People who don't know a triple-double from a double-dribble know Jeremy Lin. The New York Knicks point guard excites those bored by basketball.
People miss something special about Lin when they avert their gaze from the basketball court to marvel over his outspoken Christianity, the fact that the wearer of the NBA's bestselling jersey was sleeping on his brother's couch earlier this month, or the mathematical improbability of an NBA star who is not only undrafted, and Asian, and a Harvard grad, but one has neither tattoos covering his arms nor baby mamas in tow.
Count Lin as one who welcomes the outside-the-lines focus: "What athletes do off the court is more impressive to me than what they do on the court." Lin's play seems to rebut this: his team, which had lost 11 of 13 prior to his insertion into the starting line-up, is 9-3 since. Lin's performance on the hardwood is amazing. But who he is may actually overshadow how he plays.
When numerous sports journalists made the horrible miscue of using the clichéd phrase "chink in the armor" in relation to Lin, the Asian-American athlete reacted graciously. "They've apologized, and so from my end, I don't care anymore," he said. "You have to learn to forgive, and I don't even think that was intentional."
It's not as though Lin is deracinated. He makes a point of expressing his Taiwanese heritage, a thorn in the side of the Communist Chinese who regard the island nation as a breakaway province. In Taiwan, not heretofore regarded as a basketball Mecca, a headmaster gave his 4,000 students a break from the classroom to watch a basketball game halfway round the planet featuring Lin. The principal explained, "The students pleaded and I agreed to do this on an experimental basis." Be thankful that Lin, and not Dennis Rodman or Javaris Crittenton, influences kids on the other side of the globe.
Mr. Kim Kardashian, heckled in arenas across America for his 72-day marriage to the trashy celebutante, found a voice of support from his rival at the other end of Lincoln Tunnel. Kris Humphries that Lin offered encouragement to him outside the New Jersey Nets' locker room. "He just said, 'Hey, I don't know why they boo you, but I think it's crap, and you're playing really well.' That was nice of him to say…. It's nice to see great things happen for nice people."
One of the reasons the great player is a good person is his faith.
"I just thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for that shot," explained Lin after hitting a game-winning three-pointer to beat the Toronto Raptors. The twice-in-two-weeks Sports Illustrated cover-boy laments the sudden loss of privacy but welcomes the platform, which he vows to use to glorify God. He reads the Bible before every game. He wears a wristband that says, "In Jesus' Name I Play." He cites Romans 5:3-5 as a favorite Biblical passage. He dreams of becoming a pastor after his basketball days. The 23-year-old bachelor's ideal mate "would really love God and be a faithful Christian."
Not everybody, apparently, likes an underdog. "Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian," undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted. "Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise." One might tag Mayweather, headed to jail later this year for another domestic battery conviction, as the anti-Jeremy Lin.
Perhaps it's not a matter of the character overshadowing the play, or the play overshadowing the character. Maybe they complement one another rather than compete for our attention. Can one really separate Lin's work-hard, unselfish, team-first play from his character? Who he is off the court helps explain what he does on the court.
Charles Barkley declared in 1993 that athletes shouldn't be held up as role models. Nearly twenty years later, Jeremy Lin begs to differ. "I think it's important for any kid to have an inspiration," he recently told the New York Post. "I think right now the way society's going, I think role models are important, and kids need direction."
The Round Mound of Rebound was ridiculed but right. It is nevertheless heartening to see a player make us rethink that assertion.