by liberal japonicus
This is probably a bit too heavy for a Friday open thread, so we'll push that back a few days, cause I'm quite interested in this. But maybe you aren't, so it is below the fold. Join me, if you dare...
And because I'm sure there are folks here who could speak more knowledgably about basketball, if you want to turn this thread into discussing what makes a good point guard, I'm very cool with that (because my love affair with the game has been off and on, attenuated by distance and cruelly limited by being a 6'4" point guard trapped in a 5' 7" (but he plays like he is 5' 7 3/4"!) body)
Still, I suppose the question that would be in the ObWi wheelhouse is the question of whether racism is write about Jeremy Lin's sudden rise, I can tell without a doubt in my mind that... it depends. To start off with, I think that this Indian writer embracing his Asian Americanness is more as a cover for talking about race, which is kind of dumb, but representative of a particular class of pundit who wants to seem prescient in predicting bad things. Moving on.
The Atlantic gives us a sample of the range, with Ta Nehisi Coates giving David Brooks at the NYTimes (not racist, just stupid) some needed pointers and James Fallows giving some needed perspective to Robert Wright (yeah, kinda racist), which deals with a lot of this. Is you want Wright and Brooks totally dissected, go to this Mark Liberman LanguageLog post. There is also this Jake Simpson piece (not at all racist). All we need is McArdle to appear and explain why the rise of Jeremy Lin supports her thesis about household appliances and the set would be complete. (if you look at that last link, note the first image of the ad for the 'Farberware Electric Coffee Robot', which suggests that Gary has time travel capabilities, so I look forward to improvements, though I won't realize that they happened)
When we talk about racism, I guess I have to mention Floyd Mayweather Jr., a boxer, who tweeted “Jeremy Lin is a good player, but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Given that Mayweather posted a video of him saying of rival Manny Pacquiao "we're going to cook that little yellow chump. We ain't worried about that. So they ain't gotta worry about me fighting the midget. Once I kick the midget ass, I don't want you all to jump on my d---. So you all better get on the bandwagon now. ... Once I stomp the midget, I'll make that mother f----- make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice." Tweeting is not really writing, but I would probably say yeah, that's racist. Though Mayweather later tweeted that this was what the basketball players he knew thought, but were too scared to say. More about that later.
I did like Stephen Colbert's comment that times must be hard if it is easier for a Harvard grad to get into the NBA than it is to become a Wall St. bond trader, though I'm impressed that Colbert didn't suggest that he wasn't a victim of discrimination based on his tryout with the Knicks.
Were the two teams that cut Lin racist? As another commentator pointed out in the last open thread, there were already a bunch of point guards at Golden State, and the same was true at Houston, so I'd have to say no.
Were the teams that didn't draft Lin racist? No to that as well. The position of point guard is one that doesn't really translate into watching a prospect at a combine. The only way you tell if someone is a good point guard is you watch him play in a game situation. Lin himself has noted that what he thinks are his strengths are not things that are easily visible in watching him run drills. This is a scout's report on him before the draft
Strengths: Jeremy is deceptively quick and athletic ... Noticeably has a quick first step ... Has nice touch around basket, he's very crafty with the ball, excellent at changing direction ... He sees a lane and takes it, and he's not afraid to get fouled ... Can adjust his body and shot in mid air, absorbs contact well ... Uses on-ball screens very well with an ability to explode to the hoop, solid handle, above average crossover and shows the ability to split double teams with ease ... Can get in the paint and make plays for others ... Plays solid off-ball defense, ability to see man and ball ... Great awareness and reaction time ... Very effective in transition ... Good lateral movement when playing man to man perimeter defense and high awareness when playing help defense ... Has decent strength with long, solidly built arms ... Works hard at his game ... Has shown the ability to step up in big games and make clutch plays (hit a game winner to open the season) ...
Weakness: Lacks a true position ... Is not a natural playmaker but plays the position out of necessity at times for Harvard ... Not a true point guard, and plays off the ball more effectively and often ... His dribble is too high making it easy for opponents to strip the ball away ... More of a SF in a 6-4 body ... Doesn't seem to have much of a mid-range game, has ability to shoot the 3 but definitely not a strength ... Not a pure shooter ... Does not seem confident at all when taking a jump shot, passes on wide open shots at times which he won't be able to do at the next level ... Really needs to develop a pull-up or step back jumper, also has an unorthodox form on his shot ... His ISO skills are just average despite a quick first step ... Much more effective spotting up than creating shots off the dribble ... When fatigued tends to force the issue, turn the ball over, and take questionable shots ... Plays in a very weak conference so his lack of competition and experience on a big stage is a hurdle ...
Still, it has been suggested that Lin was overlooked because he was Asian. This article by Jason Lehrer suggests that it is not a race problem, but a vision problem
By now, you probably see the theme: nobody thought Lin could make it in the NBA. He was too short and too weak, with a mediocre jump shot. And that’s why, if I were an NBA coach or scout or GM, his remarkable success would keep me up at night. Professional sports, after all, are supposed to be a pure meritocracy, in which those with the most talent are carefully vetted and tested. Those who make it in the NBA are supposed to be a pure distillate of athletic potential: the players are richly rewarded because they really are the very best.
But how effective is this meritocracy? Are there lots of Jeremy Lins out there? How many benchwarmers could hit game winners? Unfortunately for professional sports, the evidence suggests that there’s plenty of room for improvement: teams are terrible at identifying talent.
I think there is some truth in that, but I have a slightly different perspective. Musicians generally agree that there are a lot of people who are just as good as famous musician X. (Musician in this sense is not someone who is writing their own music, but someone who is performing other people's music) And in getting the gig, while it does mean that you are better than everyone else they heard, musicians (at least the ones I have hung out with) are very conscious that there are tons of people who didn't audition and would have been able to do just as well. Of course, over beers, frustration over not getting a gig might have some forget that. Mayweather's later comment, that this was what a lot of black players were thinking, should be seen in light of the notion of stealin', which David Halberstam described in his book Breaks of the Game, about the Portland Trailblazers 1979-80 season and the state of basketball then. Stealin' is where the lower bench positions are given to white players as a 'bone' to fans. Perhaps folks more up on the current state of the game can tell me if it still seems to be a problem.
So folks who think that Lin was overlooked because he was Asian are missing out that there are tons of people who are overlooked. As Lehrer says 'There is talent everywhere. We just don’t know how to find it.' though I disagree slightly. There is talent everywhere, we just don't know how to nurture it and make it fully flower.
I haven't seen it mentioned in conjunction with Lin, but the story of Landon Clement bears a look.
That's how Landon Clement is referred to by a lot of students here on the historically black campus of North Carolina Central University. When he first arrived two years ago, the term was not exactly a compliment.
What's White Boy doing here?
Students couldn't help but notice Clement, and talk. He spent all his time with black teammates. He had a son with a black girlfriend. And from that came another, more scathing suggestion:
Oh, he's trying to be black.
Read the whole thing, as they say. I'm also reminded of Ed 'Booger' Smith, the streetball player who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was the subject of the documentary 'Soul in the Hole' (with Finnish subtitles for the commentor who is studying Finnish! This is a full service shop, folks).There are lots of constraints on talent that have nothing to do with the game.
Finally, the rest of Linsanity, with folks with names like Thieu and Park and Kobayashi, and even Patel finding some common ground, well, yeah, I think that is racist. But let me explain.
I suppose one could accuse me of trying to turn racist into a positive term, rather than trying to banish it from our world. I'd prefer to think that I hope it underlines the irrationality of racism. Asian American is a strange and wonderful mix that would seem to defy any kind of grouping and it would be silly to make group with that definition. As silly as believing in shared traits because your birth, because it falls in some 30 day frame, means you share the same characteristics as someone born in another place and era. Or based on the computer operating system we use. Or which Star Trek captain we like. Crazy really, that we think groups like these mean something, but that is what humans do.
Because the Asian-American experience has no unifying notion, no Ellis Island gateway and it draws on a canvas that is half of the world, and is usually the half we (for various values of 'we') don't know about, this coming together really makes no sense. (as someone observed, dang those Asians all look alike, I'm always getting Amartya Sen confused with Wen Jiabao) I like the way this piece (by Hua Hsu, an assistant professor of English at Vassar College, but the essay title seems to be strangely out of synch with the content) says it
It may seem like a strange moment to obsess over, a minor achievement given the broader history of Asians in the U.S., and a fatally macho one at that. But the lure of identity is, at root, an imaginary one.
For now, I want to preserve this strange thrill of an Asian-American from near where I grew up starring for the Knicks; I want to temporarily shield this experience from deeper inquiry about cultural capital, politics or the meaning of meritocracy. It’s here that the irrationality of identity merges with the irrationality of fandom. We hope against reason and find meaning in the ephemeral; each new series is an opportunity to start anew. Clear thinking is the enemy. There are nicknames to be invented, menu items that need renaming and raps to be written.
Have at it.