I’ll think about it when that time comes,” Chang said. “Right now, I just want to have some fun with it.”

Riley famously registered the terms “three-peat” and “3-peat” when he was coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989. (He also registered “fourward,” but that one hasn’t continued to pay him.)

New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis went after Revis Island in 2010, telling the New York Times that he wanted to prevent others (Nice move, Mr. Chang.) from profiting on it and to establish his brand. “You’ve got to catch on to it, if you’re that high-profile type of player,” Revis said. “Basically, anybody can market themselves. It don’t matter if you’re a high-profile player or not. You can find a way to market yourself and get yourself out there.”

More from Washington Post Sports:

In an incredible week, Lin proves he’s a good player, not just a good story

Mike Wise: For Lin, anything seems possible

Jeremy Lin breaks the mold; re-energizes NBA’s Asian fanbase

On Leadership: How Lin’s talent could have gone unnoticed for so long

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