I hate playing the race card.
It’s a cheap angle to take since writing from that lens elicits such visceral reactions from people. Sometimes, it’s justified. Oftentimes, it’s not. But using race as a central theme to a topic generally distracts the reader from the underlying message.
That being said – how can we evaluate the Jeremy Lin situation without talking about race?
The New York Knicks officially announced Tuesday they were not matching the $25.1 million, back-loaded offer sheet negotiated by the Houston Rockets for Jeremy Lin. In the negotiating framework set up by the NBA, teams have three days to match an offer sheet for a restricted free agent — in this case, Lin — otherwise the original team loses the player without any sort of compensation (e.g., other players, draft picks, cash, etc.).
Since the offer sheet was handed to the Knicks on Saturday night, the past three days leading up to Tuesday’s night deadline have generated an avalanche of commentary on the skills and potential of Lin, the basketball strategy of the Knicks, and the fiscal responsibility of Knicks owner James Dolan.
In the white noise of commentary that has filled up the airwaves and the web, one article stood out by Stephen A. Smith. Stephen A. Smith is known for his inflammatory comments and bombastic attitude, yet he’s typically on the side of the player when they’re seeking to “get paid.” For him to side with the Knicks and to say that “Jeremy Lin has been all about the money since the day he burst onto Broadway,” runs counter to his normal commentary and begs the question – what other factors are in play here?
Is this the story of an unheralded kid bursting on the scene in New York and then overstepping his bounds when seeking his reward? Is this the story of high potential player who just isn’t worth the risk? Or is this the story of an Asian kid who doesn’t belong in a black sport and should just be happy with having the opportunity to play?
Throughout the “Linsanity” experience, we’ve heard comments about his “work ethic” and how he was “deceptively quick.” A jaded person could view these through the lens of race and see how Lin was viewed as an Asian person first — with all of the associated expectations — and a basketball player second. It was easy to brush these all aside though as we enjoyed Lin’s unexpected and sometimes magical run of 25 games. We even brushed aside the comments of boxer Floyd Mayweather, 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” because that would have distracted us from enjoying the improbability of Linsanity.
But now that Jeremy Lin has been taken from New York (remember, the Knicks were allowed to match any offer and keep him), the insults and disparaging comments are coming fast and loose from the Knicks organization. And one has to wonder if these aren’t a product of expecting the Asian kid to shut up and be loyal to an organization, to be grateful for even having a chance, and to undervalue this worth and accept his place.
With the Rockets, Lin has the potential to blossom into a star and maybe reach the ceiling people are projecting for him. But from a marketing and fan excitement perspective, this has to be one of the worst moves of the Dolan era of the Knicks. In basketball, the marketing of individual players takes a more prominent role than in other sports. The Knicks had the “Great Yellow Hope,” and it was crazy seeing how the skinny Asian kid from Harvard energized Asians across the city and the country. This was a golden opportunity to tap into a demographic largely ignored by the sporting world. And the Knicks let him go, based mainly on petty differences and an alleged sense of betrayal.
Although we deride the organizations that pay these max contracts, we always congratulate the players on maximizing their value and extracting their full worth. Yet here we have Stephen A. Smith and other columnists deriding Lin for intelligently negotiating with the Houston Rockets and garnering the most valuable contract possible given the limited sample size of games he played. Mayweather’s comment of “black players do(ing) what he does every night and don’t get the same praise” can be turned around here. That “black players do what they do every contract negotiation and don’t get the same derision.”
Maybe I’m just being sensitive here. As an Asian male in New York City, it was refreshing and invigorating to walk around knowing a Taiwanese kid from Palo Alto, Calif., was the king of the basketball universe. And when someone undercuts his success because he wasn’t “grateful” or “didn’t know his place,” it’s hard to separate the embedded racial identity issues within those statements.
I know we’re the “model minority.” Kudos to Jeremy Lin for changing the model.