Jeremy Lin Speaks Out Loud and Bold

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’m one of the millions of basketball fans who have found themselves caught up in “Linsanity”—which (in the off chance you haven’t heard) is the excitement surrounding Jeremy Lin, the undrafted Taiwanese-American Harvard-alum point guard on the New York Knicks who has suddenly turned the basketball world on its head.  After sitting on the end of the bench and even being demoted to the D-League at one point, Lin has had, since being thrust into a starting role, the most spectacular first seven games of any starter in the history of the National Basketball Association.

He has hit last-minute winning shots, slashed his way through multiple defenders for spectacular lay-ups, carved up one of the best defenses in the league (the defending champions Dallas Mavericks), outplayed Kobe Bryant, turned around a moribund team, and handled almost everything that teams have thrown at him. He had one letdown against the New Orleans Hornets but then revealed his resilience in the next game (against the Mavericks) with 28 points, 14 assists, five rebounds and five steals.  At one point the 6’3” guard drained a cool three-point shot over 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki, the MVP in last year’s finals.

Lin is in his second year but barely played in his first and was cut by the team that signed him as a free agent.  While he is very talented, no one knew it because he couldn’t find a system in which his free and aggressive style could flourish.  But as Jason Kidd, the great point guard for the Mavericks, said of Lin’s current coach, Mike D’Antoni provides a dream system for point guards.  In Lin, D’Antoni has found a point guard who can take full advantage. As a result, we are treated to what we love most about sports: the way that, upon occasion, we see unpredictable things that astonish us.

Here’s the best poem I know about surprise and astonishment. (It is the source of my son Darien’s name.) In my rational moments, I must acknowledge that Lin’s play might not be quite as spectacular as discovering a new planet or seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time or even first reading Homer. But Lin’s story doesn’t allow one to be rational.

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

By John Keats

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

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One Comment

  1. farida
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    It is heartening to know that an Asian American player is a starter for an NBA team. But I think that the excitement and media blitz cannot be separated from Jeremy Lin’s race (however much the athlete himself tries to negate the race factor). I am not saying the excitement is a bad thing, but it seems to me much (or at least some) of the thrill over Lin’s achievements have to do with his otherness.

    Would his achievements be marveled over in the manner they have been if he wasn’t Asian? I wonder. Part of the enthrallment (even surprise and wonder) has to do with the idea of an Asian basketball wonder kid. In the same way people thrilled at Tiger’s achievements or the Williams sisters. People of color showing themselves to have gifts or talents beyond what they have been ‘asssigned’.

    The question of whether or not Lin’s skills will stand the test of time (or even the season), as those athletes’ have done, will take some time to answer. I know that for me the pleasure of Lin’s success is, in part, seeing a basketball team that’s more representative of the society in which it exists…

    Of course the pleasure is also undoubtedly in seeing someone who has been left on the bench consistently, come off the bench and lead a team to victory or to renewed self belief. But Lin’s “Liness”, in 2012, is still very much about his race. I hope that within himself he will be able to do some reflection on what it all means; and not (like Tiger often did) so easily dismiss the issue of race…and the talk of “chinks in armour” and “fortune cookies”.

    Lin’s (understandable) obfuscation of and desire to underplay the race factor (and its persistent subtext in all the “Linsanity” excitement) is complicated and interesting. And it’s reflected in this poem (Things Chinese) by Adrienne Su and her desire to excise her family’s past and culture from her writing:

    “Once, I tried to banish them all from my writing.
    This was America, after all, where everyone’s at liberty
    To remake her person, her place, or her poetry,…..”

    On negating her own experience of racism and prejudice she writes:

    “Their children had never needed to explain to anyone..
    Why distinctness and mystery were not advantages,
    When they were not optional, and never wondered
    if particular features had caused particular failures..”

    She continues to describe her intent in excising her past from her writing (and perhaps reflects Lin’s desire to diminish the ‘Taiwanese factor’ in his basketball successes and indeed failures):

    “The hope was to transcend the profanity of being
    Through the dissolution of description and theory,
    Which I thought might turn out to be secondary.”

    And she ends…
    “But everywhere I went there was circumstance,
    All of it strangely tainted by my very presence.”

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