- By Jason Dougas Lewis
- In On the Soapbox
But that is not a bad thing.
New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has caught the sports world’s attention. But Lin-sanity is not based on long-term greatness, but on race.
Photo by Frank Franklin Ii / AP
Please do not argue with the Sports Editor. That’s like complaining about Jeremy Lin being popular because of his race. It just does not make any sense. Illustration by David G. Brown
Article originally published by the Los Angeles Sentinel. www.lasentinel.net
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor (2010-2013)
Boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted what a lot of people are thinking about this whole Lin-sanity thing.
"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."
Mayweather is exactly right! At this point the novelty of Lin’s act is by far greater than anything that he has actually accomplished, and he is a novelty at this point because of his race. He is drastically different from anybody who plays basketball in the NBA, which is why he is such a huge story. If he were black or white, this would be a story, but people would not be craving it to the same degree. It would not be the biggest story in sports.
People cannot get enough of this story, and the ratings for New York Knicks games have gone up 70 percent in New York since Lin became the starting point guard. That is with two million Time Warner viewers in the New York area being blacked out because of a contract dispute.
But Lin is not the first novelty act in sports, and he certainly will not be the last.
There have been many cases where an athlete became the hottest thing out because he or she was different from the competitors. That athlete had something that the public could latch onto besides great play on the field or court.
Think of Tiger Woods when he first hit the scene. Why was he a big name in the sports world when he was still in college? He won three consecutive amateur championships, which put him on the map. But Jay Sigel won two in a row 1982 and 1983. How many people have ever heard of him?
What is the difference between those two golfers? Sigel is white, just like every other golfer, so there was no story. But Woods is black, so it was a major story.
Woods also won a NCAA national championship in 1996 while playing for Stanford. How many people can name anybody else who has won that title? How many people know who is the current champion? Not many, but everybody knew about Woods before he turned pro. People knew of him because he was an interesting story. A black man dominating in a sport that is nearly all white. He was different from everybody else.
The Williams sisters were also a bit of a novelty when they first hit the scene. Remember a 17-year-old Venus sporting the beads in her hair back in 1997? Back then she was making early exits in most tournaments, but she was the biggest story. Why? Because she was a black athlete from Compton playing in a sport that is usually played by rich white people.
Venus was different. She was interesting. She was the story. And then word came out that she had a younger sister who may be even better than her.
Another novelty act in tennis was Anna Kournikova. What did she ever win? A whole lot of nothing, but she was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, tennis player on the women’s circuit. Her novelty wasn’t linked to race, as most tennis players are white just like she is.
Kournikova was different because she was incredibly good looking. It’s interesting what gets sports writers really going. None of them really cared that she could not play tennis very well, they covered her because she was a super model. She earned more money than women who won multiple Grand Slam titles, even though she rarely made it past the opening rounds.
One of the biggest stars in auto racing is Danica Patrick, and it looks like she may be the most well known driver in the U.S. In six years of racing in the IndyCars series, she has won one single race. Just one.
While other drivers have won several races over that time period, and some of them have won season championships, most of them are not as well known as Patrick. She has now moved on to NASCAR, because her earning potential was greater there, but since changing gears she has yet to win a race.
The lack of victories has not kept Patrick from being featured in a yearly Super Bowl commercial, and she is showcased on most of the promos for NASCAR. She is not close to being one of the best drivers in auto sports, but she is one of the most well known because she is different. In a sport filled with men, she’s the only woman competing on the highest levels, which makes her a bigger story than drivers who are champions.
It really does not matter that she is not winning. She is more interesting than the other drivers. A man competing in an auto race is not a story. That’s typical. But a woman? That’s a huge story.
Finally, we have perhaps the most over hyped player in the history over hyped players. That would be none other than Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
That guy does not have the basic fundamentals of a NFL quarterback, he only completed three passes in a game this past season, but he was by far the biggest star in the league. He was the biggest story in sports for a couple months.
How was he different? Well, in a few ways. He was a “super” Christian that most experts did not give a chance, but fathers were lining up their daughters with the hope that Tebow would marry them.
Tebow is perfect in every aspect of life… well, except playing quarterback. But somehow he kept producing victories, and his legend continued to grow.
Tebowmania swept the nation, even though he was not close to being an elite quarterback. It did not matter that he was an extremely flawed quarterback, he had a big time gimmick, and the public ate it up. He is drastically different from any other NFL player.
Lin-sanity is not on par with Tebowmania at this point, but because he is drastically different from pretty much the entire league, and he is lighting it up, he is by far the biggest story in the NBA right now.
The question is, will Lin end up as just a novelty, or will his game at some point be bigger than his hype.
When Woods first hit the scene, his hype was greater than his game, but it was not long before those roles reversed. The year he turned pro he won the Masters at the age of 21 with a record score of 270. He was the youngest player to ever win that tournament.
Later that year Woods tied the course record of 64 at the British Open. Over the next few years he won four US PGA titles, three U.S. Open wins, and three U.S. Masters championships.
The novelty had worn off. Woods was no longer a story because he was a black golfer playing against mostly white competition, he was a story because he was the best golfer on the planet, and it was not even debatable.
The Williams sisters also ditched their novelty act by dominating women’s tennis for over a decade. Between the two of them they have won 20 singles Grand Slam championships and they have also won 12 doubles Grand Slam titles.
The Williams sisters went from being black women’s tennis players to all time great women’s tennis players. Race became a smaller part of their story. Their story is now about the pair being two of the greatest tennis players ever.
Kournikova never shook her novelty because she never won anything of note. Patrick does not seem like she will shake her novelty anytime soon, and if Tebow cannot complete a simple quick slant, his talents will never be greater than his hype.
Time will tell if Lin ever becomes more than a novelty act. As of right now he’s a great story because he is an Asian American basketball player dominating over a short period of time in a sport where his people do not compete in.
If Lin can keep playing on a high level, then he will be more than an Asian American basketball player. But if he cannot keep the magic going, he’ll end up just like Kournikova, Patrick, and what it appears Tebow will be. Just another sideshow that caught the sports world attention for a short period of time.
Race is not going to keep Lin in the headlines forever. He is going to have to prove his long term worth.
As for Mayweather’s point that if Lin was black, this would not be a big story. That is true. But on the flip side, if Lin was black he probably would not have been passed up by nearly every college in the nation. With the talents that he had in high school (led his high school team to a 39-3 record over his last two years there), he would have earned a scholarship to a big time program. And if Lin was black, with the talents that he had in college, he would have been drafted into the NBA, instead of being bounced around from various teams before the Knicks stumbled onto his talents. Remember, the Knicks were about to cut him before they were forced to play him due to injuries.
The race issue has worked against Lin way more than it has worked for him.