The Layup Drill — a NEW monthly column about APIs in sports
By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
So, anything new happen in the NBA in February?
I asked a local sports bar owner if they carried the NBA League Pass, so I could catch the New York Knicks play. The league pass shows any NBA game not shown in our local area. The bar owner asked why I wanted to watch the Knicks.
And that is the reason why Seattle will never get another NBA team in my lifetime.
Leaving the bar dejected, I went home and turned to the Internet to check out live updates online. By now, everyone in the Seattle area, except sports bar owners, knows the story of Jeremy Lin.
He’s the guy whose play contradicted Asian stereotypes (for instance, he’s a tall Asian American guy that can dunk), but still fit others (he has a Harvard economics degree).
He’s made Asian American kids feel like they have a shot in the NBA. He’s also helped Asian American parents remind their kids that they can still get As (as in better than Bs) in the classroom, while making Js — jump shots — on the court.
Since he burst onto the scene, the world is embracing Linsanity. In the first week of Jeremy’s play, you could turn onto ESPN at any time, day or night, and get a Jeremy Lin highlight. Tim Tebow might be jealous based on the amount of exposure that Lin is receiving. Everyone who’s seen him play in high school or college and pegged him to be a star is gloating to everyone else on Twitter.
With a great backstory of being fired twice in the same month (once on Christmas Eve) and sleeping on his brother’s couch due to job insecurity, Lin exemplified every person. It’s an underdog story that’s playing out a few blocks away from Broadway.
Of course, Lin’s academic resume fit more in line with Wall Street than Madison Square Garden. Yet, with an economics degree from Harvard, he still had to crash on his brother’s sofa. His brother is attending dentistry school at New York University.
If I gave you this scenario pre-Linsanity, how would you answer this question: Which of the brothers is going to be more successful?
But perhaps that’s a trick question. Dentistry is apparently a pretty solid practice, according to my last bill.
Lin’s rise to fame has been direct and sudden. He’s appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and in unprecedented back-to-back Sports Illustrated issues. He’s been the talk of New York. Even Sarah Palin has praised Jeremy Lin and his underdog story.
His merchandise is a hot commodity, too. His rookie basketball card was recently valued at $21,000. A seller who bought the card for $1,000 a week before its value skyrocketed. Lucky guy pocketed $20,000!
Also, middle school yearbooks signed by Lin are selling on eBay.
Lin has become a one-man stimulus package for the NBA. Even President Barack Obama (another Harvard alum) couldn’t revitalize ticket and merchandise sales in the NBA or influence the Asian markets like Lin did.
It’s been an economic boom for the NBA, as fans in New York have forgotten that there was an NBA strike at the beginning of the season, a strike that created disenchantment and indifference among NBA fans.
But then came Jeremy. It’s been good wherever the Knicks have gone. Uncharacteristic sellouts occurred in Minnesota and Toronto when the Knicks paid a visit at the start of Linsanity. And, of course, the Knicks jacked up tickets to astronomical prices once Linsanity ran wild. The Knicks’ number one fan, Spike Lee, even donned Lin’s high school and college jerseys during home games.
Lin was shoehorned into participating in the NBA All Star weekend, although he was not an original invitee. But the NBA could not leave its biggest commodity off of its biggest weekend during the season. Lin will be an NBA All Star next year. The NBA has fan voting to decide the starters and with an active Asian population voting, it’s almost certain he will make it. This happened for Yao Ming when he was chosen despite declining in skills toward the end of his career. But with the accolades comes the expectations of continuing playing at this high level.
There is the potential for backlash. As with every star, there will come a time when we are sick of them.
Remember LeBron James? How about Shaun Alexander for Seahawk fans? The whispers of ushering Ichiro out of Seattle is starting to gain full voice as the Mariner right fielder gets older. But unlike the athletes I just mentioned, Lin’s more of an overnight sensation, an unexpected surprise, like finding a crumpled $20 in your jeans.
Then there is the issue of race and how to address it. I’ll spare you the multitude of articles produced since the era of “Linning,” about Lin’s heritage. But Lin’s celebrity brings up the awkward realization that mainstream media has never really been down this road before, and it shows. There was that ignorant “Chink in the Armor” ESPN headline. The Jason Whitlock tweet about Asian male anatomy. And then there’s the Ben & Jerry’s Flavor. Yes, the ice cream brand that’s helping the 99 percent occupy something somewhere thought it would be funny to make a “Linsanity” flavor that included crumbled fortune cookies. The company issued an apology for its poor taste (the marketing ploy, not the ice cream flavor … I think). I cringed at times when people first discovered Lin because I feared someone was going to refer to Lin as “that Oriental guy.”
The great thing about Lin is that he’s humble to a fault and is taking everything in stride. How much longer can Linsanity last? We’ll be watching Knicks games (somewhere) and rooting for him. (end)
In other sports news …
Bendo gets the title
Peter’s Grocery might be a popular place in the next couple weeks. The store, located in Tacoma, is owned by Song Henderson, mother of the new UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Henderson, originally from Federal Way, defeated Frankie Edgar to win the title in Tokyo. Henderson’s mother was in the front row when she witnessed Henderson’s great victory.
As with most proud Asian mothers, Ms. Henderson wanted an immediate picture with her son with his new title belt. It was a touching moment.
The UFC highlighted Henderson’s upbringing as his father was an American soldier who met his mother in Korea during the war. Poor life decisions by his father caused Ms. Henderson to raise two sons by herself in America, where she knew little English. She raised Benson and his brother, Julius, in Federal Way, while working multiple jobs to make ends meet. When we spoke to Henderson a couple years ago, he spoke glowingly of his mother’s sacrifice and seemed like it was all worth it when Song met Henderson after he won the title.
There is speculation that the UFC may have a show in South Korea later this fall. If so, Henderson, who is part Korean, will hope to be on this card to defend his title.
Ex-Dawg gets tour card
Belated congratulations to former University of Washington golf standout Richard Lee, who earned his Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour card. Hundreds of golfers compete to earn their card, which involves having to play some of the most stressful golf rounds of your life. Lee, 24, of Bellevue, came back from a slow start to finish within the cut to earn the card. He also earned $25,000 for his achievement. Lee now gets to compete on tour with the likes of Tiger Woods. Good luck, Richard! (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.