In the mind of Bissinger, the author of critically acclaimed books such as Friday Night Lights and Three Nights in August, the hoopla over Lin’s crazy ride with the Knicks does not derive solely from the fact that Lin was undrafted, slept on his brother’s couch at NYU and averaged 27.3 and 8.3 assists in his four games as a starter.
All of that would just make Lin a nice little story if Lin were black, Bissinger argued over the weekend in a column for The Daily Beast. The quest for a Great White Hope (or in this case, a Great Yellow Hope) has presumably propelled Lin beyond Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the NBA hotlist.
“Because Lin is not black and not from Europe with a thick foreign accent,” Bissinger writes, “he fits a pervasive stereotype much closer to a white player than ‘the great yellow hope’ pablum that too many writers and bloggers are trying to peddle.”
Bissinger’s issue with the excessive hype is warranted, and his volunteering to be the “party pooper” is admirable. Lin has combined a perfect storm of public relations with playing under the bright lights in New York and timing his run in the week after the Super Bowl, when most fans look around and remember there are pro sports other than the NFL.
But the fact that Lin has led a former trainwreck of a team to five straight wins isn’t secondary to the main point, as Bissinger seems to think. It is the point.
Or as Sean Newell of Deadspin writes:
“Jeremy Lin is a popular and exciting story for exactly one reason: he is an underdog. He did not come from a traditionally big time college basketball program. He was not drafted. He was released by two teams, bounced around the D-League and was almost released by the Knicks before catching lightning in a bottle. These qualities endear him to fans who will always pull for David rather than Goliath. It is almost an innate reaction and one of the best things about sports. It doesn’t have to be about race or because ‘his Christian beliefs and prayer penchant echoes much of white America.’”
There’s little doubt Lin’s race plays a role. As an Asian American, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for Lin because of his ethnicity. But for the 94 percent of Americans who aren’t Asian, there has to be a different motivation for rooting for the kid. And contrary to what Bissinger writes, Lin is not “breaking the Asian-American pro basketball barrier.” That happened more than 60 years ago.
As a sign that Lin’s expiration date is coming, Bissinger points out that Lin looked tired in Saturday’s game in Minnesota, when he shot 8-for-24 and had six turnovers in 39 minutes — after playing 38 minutes the previous night against the Lakers. That’s a lot of burn for a dude who is used to playing in five-minute bursts, so all Lin’s fatigue did was prove that he’s human.
Bissinger finds it ludicrous that NBA fans are claiming Lin is better than Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal. That would be ludicrous if anybody really felt that way, which they don’t.
Still, right when we’re ready to click away from the story in disgust, Bissinger comes up with this nugget of gold.
“It is a sad commentary on the way fans view the NBA that its two best players, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, are also among the 10 most-hated athletes in the country,” Bissinger writes. “They have made mistakes, but they are a pleasure to watch, and whatever they have done, they have never been charged with a crime.
“The rape case Bryant was involved in was a murky mess; he claimed the sex was adulterous but consensual, and the victim refused to testify and also modified her original story, forcing prosecutors to drop the charges. James is arrogant and still plays like a running highlight show, but he is still riveting, and his crime was the poor handling of free agency, not shooting somebody. He [expletive] over Cleveland, but somebody is always [expletive] over Cleveland, because it’s a feel-sorry city most comfortable in feeling slighted, America’s most masochistic city. To not [expletive] over Cleveland would be anti-American.”
And thus sums up why, even when we disagree with Buzz Bissinger, we still love Buzz Bissinger.