Jeremy Lin and the NBA’s Race Problem – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Jeremy Lin and the NBA’s Race Problem

David Leonard

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Jeremy Lin update to bring your breaking news about Jeremy Lin: he is taking his talents to South Texas. The unfolding drama that amazingly pushed Dwight Howard’s fate to out of the limelight has finally come to end, although without fireworks.

Some have taken the opportunity to blame Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith for Lin’s departure. Carmelo Anthony, when asked about The Lin Situation over the weekend, offered the following: “At this point there’s a lot going on. I stay away from that part right now. I would love to see him back, but I think he has to do what’s best for him right now…It’s not up to me. It’s up to the [Knicks] organization to say they want to match that ridiculous contract that’s out there.”

And then the media spun “ridiculous” as if Carmelo was arguing that Lin’s offer was undeserved. When I read these comments, it didn’t feel like a sign of disrespect, or one where Anthony was saying that Lin didn’t warranted the contract, but rather that it was (L)insane, amazing, and out-of-the ordinary. Like saying “that dunk was ridiculous” or “that performance was sick.” Six months ago, did you think Lin would command 25 million dollars? Did you foresee earning as much as Russell Westbrook or millions more than Steve Nash.


When not blaming Melo and Smith, fans and commentators have directed their attention at the Knicks and owner James Dolan. To place all the focus on the Knicks decision is to deny Lin his choice and his agency. According to Frank Isola, “Dolan felt betrayed by Lin for going back to Houston to rework the contract. After all, the Knicks acquired Lin in December after he was released by both Golden State and Houston.” Some have linked this sense of betrayal to Lin’s Asianness, as if Dolan only felt “betrayed” because HE gave Lin – the “overlooked Asian American baller” a chance otherwise unavailable to him.

From start until now, Linsanity has been wrapped in racial narratives that pitted him against Black players. Is it a surprise that as some within the organization reportedly felt he was getting a big head or being ungrateful? Linansity emerged because he could be imagined as the anti-Black NBA star. Yet with reports of him not wanting to play at 85%, his flashy clothing at the ESPYS, and his demands to get paid more, he no longer fits this bill.

And compared to LeBron James, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Ray Allen, Lin has gotten a pass. Yes, some have criticized him, questioning his worth and his value, questioning his loyalty. But this doesn’t stack up with the derision and contempt directed at Black NBA players. Many in the media have come to Lin’s defense. Dan Devine made a point to explain that “This wasn’t an act of treason,” but rather this is ” how free agency works.”

Yet the loudest media voices weren’t speaking up for Howard or Williams when they expressed their desire to head to NY, or when fans took to Twitter and into the streets to metaphorically and literally burn Ray Allen’s Celtics jersey. Nor did they come to the defense of James when Dan Gilbert described James’ decision as a “shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn.”

If we believe reports that the Knicks decision wasn’t driven by money or even for basketball reasons, but instead Dolan’s ego or his feeling that Lin should have been more grateful since “how often does an Asian American kid go from Harvard to MSG,” it is fair to say race matters. But this is the NBA, where race matters, and where Black players face the daggers of American media racism daily. The constant backlash against these stars, particularly Black ones, who determine their own fate is clear: professional basketball players are lucky enough to earn millions of dollars for playing a game, and the least they can be is grateful, appreciative and loyal.

As Charles Moriano brilliantly stated, the media constantly tells NBA players “get-back-in-your-place-you-spoiled-ungrateful-fill-in-the-racial-code-word-blank.” For Jeremy Lin, the “code words” may be different, but the foundation of race is unquestionable.

via Jeremy Lin and the NBA’s Race Problem – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

Linsanity! What Jeremy Lin Means to the NBA – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Linsanity! What Jeremy Lin Means to the NBA

The first Asian American player’s storied path triumphs against-and highlights-sports racism

By David Leonard Writer


Unless you have been stuck on Newt Gingrich’s moon colony, you probably have heard about Jeremy Lin – AKA “Linsanity”. Trending on Twitter, saturating the social media scene, and commanding ample attention from sports media outlets, Lin has entered the national cultural landscape with vengeance. While his rise most certainly reflects his recent success within American’s media market and the renewed hope from New York Knicks fans, who have increasingly embraced the cynicism usually reserved for the Cubs, the hoopla has larger implications. The power and popularity of Jeremy Lim rests with the appeal of the constructed narrative around him.

Since Lin emerged on the national scene during his playing days at Harvard, the media discourse has focused on his experiences as an immigrant. Lin’s parents emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. in the 1970s. According to an ESPN article, his Dad dreamed of coming to the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. and “watch the NBA.”

The narrative is one right from the playbook of the American Exceptionalism and American Dream crowd: Gie-Ming (his Dad) dedicated himself to fostering their academic success (they would only get to play basketball after finishing their homework), along of their basketball prowess. Having studied the great players of the NBA, he passed this knowledge onto his children. According to Dana O’Neil, Lin’s story is one of the “immigrant dream”:

All those years Gie-Ming Lin spent rewinding his tapes so he could teach himself how to play a game he never even saw until he was an adult? All those hours spent in the local Y with his boys, schooling them in fundamentals over and over, building muscle memory without even knowing what the term meant? That silly dream, the one in which his children would fall in love with basketball as much as he had?

The underdog, bootstraps, and sticktoitness narrative that ultimately depicts Lin as “overlooked.” According to Howard Beck, the recent ascendance reflects a “continuing a long pattern of low expectations and surprising results.” Noting his success in high school and at Harvard and the lack of attention from coaches, scouts and teams, Beck further argues: “At draft time, in June 2010, Lin was again overlooked. NBA teams…They were the kind of concerns scouts have every year about dozens of prospects, from all sorts of programs and all sorts of backgrounds. Yet there was no escaping Lin’s unusual pedigree and the subtle sense that he did not fit a profile.” His success is attributed to his intelligence, dedication, and his fundamentals. It is attributed to his hard work. Thanks to our culture’s attachment to stereotypes, stories focusing on talent and athleticism are rare.

Part of the narrative of Lin exceptionalism has focused on how he has overcome racism and bigotry during his meteoric rise. His Harvard-to-riches story, his struggle to garner acceptance and an opportunity, reflects anti-Asian prejudice that led teams and fellow competitors to underestimate him. According to Pablo Tore, “the Kansases and Kentuckys, however, didn’t exactly knock down … Only four schools responded. Out of the Pac-10, Lin recalls, UCLA ‘wasn’t interested,’ Stanford was ‘fake interested,’ and during a visit to Cal a staffer ‘called me ‘Ron.’” Lin specifically has cited racial stereotypes as an impediment to his recruitment: “I think in America, basketball is predominantly for, you know, black and white people. And so, I think it is just, yeah, I mean, I guess people aren’t used to it and people don’t expect it,” he noted during an NPR interview, “In general Asian-Americans are seen or looked down upon on the basketball court.”

Through his career, he has experienced prejudice from fans, who have yelled “wonton soup,” “sweet and sour pork,” “to play the orchestra,” “beef and broccoli” and “sweet and sour chicken” in his direction. He has been called a “Chinese import” while others have demanded that he “Go back to China.” The narrative of Lin exceptionalism, one that cites racism and prejudice, as yet another obstacle overcome is emblematic of the power of the constructed narrative surrounding LinThe Jeremy Lin story (coming to theater near you) is evident in the ways in which media narratives are used to convey racial and national meaning, the ways in which he has been ideologically marked, and the ways in which they have been used by the NBA and sport media to attract Asian and Asian American fans throughout the Diaspora. “In the era of globalization, the Phantom of race is articulated not through the body of the NBA’s black majority, but in the event of the minority athlete, who is not white but Asian,” writes Grant Farred in his thoughtful discussion of Yao Ming, race, and the globalization of the NBA. “‘Asian-ness’ has often located Asian Americans outside of African-American Blackness, which is to say, ‘above” African Americans

Continue reading @ Linsanity! What Jeremy Lin Means to the NBA – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

NewBlackMan: Pride and Prejudice: Jeremy Lin and the Persistence of Racial Stereotypes

Pride and Prejudice:

Jeremy Lin and the Persistence of Racial Stereotypes

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The recent success and national visibility afforded to Jeremy Lin has both inspired Asian Americans and has been driven by the adoration and pride he elicits from some within the community. Whether on twitter, Facebook, or in the stadiums, it is clear that Lin is not simply a national phenomena but a treasure for the Asian American community.

According to Jamilah King, “regardless of how the rest of the season goes for Lin, and the Knicks, his moment in the spotlight is an important time to reflect on how the country views its Asian American athletes.” Whereas past Asian athletes, whether it be Yao Ming or Ichiro captured the global Asian Diaspora’s imagination, Lin is the most widely recognized Asian American athlete on the American team sport scene. Timothy Dalrymple highlights the appeal of Lin to Asian American males:

He particularly has a following amongst Asian-Americans. And some Asian-American young men, long stereotyped as timid and unathletic, nerdy or effeminate or socially immature — have fought back tears (which may not help with the stereotype, but is understandable under the circumstances) as they watched Jeremy Lin score 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds for the New York Knicks.

In “Asian Americans energized in seeing Knicks’ Jeremy Lin play,” J. Michael Falgoust elucidates his cultural power within the Asian American community in quoting the thoughts of several different people:

“I don’t care about the outcome. I just want to see him in action. He’s as good of an Asian American athlete as there is” — Rose Nguyen

“I’m so proud. I don’t care if he is Chinese or Korean. I had to see him … my boyfriend has been talking about him so much” — Christine Lee

“I’m really excited. He breaks so many stereotypes. And my friends are just as excited. If you go to my Facebook feed, it’s all Jeremy Lin. I like that he plays smart. But then he’s from Harvard. So that is expected. He is also humble. He reminds me a lot of Derrick Rose, who’s always crediting teammates” — Andrew Pipathsouk

Andrew Leonard similarly argues that Lin’s popularity amongst Asian Americans is emblematic of the power of social media and also the pride that athletic success garners for Asian Americans, otherwise seen as “nerds” not “jocks.” While problematically invoking the language of “genetics” that erases Lin’s tremendous athleticism/speed, Leonard concludes that Lin inspires Asian American kids who yearn for a masculine role model given persistent invisibility and anti-Asian racism within the public square. “He’s a triumph of will over genetic endowment, a fact that makes him inspiring to an entire generation of Californian kids restless with their model minority shackles,” he notes.

On Monday, the social media world was also getting worked up about Michigan Republican Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra’s racist Super Bowl ad, featuring a Chinese woman (labeled “yellowgirl” in the HTML code for the Web version) gloating over all the jobs her country was taking from the U.S. Once thrown into the 24/7 crazy cultural mashup perpetual motion machine, it didn’t take long before anger about that ad ran head on into Jeremy Lin pride. I have seen tweets urging Jeremy Lin to run for the Republican nomination for the Michigan senate seat, tweets warning that the only American jobs in danger from Asians are those belonging to New York Knick starting point guards, and even a tweet riffing off Kobe Bryant’s self-identification as “black mamba” — Jeremy Lin is suddenly the “yellow mamba.”

Lin has trended #1 on twitter on three successive game days, was top-10 searched items on Sina Weibo and is all the talk of the sports world. For the moment, it is Jeremy Lin’s world and we are all just living in it.

The pride and possibility reflects the broader erasure and invisibility of Asian Americans within popular culture (minus this year’s Top Chef). “Asians are nearly invisible on television/movies/music, so any time I see an Asian on TV or in the movies, I feel like I’ve just spotted a unicorn, even though usually, I see them being portrayed as kung-fu masters/socially awkward mathematical geniuses/broken-English-speaking-fresh-off-the-boat owner of Chinese restaurant/nail salon/dry cleaners,” writes one blogger. “Anyway, this phenomenon is 10x worse in sports. While there has been some notable progress with Asians in professional baseball, Asians are all but non-existent in the big three sports in the US (football, basketball, baseball).”

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Pride and Prejudice: Jeremy Lin and the Persistence of Racial Stereotypes.

The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

The God Squad:

Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports

By Dr. David J. Leonard

Among the virtual saturation of Jeremy Lin online has been a poster of him with the words “We are all witnesses.” At Monday’s New York Knicks game, fans donned “black T-shirts that read “The Jeremy Lin Show” on the front” and “We Believe” painted on the back.

Encapsulating the hoopla and hype, while referencing the similar promise that LeBron James brought to Cleveland and the NBA (how’d that work out?), not to mention the spectacle of his meteoric rise, “the witness” iteration illustrates the religious overtones playing through the media coverage.

Since Lin emerged on the national scene while at Harvard, he has made his faith and religious identity quite clear. While refusing to abandon the “underdog” story, Cork Gaines focuses readers attention on his religious beliefs: “But there is more to Jeremy Lin than just being an undrafted Asian-American point guard out of Harvard. He is also a devout Christian that has previously declared that he plays for the glory of God and someday hopes to be a pastor.” Noting how post-game interviews often begin with Lin announcing his faith – “just very thankful to Jesus Christ, [his] Lord and savior” – Gaines uses this opportunity to deploy the often noted comparison that Jeremy Lin is the NBA’s Tim Tebow.

While making the comparison through the Cinderella/overlooked narrative, the media celebration of their faith and evangelical beliefs serves as the anchor for the Lin as Tebow trope. “Tebowmania? That was so 2011. It’s time for a new cult-hero phenomenon: Linsanity,” writes Ben Cohen in “Meet Jeremy Lin, the new Tim Tebow.”

Then there’s their shared religious values. ‘I’m just thankful to God for this opportunity,’ Lin said in an on-court interview Saturday before tweeting, “God is good during our ups and our downs!” His Twitter avatar is a Jesus cartoon. Tebow’s, for the record, is his autobiography’s cover.

Described as Taiwanese Tim Tebow, as resembling “Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow,” as filling the mold that Tebow “patented,” Lin’s identity (meaning/significance) is ascribed by his connection to Tebow. Tebow defines him.

In “From Unknown To Phenom In 3 Games: Harvard Grad Jeremy Lin Saves The New York Knicks,” Les Carpenter makes the comparison clear: “He is a Christian, vocal in his belief. And because of this and because he is a flawed player proving the experts wrong, people are comparing him to Tim Tebow.” According to Gaines, “Lin and Tebow are not the first athletes to make their faith a key component of their athletic persona. But if Lin, another unconventional player fighting an uphill battle against haters and doubters, continues his spectacular play in The World’s Most Famous Arena, the NBA may soon experience their own Tebowmania. And the fans are already calling it “Linsanity.”

While dismissing the links beyond the uber-hype afforded to Tebow (and now Lin), Bethlehem Shoals furthers the comparison: “Tim Tebow, whose religious views are no secret, probably considers luck the pay-off for faith; Lin is also an enthusiastic Christian. Whether you feel like pushing things in that direction is your business. The bottom line is that, thus far, Lin has been a welcome surprise, a Cinderella story that no one wants to see end.”

The comparison is instructive on multiple levels (see here to understand problems with comparison in a sporting context). Each exists in juxtaposition to blackness. The “underdog” narrative, the focus on hard work and intelligence, and the claims of being overlooked and discriminated against all elucidates the ways in which their bodies are rendered as different from the hegemonic black athletic body.

Religion, thus, becomes another marker of difference, as a means to celebrate and differentiate Lin and Tebow. Whereas black athletes are seen within the national imagination to be guided by hip-hop values rather than religious values, Lin and Tebow practice an evangelical ethic on and off the field/court. Tebow and Lin operate as “breath of fresh air.” Writing about Tiger Woods in Sports Stars: The Cultural Politics Of Sporting Celebrity, C.L. Cole and David L. Andrews argue that Woods’ emergence as a global icon reflected his power as a counter narrative. As “a breath of fresh of air,” his cultural power emanated from his juxtaposition to “African American professional basketball players who are routinely depicted in the popular media as selfish, insufferable, and morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading at The God Squad: Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, And Religiosity Of Sports | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.