Lin’s success with New York because of skill, not racial favoritism

Last week delivered the newest edition of one of our favorite sports archetypes: the successful underdog.

What set this version apart from the rest was the fact that, well, we had never seen it before.

We’ve seen a well-traveled athlete finally catch on with a team before.

We’ve seen an Asian dominate basketball before.

We’ve seen an Ivy Leaguer make it in pro sports before.

But an Asian, Harvard graduate point guard, on the precipice of receiving a pink slip, leading the New York Knicks to five straight wins?

That’s the kind of story Disney rejects.

While I am on the crowded Jeremy Lin bandwagon, I must set myself aside in one regard.

Many a cowardly commentator insinuated that Lin’s success is because of racial favoritism.

While this certainly holds true in Lin’s nonexistent high school recruiting, the same cannot be said of his professional career.

Lin signed his first NBA contract as an undrafted free agent

While he was a two-time All-Ivy League player, Lin rarely faced NBA-level talent. Scouts saw zero off-the-charts skills in his game and drafted “potential” guys from Nigeria, Bosnia and Ukraine in the second round instead.

This is not unusual. Teams notoriously draft guys with one incredible skill and relegate guys with reliable games to the practice squad. Often, the consistent guy doesn’t even get a shot to prove himself. In his second year, Lin did.

Also, Jeremy Lin being Taiwanese-American means little. Yao Ming kicked the Eastern door down for good back in 2002. Yi Jianlian, who proved himself the best player in China before entering the draft, went sixth overall to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007 and put up 12 points and seven rebounds per game last year for the New Jersey Nets.

The casual fan’s ignorance of the failures of Asian ballers such as Wang Zhizhi and Sun Yue do not excuse commentators’ myopia. Players of every race get shots in the league, and when the suck, they get sent packing.

Things would only slightly differ if Lin were white. The nerd-jock narrative would continue. So would the well-traveled player finally getting a shot.

The only difference would be that the NBA already has some decent white guards. The difference there would be that Lin doesn’t play the stereotypical “white guy” game of stroking the three (see: Kyle Korver), thus filling the gap of “athletic white guard” not filled in the NBA since Rex Chapman.

Another failing of the racial argument comes from the NBA’s commissioner himself. David Stern loves the East. Beginning with the Dream Team in 1992, Stern has obsessed over expanding his product into a global marketplace. While in no way is Stern’s desire an equal to Lin’s hard work and quality game, it definitely puts a thorn in the side of an allegations of racial inequality.

Politics play a role in NBA roster decisions. Brian Scalabrine is not one of the top 400 basketball players in the world. So why is he a Bull? He is funny and a good teammate, and the white fans that fill NBA arenas every night can identify with him on a surface level.

But the NBA is a meritocracy. The Association avidly scouts every populated continent on Earth. Africa is becoming to the NBA what the Caribbean is to Major League Baseball. If you’ve got game, you will get noticed.

The real Jeremy Lin story is this: A guard who can’t run exceptionally fast or jump especially high but plays the game well was undervalued by the NBA — only to prove the haters wrong with his flat-out ability to play basketball.

Knicks fans have seen the black version of this before. Jordan-era Bulls fans and every Knicks fan should remember John Starks. He too went undrafted out of college.

So enough with this flirtation of Jeremy Lin overcoming racial stereotypes. Yes, Jeremy Lin plays with a style never showcased in the NBA before by an Asian. But that is because there’s never been an Asian with Jeremy Lin’s game before, not that previous incarnations were barred.

Phil is a senior in Media.