Growing up worshipping John Starks, I wanted to be a basketball player. After not growing much physically, I realized that wasn’t happening. But the day after a notorious 2009 New York City chimpanzee attack, I found a new calling. The New York Post’s delightfully insensitive headline, “Furious George,” made me want to be an editor.
My love of crappy puns and sloppy basketball converged with the arrival of Jeremy Lin. For a while, he was everyone’s hero. “Linsanity,” “Linsurrection,” “Lin Your Face,” “Linsane in the Membrane.” OK, I made that last one up.
But the only thing America loves more than a Cinderella story is a fall from grace.
The New York media finally got its chance. The clever fucks managed to cast a narrative with billionaire owner James Dolan as unflappable superhero and loveable underdog Jeremy Lin as manipulative villain.
I assume my target audience at VICE—vapid, svelte, sexually-attractive middle-brow liberal arts majors who don’t like sports, but were kinda into curling—needs a recap.
Cut by the Warriors and Rockets, Jeremy Lin joined the Knicks last season, shuffling between the developmental league and the end of the bench. Then in February, with the team decimated by injuries, he got his chance, scored a bunch of points, won some games, and then got injured. At season’s end, Lin became a restricted free agent. He was a worldwide sensation, but with only 26 starts under his belt, most front offices didn’t know how to evaluate him. Plus, everyone thought the Knicks were going to match any offer for him.
With the Knicks playing it cool and deciding to let the market dictate their young point guard’s value, Lin agreed to a sheet from the Houston Rockets for $19.95 million guaranteed. The details were leaked and Knicks coach Mike Woodson and other executives confirmed the Knicks would match the offer and make Lin their starting point guard. Dumb move. Lin and the Rockets revised the deal, backloading a new $25 million contract that would force New York to pay something like $43 million, when factoring in luxury tax, the final year.
Yesterday, the Knicks decided to let him go.
How fast they turn. Stephen A. Smith reported for ESPN that Knicks officials felt Lin was ungrateful for the opportunities the team gave him and that he had let fame and the prospect of big bucks get to his head. The sentiment was echoed across the reactionary wasteland that is New York talk radio.
And it’s bullshit. The Harvard grad played the Knicks at their own game. And Lin, like most athletes, deserves every buck he’s getting.
It’s not hard to convince a liberal that migrant workers deserve a living wage. It’s tougher to argue that Lin deserves an extra five million, but the same logic applies.
It’s a struggle between management and labor and management has made plenty of money milking a player like Lin for all he was worth—international media interest, jersey and ticket sales, the Cablevision deal, not to mention that without him the Knicks might not have even made the playoffs.
Big salary haters get it wrong when they factor the fans into the equation. Talking about Jeremy Lin’s “greed,” acting like he’s taking something from someone else when he’s got a motherfucking family to feed, may be a good way to sound like a populist. But it actually puts you in the operative position of siding with an owner who is way richer than Lin will ever be. That’s the kind of populism that put Bush in office.
Say we do manage to lower player salaries or restrict their mobility—who’s saying we’re going to get lower ticket prices or anything but higher margins for already wealthy owners?
So what’s to gain from the politics of resentment? It’s the same type of politics that fuels anger at teachers, firefighters, and other public sector employees. “Why them?” is the petty loser’s version of “Good for them. Why not me?”
And if Lin’s still earning a bit too much for our tastes, instead of waiting for him to funnel his bounty into the community and name youth basketball camps after himself, why not just tax his (and his boss’) income at a higher rate? We can take some of the money, trustee our favorite sports teams, and give away shares to players and fans jointly.
Lower ticket prices, better swag, less hating.
Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin Magazine and a staff writer at In These Times.