In the end, something as simple as what sits atop his head became something else entirely.
“This process started out about hair, but it’s turned into something more for me,” Lin wrote earlier this week on the Players’ Tribune. “I’m really grateful to my teammates and friends for being willing to help me talk through such a difficult subject, one that I’m still learning about and working my way through. Over the course of the last few years and all these hairstyles, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between ‘not caring what other people think’ and actually trying to walk around for a while in another person’s shoes. The conversations I had weren’t always very comfortable, and at times I know I didn’t say the right things. But I’m glad I had them — because I know as an Asian-American how rare it is for people to ask me about my heritage beyond a surface level.”
And that, it seemed was all former NBA player Kenyon Martin saw: the surface.
In an Instagram video posted Thursday, Martin accused Lin of wanting to “be black” and said in a caption that he was “disappointed in his teammates and the Nets as an organization for allowing this foolishness.”
Martin has since apparently had a change of heart, or, at least, decided he must clear the air. In a phone conversation with The Crossover’s Rohan Nadkarni on Friday, Martin said that he never meant his comments to be “racial,” and that “it was meant to be a ‘Ha Ha Ha’ moment.” He also said that he’s sent Lin a direct message and is trying to get his number so as to“clear the air.”
“It’s far from racist. I guess saying ‘Wanting to be black’ made it racial,” Martin told Nadkarni. “But I despise people that look down because of race. It was meant to be a ‘Ha Ha Ha’ moment. If you watch, I was laughing in the statements. It got taken too far. I wanted to clear the air. I don’t know Jeremy. He’s had a few crazy hairstyles before and I had the same thought process: ‘WTF.’ But I wasn’t trying to be racist. I didn’t even know he did the Players Tribune thing.
“I have no problem with Jeremy, man. People were attacking me, calling me racist or n—–. I didn’t call him any kind of derogatory thing. He has the right to rock any hairstyle he wants. It got out of control. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than banter. Jeremy is an athlete and I would hope he understood that this was in fun and not to offend and as long as he’s not offended that’s all that matters. I wish him well.”
In the initial video, Martin suggested that had Lin entered the locker room of one of his teams, the message would have been quite clear.
“Do I need to remind this damn boy that his last name Lin?” Martin said in the video. “Like, come on man. Let’s stop this, man, with these people, man. There is no way possible that he would have made it on one of our teams with that bulls–t goin’ on in his head. Come on man, somebody need to tell him, like: ‘All right bro, we get it. You wanna be black.’ Like, we get it. But the last name is Lin.”
Lin responded to Martin in a comment posted to the video, taking the highest of roads while reminding Martin that he has Chinese characters tattooed on his arm.
“Hey man, it’s all good. You definitely don’t have to like my hair and [are] definitely entitled to your opinion,” Lin wrote. “Actually I [am] legit grateful [for] you sharin it [to be honest]. At the end of the day, I appreciate that I have dreads and you have Chinese tattoos [because] I think its a sign of respect. And I think as minorities, the more that we appreciate each other’s cultures, the more we influence mainstream society. Thanks for everything you did for the Nets and hoops . . . had your poster up on my wall growin up.”
Lin continued along that path Thursday night after scoring 16 points in the Nets’ preseason win over the Heat:
“At the end of the day … we need to spend a little more time thinking about what it’d be like to be somebody else,” Lin said, per the New York Post. “He said what he said but I’m not really that offended. If that’s how he thinks, that’s how he thinks. But my job is to be gracious, loving and if I can just share with him a little of my side I think the next time maybe he’ll have a different viewpoint.
“He might have a different viewpoint in a week, but not if my whole fan base comes and starts calling him — I didn’t see it, but I heard people were saying the n-word on his page. That’s not what I stand for at all, and that’s not helping us move in the direction we want to move in. I think both sides need to come together.”
Martin issued another Instagram video Thursday in which he claimed all of the following:
a.) Lin is free to have the hairstyle of his choosing.
b.) That he doesn’t like Lin’s current hairstyle.
c.) He was joking in his original video.
d.) But no really, he doesn’t like Lin’s dreads.
“I see I ruffled a few of y’all’s feathers, so: good. Take y’all comments to the bank and see what they give y’all for ’em,” Martin said. “But that man grown. That man can rock whatever hairstyle he wanna rock. That don’t mean I have to like it or agree with it. Second of all, I’m grown. I can say whatever I wanna say about whatever I wanna say about. It ain’t about race, it ain’t about none of that. Like, grow up people. It was a joke. But I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it, so it is what it is.”
Martin’s double-down/walk-back/double-down was in stark contrast to what Lin is trying to say with his hair.
“Again, I may not have gotten it right with my idea to get dreads,” Lin wrote on the Players’ Tribune. “But I hope that this is a start, not an end, to more dialogue about our differences. We need more empathy, more compassion and less judgment. That takes actual work and communication. So let’s start now — please join me.”