Boxer Floyd Mayweather’s now-infamous Tweet — “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian,” condemned by Spike Lee, among others — does a disservice on so many levels.
Lin’s ethnicity — and the fact that people who looked liked him could finally relate to an NBA player in a way millions of African Americans embraced Tiger Woods dominating a predominantly white sport — is undeniably part of this popularity meteor that fell from the sky two weeks ago.
But the bigger reason is Lin’s story pierced our so-cynical and overinformed souls.
We have lost a sense of discovery in sports. No one devotes pages or broadcasts to the odd tale of a middle reliever who has a ferret farm anymore, or the NASCAR driver who suffers from claustrophobia. Why? Because someone tweeted those facts in 140 or fewer characters two years ago, or blogged about it in their spring-training diaries six months ago.
The parable of the unsung hero is a lost American tradition; many of our athletic gods have been knighted as teenagers. Players don’t come from nowhere in this page-view obsessed world. A 90-second Google search now, and we know everything about anybody.
Kids from nowhere, especially 23-year-olds who sleep on their brother’s Manhattan couch, turn our cheers into throaty roars like nothing else. In an era of fewer and fewer surprises — 10,000-meter gold medalist Billy Mills was asked by a reporter after his 1964 Tokyo win, “Who are you? Who are you?” after all — Lin’s emergence from NBA Development League player to Broadway star was downright stunning.
He will never have to eat at different restaurants than his teammates, nor will he suffer racial epithets hurled directly toward him in the middle of an NBA game without someone else in the stands fighting for him.
But after this C-word furor and so many other borderline comments and placards the past two weeks, let’s be clear: Lin has more in common with Jackie Robinson than Tim Tebow.
Because the discrimination of one race is perceived to be more abominable than another’s, their discrimination should not be minimized, nor the sensitivity of slurs hurled toward them diminished.
The best thing about Jeremy Lin schooling the NBA: the lessons don’t stop once Madison Square Garden has emptied.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.