Jeremy Lin is the New York Knicks basketball sensation whose so far brief but amazing performance on the court has set the world on fire in a mere month.
Most NBA superstars are not 23-year-old Harvard-graduates. And they are rarely devout Christian, second-generation Taiwanese-Americans. The fact that Lin is an anomaly has guaranteed both sensationalism and controversy, at least some of it politically incorrect. Take professional boxer Floyd Mayweather's recent remark that "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."
Despite his crassness, Mayweather may be on to something, but not in the simplistic fashion he thinks. In Lin's storybook saga, it is hard to sort out all the racial-stereotyping and affirmative-action undertones, but I think it goes something like this: Lin was probably not given earlier opportunities commensurate with his proven talents, given that both Harvard graduates and Asians (perceived in the NBA as a twofer disadvantage) are probably unfairly stereotyped by basketball players, coaches and general managers as less physical and more nerdy -- and therefore not as athletic as either black or white players.
Yet, once the Knicks gave Lin even a small chance to display his innate talent, the profiling vanished. His undeniable merits as a shooting, passing and driving point guard have earned him almost all of the recognition that he has garnered. Remember, the NBA is a for-profit league that prides itself on adjudicating players solely on talent -- questions of diversity or proportionate racial representation usually be damned. After all, the Knicks began winning with Lin playing more, and should they start losing with him in the lineup, his current celebrity status will gradually wilt away.
But that's not quite the end of the irony. Mayweather claims that Lin is still getting excessive attention based on his race, as if racism were at work in winning him inordinate praise for the same sort of skills that the African-American majority in the NBA displays each day.