Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, February 27, 2012

Missing the Real Story on Jeremy Lin

A few weeks ago, my boss, the consummate sports fan, asked me if I’d heard about Jeremy Lin.  Knowing the boss, I knew it had to be some name from the sports.  “Is he a football player?” I asked.  No, basketball.  No wonder I hadn’t heard of him.  Football and baseball are the family games.

“Do some research on him,” my boss suggested.   “Look him up; it’s a great story!”  Before I could do so, Lin’s name was all over the news along with the name of the ESPN who made the mistake of using the cliché, “a chink in his armor” in the same sentence as Lin’s name.  The announcer apologized and then was summarily fired.  Lin, probably wanting to get the whole mess behind him and get back to scoring basketball points, forgave all immediately.

In another age, people might have laughed at what, no doubt, was unintended pun.  These days, you don’t dare even smirk lest someone be offended.  There are so many dash-words that if you had to cut out all the offending words in an older dictionary, it would look like Swiss cheese.

Dad’s Dictionary, the 2nd Webster’s International, Unabridged Dictionary, was published in 1934.  How did the C-word rank in terms of offensiveness in those days, compared to the N-word?  Even in 1934, the N-word was recognized as “possibly derogatory.”  Attached to it were about eight nouns – mostly flora and fauna – with the N-word added as a prefix.  Somewhere, the Devil and the ghosts of the KKK riders are laughing.  The rest of us are not.

The dictionary contained the Ch-word and the Sp-word.  These monickers were not denounced as derogatory but simply accepted as fact in 1934.  Nor were they followed by a list of derogatorily-named flora and fauna.  That doesn’t make those two words, or any of their cousins, any less offensive, but it does make the N-word the most infamous.

Since the 1960s, we’ve excised these words from our dictionaries and our vocabulary and good riddance to them.  Woe to the communicator who utters one even unintentionally, using an old clichéd phrase.  ESPN’s firing of this commentator seemed a little excessive; an apology and some sort of short-term punishment – perhaps a demotion – should have been enough.  Maybe wash his mouth out with soap.

But ESPN was determined to throw this announcer on the altar of political correctness.  Identity politics does not suffer fools gladly.

If only the Media and Hollywood would adopt the same attitude towards obscene words and gestures.  These, alas, are now the sacred profanity - George Carlin’s seven dirty words you can’t say on television or the radio.  You still can’t say them on broadcast television.  Thanks to Al Gore, you won’t have to worry about it.  On broadcast television, the words are taboo; on cable, anything goes.

What makes it wrong to offend the sensibilities of certain identity groups, but not the ears of the general public?  What is wrong with people in general today?  Yes, they’re shocked at the dash nouns and would probably slap their kids silly if they uttered.  But parents titter with glee when the F-word or the S-words slips their tender little lips.  Oh how cute.  How sweet.  How adorable.

It’s a hypocritical generation that proudly proclaims its intolerance for identity slander at the same time turning the air blue with its profuse profanity.  What @#%^ is wrong with that, anyway?  Would ESPN have fired the announcer had he found something wanting in Lin’s skill and cursed him a non-discriminatory blue streak for missing the basket (if Lin should have done so)?

Since I never watch sports, I have no idea whether sportscasters do such things.  Happening upon  a Spanish language channel one day that was broadcasting a soccer game, I heard a constant beeping and couldn’t imagine what it was.  Did it have something to do with soccer scoring or some referee calling a foul?  No.  The beeping was the censor beep covering up the announcer’s cursing.  There was no need to understand the language to recognize that only one word in ten was coming through.  A busy day for the station’s censor.

Jeremy Shu-How Lin was born in August 1988 to Taiwanese immigrant parents in Los Angeles and raised in Palo Alto, near San Francisco.  Lin's parents are both 5 feet 6 inches tall.   His maternal grandmother's family was tall, and her father was over 6 feet.  Lin has an older brother, Josh, and a younger brother, Joseph.  Gie-Ming taught his sons to play basketball at the local YMCA.
After receiving no athletic scholarship offers out of high school and being undrafted out of college, the 2010 Harvard University graduate reached a partially guaranteed contract deal later that year with his hometown Golden State Warriors.

Lin seldom played in his rookie season and was assigned to the NBA Development League (D-League) three times. He was waived by Golden State and the Houston Rockets the following preseason before joining the Knicks early in the 2011–12 season. He was again assigned to the D-League and continued to play sparingly.

In February 2012, he unexpectedly led a winning streak by New York while being promoted to the starting lineup, which generated a global following known as Linsanity. Lin is one of the few Asian Americans in NBA history, and the first American player in the league to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.[2]
In his senior year in 2005–2006, Lin captained Palo Alto H.S. to a 32–1 record and upset nationally-ranked Mater Dei, 51–47, for the California Interscholastic Federation(CIF) Division II state title. He was named first-team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year.
Lin sent his résumé and a DVD of highlights of his high school basketball career to all the Ivy League schools schools, University of California-Berkeley, and his dream schools Stanford and UCLA. The Pac-10 schools wanted him to walk-on, rather than be actively recruited or offered a sports scholarship.  “Walk-On” describes an athlete who becomes part of a team without being actively recruited beforehand or awarded an athletic scholarship.  This results in the differentiation between "walk-on" players and "scholarship" players. Technically all Ivy League sports players are walk-ons; League rules prohibit member schools from offering athletically-related financial aid. Harvard and Brown were the only teams that guaranteed him a spot on their basketball teams, but Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Rex Walters, University of San Francisco’s men’s basketball coach and a retired NBA player, said NCAA limits on coaches' recruiting visits had an impact on Lin's chances.  “Most colleges start recruiting a guy in the first five minutes they see him because he runs really fast, jumps really high, does the quick, easy thing to evaluate," Walters said.  Lin added, “I just think in order for someone to understand my game, they have to watch me more than once, because I’m not going to do anything that’s extra flashy or freakishly athletic.”
In July 2005, then-Harvard assistant coach Bill Holden saw that Lin was 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m), which fit the physical attributes he was seeking, and he had a 4.2 grade point average in high school, which fit Harvard's academic standards. However, Holden was not initially impressed with Lin's on-court abilities, and told Lin's high school basketball coach, Peter Diepenbrock, that Lin was a “Division III Player player.”  Later that week, Holden saw Lin playing in a much more competitive game, driving to the basket at every opportunity with the “instincts of a killer.”  Lin became a top-priority for Holden.  Harvard coaches feared that Stanford, close to Lin's home, would offer Lin a scholarship, but it did not, and Lin chose to attend Harvard.
“I wasn't sitting there saying all these Division I coaches were knuckleheads," Diepenbrock said. “There were legitimate questions about Jeremy.”  Joe Lacob, incoming Warriors’ owner and Stanford booster, said Stanford's failure to recruit Lin “was really stupid.  The kid was right across the street. [If] you can't recognize that, you've got a problem."  Kerry Keating, the UCLA assistant who offered Lin the opportunity to walk-on, said in hindsight that Lin would probably have ended up starting at point guard for UCLA.
After failing to receive any athletic scholarship offers, Lin attended Harvard.
A Harvard coach remembered Lin in his freshman season as “the [physically] weakest guy on the team,”  but in his sophomore season (2007–08), Lin averaged 12.6 points and was named All-Ivy League Second Team.  By his junior year during the 2008-2009, he was the only NCAA Division I men's basketball player who ranked in the top ten in his conference for scoring (17.8), rebounding (5.5), assists (4.3), steals (2.4), blocked shots (0.6), field goal percentage (0.502), free throw percentage (0.744), and three-point percentage (0.400), and was a consensus selection for All-Ivy League First Team. He had 27 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds in an 82–70 win over 17th-ranked Boston College, three days after the Eagles defeated No. 1 North Carolina.
In his senior year (2009–10), Lin averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, and was again a unanimous selection for All-Ivy League First Team. He was one of 30 midseason candidates for the John R. Wooden Award  and one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award.   He was also invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.  ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla picked Lin among the 12 most versatile players in college basketball.  He gained national attention for his performance against the 12th-ranked Connecticut Huskies, against whom he scored a career-high tying 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds on the road. After the game, Hall of Fame Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of Lin: “I've seen a lot of teams come through here, and he could play for any of them. He's got great, great composure on the court. He knows how to play.”
For the season, Harvard set numerous program records including wins (21), non-conference wins (11), home wins (11) and road/neutral wins (10).  Lin finished his career as the first player in the history of the Ivy League to record at least 1,450 points (1,483), 450 rebounds (487), 400 assists (406) and 200 steals (225).   He graduated from Harvard in 2010 with a degree in Economics and a 3.1 GPA.
After graduating from Harvard, Lin went undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft.  The NBA had not drafted an Ivy League player since 1995. The last Ivy League player to play in the NBA was Yale’s Chris Dudley in 2003, while the last Harvard player was Ed Smith in 1954.  Eight teams had invited Lin to predraft workouts. Diepenbrock said that NBA tryouts do not play five on five. Lin acknowledged that the workouts were “one on one or two on two or three on three, and that’s not where I excel. I've never played basketball like that.”   Scouts saw what The New York Times later described as “a smart passer with a flawed jump shot and a thin frame, who might not have the strength and athleticism to defend, create his own shot or finish at the rim in the N.B.A.”   Lin joined the Dallas Mavericks for mini-camp as well as their NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas.  Donnie Nelson of the Mavericks was the only general manager to offer him an invitation to play in the Summer League. “Donnie took care of me,” said Lin. “He has a different type of vision than most people do.”
In five Summer League games, while playing both guard positions, Lin averaged 9.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals in 18.6 minutes per game and shot a team leading 54.5% from the floor.   He outplayed first overall pick John Wall.   Lin scored 13 points to Wall's 21, but did so on 6-for-12 shooting in 28 minutes. Wall was 4-for-19 in 33 minutes.  While Wall received the biggest cheer for any player during introductions, the crowd turned on Wall and was cheering for Lin by the end of the game.  Lin received offers to sign from the Mavericks the L.A. Lakers, and an unnamed Eastern Conference team. In addition to the original three teams, the Golden State Warriors also offered Lin a contract.
On July 21, 2010, Lin signed a two-year deal with his hometown Warriors, his favorite team growing up. Lin's deal was partially guaranteed for 2010–11, and the Warriors held a team option for the second season. The deal included a first-year salary of close to $500,000 with more than half of it guaranteed.  Lin said the counteroffers from the three other teams were higher, but he wanted to play for the Warriors. Lin also signed a three-year guaranteed contract with Nike.  His jersey was already on sale before his first NBA game.
The Warriors held a press conference for Lin after his signing, with national media in attendance.
“It was surprising to see that ... for an undrafted rookie,” said then-Warriors coach Keith Smart.  The San Jose Mercury News wrote that Lin “had something of a cult-following” after his signing. The San Francisco Bay Area celebrated his arrival.  He became the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA.   Lin received the loudest ovation of the night in the Warriors' home exhibition opener at Oracle Arena when he entered the game in the fourth quarter. The crowd had started chanting for him in the third quarter and cheered whenever he touched the ball. "That really touched me. It's something I'll remember forever," Lin said.
During the first month of the season, Oracle Arena fans continued to root for Lin to play in the end of games and cheered every time he touched the ball.  He drew the crowd's attention on the road as well.  Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com attributed the attention Lin received out of town to the unique angle of “an Asian-American rising to rare basketball prominence.”  ESPN.com NBA editor Matt Wong wrote after a game in New York, “Lin checked into the game to loud applause, presumably from the many Asian-Americans in attendance.”
Hmmm.  Is ESPN going to fire Wong for obvious racial editorialism, attributing Lin’s popular to his heritage rather than his ability.  No; wait, they can’t – Wong is Asian, too.
Lin noticed the expectations that followed him and warned, “I won't be an All-Star this year.”   He was appreciative of the support, especially from the Asian-American community, but he  preferred concentrating on his play without all the attention when he had not “proven anything to anybody.”   Smart saw that Lin was skilled at getting to the paint (an area in a basketball court_ underneath the basket bounded by the endlines, the foul lanes and the free throw line), but needed to learn to pass because, he said, Lin “couldn't shoot the ball at all.”   The coach also noticed that the player always arrived early for practice and left late. Lin studied and rehearsed Steve Nash and other top point guards' pick-and-roll plays. Frank Hughes of  Sports Illustrated wrote that Lin talked with the occasional “seeds of self-doubt,” which Hughes said was not common to hear in the NBA.  Hughes also found it rare when Lin compared himself to the Phoenix Suns’ ' backup point guard Goran Dragic.  “Neither of us is a freak athlete, but we're both effective and know how to play the game," Lin said.   Team officials regularly denied requests for Lin to help him keep his focus. He was approached to be the subject of documentaries. Smart planned to take pressure off Lin since Lin had a tendency to be hard on himself and get frustrated, but the coach admitted that he once succumbed to the home crowd's wishes and put Lin into a game in the wrong situation.
Lin received little playing time during the season with two dominant ball-handling guards, Curry and Monta Ellis, starring for the Warriors.  Lin started the regular season on the Warriors' inactive list, but made his NBA debut the next game during the Warriors' Asian Heritage Night. He received a standing ovation when he entered the game in the final minutes.   In the next game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin scored his first NBA basket, had three assists, and recorded four steals.  He played 11 of his 16 minutes in the third quarter and committed five fouls but played a role in a 12–1 run by the Warriors in a 107–83 loss to the defending NBA champions. Lakers' guard Derek Fisher praised Lin for his energy and aggressiveness.  At Toronto on November 8, the Raptors held Asian Heritage Night to coincide with Lin's visit with the Warriors. Over 20 members of Toronto's Chinese media covered the game.  In a 89–117 road loss to the Lakers, Lin scored a (then) career-high 13 points in 18 minutes after scoring only seven total points in his first six games.
Three times during the season, Lin was assigned to the Warriors' D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns.   Each time, he was later recalled by the Warriors.  He competed in the NBA D-League Showcase and was named to the All-NBA D-League Showcase First Team on Jan. 10, 2011. Lin helped lead the Bighorns to a 2–0 record at the Showcase with averages of 21.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.5 steals.  Lin posted a season-high 27 points with the Bighorns on March 18.   In 20 games he averaged 18 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists with Reno.   Lin initially felt he was not good enough to play in the NBA, but he later realized he was learning and getting playing time in the D-League that he would not have received with the Warriors.  Lin credited Bighorns coach Eric Musselman with “helping him regain [his] swagger.”   Musselman recalled that Lin was a good scorer for himself but was not yet skilled at “using the whole floor.”
 He scored many offensive fouls, but Musselman believed Lin was as good as Gilbert Areanas in the dribble drive, an ability “you can't teach.”  The player continued to improve his pick-and-roll, how to handle double-teams and traps, and improved his jump shot and, especially, his three-pointer. Musselman also noticed that Lin, who as an NBA player received first-class airplane tickets, gave them to his teammates.
Lin worked to improve his jump shot during the offseason by abandoning the shooting form he had used since the eighth grade. He also increased his strength, doubling the weight he could squat (from 110 pounds to 231) and almost tripling the number of pull-ups that he could do (from 12 to 30).  He increased his body weight from 200 pounds to 212, and added 3.5 inches to his vertical leap.  Due to the basketball lockout, he never got a chance to work out for new Warriors coach Mark Jackson.   On the first day of training camp on Dec. 9, 2011, the Warriors waived Lin. He was a favorite of Lacob, but the Warriors were freeing up salary cap space to make an offer to restricted free agent center DeAndre Jordan.  Lin was due to make nearly $800,000 that would have become fully guaranteed on Feb. 10, 2012.
On December 12, 2011, Lin was claimed off waivers by the Houston Rockets.   He played seven minutes in two preseason games with the Rockets, who already had Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn as point guards with guaranteed contracts.  On Dec. 24, before the start of the season, the Rockets waived Lin to clear payroll to sign center Samuel Dalembert.
The New York Knicks claimed Lin off waivers on Dec. 27 to be a backup behind Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby after an injury to guard Imam Shumpert; recently-signed guard Baron Davis was also injured and weeks away from playing.  Because of the lockout coaches had little opportunity to see Lin’s play, and placed him fourth on the point guard depth chart.   Lin said he was “competing for a backup spot, and people see me as the 12th to 15th guy on the roster.  It's a numbers game.”  He continued to arrive first at practice, leave last, intensely study game film, and work with coaches to improve his footwork and judgment.   He made his season debut on the road against the Warriors, where he was warmly cheered in his return to Oracle Arena.  On Jan. 17, 2012, Lin was assigned to the Erie BayHawks of the D-League.  On Jan. 20, he had a triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists in the BayHawks' 122–113 victory over the Maine Red Claws.   Lin was recalled by the Knicks three days later, but so feared being cut again that he asked a chaplain at a pregame prayer service to pray for him.
God must have been listening
On January 28, Davis suffered a setback that postponed his Knicks debut. Then New York considered releasing Lin before his contract became guaranteed on Feb. 10 so they could sign a new player.  However, after the Knicks squandered a fourth quarter lead in a Feb. 3 loss to the Boston Celtics, coach Mike D’Antoni decided to give Lin a chance to play due to “desperation,” according to experts.  “He got lucky because we were playing so badly,” said D'Antoni.  Lin had played only 55 minutes through the Knicks' first 23 games, but he would unexpectedly lead a turnaround of an 8–15 team that had lost 11 of its last 13 games.
On Feb. 4, Lin outplayed All-Star guard Deron Williams and had 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists—all career-highs—in a 99–92 Knicks victory over the N.J. Nets.  Teammate Carmelo Anthony suggested to coach Mike D'Antoni at halftime that Lin should play more in the second half.  After the game, D'Antoni that Lin has a point-guard mentality and “a rhyme and a reason for what he is doing out there.”  In the subsequent game against the Utah Jazz, Lin made his first career start playing without stars Anthony, who left the game due to injury, and Amare Stoudemire, whose older brother had died.  Lin had 28 points and eight assists in the Knicks' 99–88 win.  Stoudemire and Anthony missed the next three and seven games, respectively.  D'Antoni stated after the Jazz game that he intended to “rid[e Lin] like freakin' Secretariat.” Basketball trainer David Thorpe said in hindsight that such a statement of confidence so soon by a coach was “incredibly rare,” and likely gave Lin the confidence to continue to play aggressively despite making mistakes.
On February 14, with less than a second remaining, Lin scored a game-winning three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors.  The basket so amazed the Lakers, watching on TV, that veteran player Meta World Peace ran by reporters shouting, “Linsanity! Linsanity!” and waving his hands above his head. Lin became the first NBA player to score at least 20 points and have seven assists in each of his first five starts.   Lin scored 89, 109, and 136 points in his first three, four, and five career starts, respectively, all three of which are the most by any player since the merger between the American Basketball Association and the NBA in 1976–77.

So, what we have here is:  Chinese-American guy from California dreams of playing professional basketball.  Although he’s the captain of his high school team and goes on to play for Harvard (and earn a degree in Economics), time after time, he’s told he doesn’t have what it takes.  He can’t jump.  He can’t shoot.  He can’t command the court.  He’s too thin.  He’s too light.

Chinese-American guy doesn’t take “no” or “I can’t” for an answer.  His Asian-American fans love him, but he knows it’s more than about proving that a Chinese-American guy jump.  No one else believes in him, though, including Jeremy Lin.  He has to prove that Jeremy Lin has what it takes, and can jump, shoot, and all the rest.  Professional team after professional team relegates him to the D-Leagues, where he wins honors.

That’s good enough.  Chinese-American is the first to arrive and practice and the last leave.  He watches DVDs of winning players and studies their moves.  He works out, gains weight, and practices those all-important jumps against taller players (Lin is 6 ft. 3 in.; tall for a Chinese-American guy; only just tall enough for professional basketball, it seems).

Desperate, Chinese-American guy gets down on his knees and prays to God just before a game.  God listens and our Chinese-American guy gets his break when two players have to go on leave for personal reasons.  His dubious coach is stunned.  The world is stunned.  One of basketball’s luminaries runs around the arena crying, “Linsanity!  Linsanity!”

That’s the story everyone missed while they were wringing their hands over a possible intentional or unintentional racial slur by a silly sportscaster.

Come on, Team America.  Get your priorities straight.  And to J.D., thanks for the tip on a good story.

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