Conventional basketball wisdom stipulates that New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin should not be playing so well, nor should he really be playing in the NBA at all. Lin is a Harvard-educated Asian-American kid from one of America’s wealthiest towns. In a sport dominated by African-American players and popularized in poorer urban areas, Lin just doesn’t fit the mold.
But Lin has been spectacular in a three-game stretch for a sluggish New York team — averaging 26.5 points and 7.5 assists despite sharing the court with other marquee players like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Many fans and sports pundits are in wild disbelief with Lin’s success. But this very shock running through the media and public is a prime example of the many cultural stereotypes present in professional sports.
Lin proves that all of these stereotypes are baseless.
Lin doesn’t have the basketball résumé so many other NBA stars have. After all, this guy played at Harvard. Not Kentucky, not North Carolina. And while Harvard has produced eight presidents, it is generally not thought of as a launching pad to professional athletics. However, there have been some Ivy League products who have become stars in the NBA. Bill Bradley, a Princeton grad, (who would later hold a seat in the Senate and run for president) was an integral member of the championship Knicks teams of the 1970s. Moreover, when Lin entered the NBA in 2010, he was one of three Ivy League players to participate in an NBA training camp.
Guys who look like Lin just aren’t supposed to play in the NBA right? Lin certainly is not the most impressive physical specimen in the league; however the 6’3’’ point guard is bigger than superstar point guards Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. At 6’3’’ and 200lbs Lin is actually on the upper end of the NBA point guard size spectrum.
And then there his ethnicity. Lin is good, but he isn’t black. The majority of NBA fans are not accustomed to seeing an Asian-American playing professional basketball. And while there hasn’t been a surplus of such players to play in the NBA, Lin, who is of Taiwanese descent yet who grew up in Paolo Alto, California, cannot be considered a pioneer in this regard either. In fact, in 2008, the Milwaukee Bucks drafted another Taiwanese-American, when they selected Joe Alexander from West Virginia University.
Perhaps much of the shock surrounding the recent success of Lin stems from the fact that many see him as a sort of “every-man” who is getting his chance to shine in the NBA and have the opportunity that so many kids with hoop dreams could never get.
With these facts in mind, why should it be a shock that Lin is having success in the NBA? Yes Lin has an economics degree from Harvard. Yes, he does not look like a typical NBA player. And yes Lin is Asian-American. But doesn’t it make sense that our professional sports leagues, at least to some degree, proportionately reflect our population?
Jeremy Lin is not some sort of outlier or novelty. Jeremy Lin is 1/300 men who play in the most competitive basketball league on the planet. He also happens to be those other things as well.
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