Friday night I watched the New York Knicks play the Los Angeles Lakers, but it might as well have been a game between two players: Jeremy Lin and Kobe Bryant. Fans of Lin, who has only been starting for the Knicks FOR ONE WEEK held up signs lauding him as the "Yellow Mamba," an obvious play on Kobe's nickname the "Black Mamba."
I'm pretty sure Lin's nickname is not very P.C., but it's a symbol of how much people love him and are enjoying seeing some unexpected diversity in the NBA.
I can remember no bona fide Asian NBA STAR in my life. Don't say Yao Ming because he was simply tall and productive enough for a center, not a star. He wasn't amazing to watch and he it's not like he had amazing skill. Lin, by contrast, is fluid on the floor, can set-up amazing shots, and can penetrate deftly to go to the basket. People, even Lakers' coach Mike Brown, are calling him a natural.
Lin is dynamic to watch and humble in interviews. In just four games, he's doubled his Twitter followers and amassed a legion of fans who carry his name on signs, wear masks of his face, and who are paying $1,000 for his collectible rookie cards.
So, why was he sitting on the Knicks bench since December? Why did the Houston Rockets trade him instead of nurturing him? And why was he bouncing from team to team with no one having faith in his abilities?
A Korean fan of Lin confided to me that he personally thinks owners and coaches have been undervaluing Lin because of his Tawainese heritage. I do think there are ingrained prejudices in the league about what types of people can excel at basketball. I mean, even with Yao Ming, who was Chinese, there were racist incidents like the time an opposing time disseminating fortune cookies to the crowd and when Shaquille O'Neal gave reporters a message for Ming by speaking in meaningless mock Chinese.
The fact that Lin hailed from Harvard, a school that hasn't produced any basketball prodigies, likely also added to his undervaluation. However, we can't overlook the fact, that in the past when given playing time, Lin posted mediocre numbers -- nothing like the high scores and assists he's managed this week.
Having scored 38 points on his own in Friday's game where he shut down the Lakers pretty easily, Lin is certainly going to change people's views about Asian NBA athletes, earn players' respect, and give us a new face of basketball.
The question now is, can he gel with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, creating a New York Big 3 to rival that other Big 3 in the East.