The Mercy Rule - Linfinite Narcissism

Lin's critics aren't as racist as they've made themselves look. They're just obsessed with themselves and their Provocative and Fearless Opinions.

David Roth

During the first week of Jeremy Lin's improbable ascent from end-of-the-bench high-five artist to the heights of basketball fame and grating ESPN ubiquity, he taught those who might've forgotten—and many who never cared to care in the first place—how surprising and vital and just fucking great basketball can be. In this, the second week of what some people have undoubtedly referred to as the Lin Dynasty, he has continued doing that, hanging monster games on teams ranging from the Raptors to the Lakers, gutting out wins when he wasn't at his best, drilling last-second game-winners, and extending the long winning streak of a Knicks team that still starts a few players who can be filed under "hump" on their best days.

The Knicks have not lost with him as a starter, and The Whole Jeremy Lin Thing is still outlandishly, outstandingly big. President Obama could appoint Chris Brown to the Supreme Court and be found in a hot tub with Janine Lindemulder and a manatee, and neither story would get reported if Lin, say, bought a used Acura that day. This is all fine, as far as it goes. Basketball is fun, and Jeremy Lin is fun, and what with Chris Brown being on the Supreme Court now, we could all use a little bit of fun in our lives. But good things about basketball and silly things about the sports media hype machine are not all that Lin has shown us during his rise to and over the top. Lin has, just by doing what he does, reminded us that many, if not most, of the people who talk about sports for a living are gargantuan, razor-studded hemorrhoids.

Lin, just as Tim "Whole Milk" Tebow did, managed to do a lot of revealing simply by being a dullish, devout, aesthetically unconventional jock onto which various things were projected by various people. Those things can be questions of identity politics—we got angry emails when I identified Lin as Chinese-American in last week's column; he is in fact Taiwanese-American—or of racial pride, or never-give-up-on-your-dreams Chicken Soup For The Soul-ery, or whatever. Lin has also inspired killer pick-up lines for basketball nerds, like this one: "There's something to the Flip Murray comparisons, and an interesting parallel to Jose Calderon's '07-08 season, but really Lin is most similar to Louis Williams, I think. Now let's go back to your place, mine smells like wet carpet." Most grossly, Lin has also provided an opportunity for racists, grumps, and racist grumps in the brand-name sportswriting community to remind us of how far past their expiration dates they are.

For Buzz Bissinger, the man-sized ulcer who wrote the (terrific) book Friday Night Lights 137 years ago, that meant grouse-seething about Lin receiving favorable treatment because he plays in New York, and is Christian and Chi… sorry, Taiwanese-American. For Jason Whitlock, a rancid Milk Dud with an outsized sense of self even Kanye would be shamed by, that meant honoring Lin with a gem of an Asian dick-joke on Twitter, puffing up on some "Do you know that the Chinese guy didn't make joke and put pee-pee in your Coke? Did I startle you with my fearless truth-telling?" shit, and then issuing a sort-of-apology in which he used the word "I" 13 times and the word "sorry" once. David Brooks, the unctuous fop who haunts the Aspen Ideas Festival and the New York Times opinion page, used Lin as a fulcrum to write another column.

What all the aforementioned have in common, besides loud and proud ignorance, is that they don't really like sports, or seemingly follow them terribly closely. They also quite possibly aren't actually as racist as they've made themselves look—Lin's different-ness in terms of background and ethnicity is simply the most obvious available thing these narcissists can find to change the subject back to themselves and their Provocative and Fearless Opinions. Bissinger, whose vague perma-fervor is so discomfiting and spittle-heavy as to make Andrew Breitbart look like Matthew McConaughey, spends most of his time in print shadowboxing his own boring demons. Whitlock, who has been 11 years old for his entire life, is just trying to get noticed. To a certain extent, the attempt to claim and colonize Lin—by underdogs and Taiwanese-Americans and shoot-first Ivy League point guards and everyone else—reflects less about the way people think of race than how terribly much they think about themselves.

Lin, of course, did nothing to ask for any of this. He, consistently, does nothing to ask for anything—the average Lin interview reveals little insight or humor or much else but a studied humility, which is also true of most other elite athletes, and which is also fine. If admirable qualities were shared out less equitably—if LeBron James was somehow also Carl Sagan—we would all be very reasonably bummed out by our own averageness. But, in his blank-slate brilliance, Lin keeps on proving and re-proving one point that proves another in turn: great basketball is great, and certainly far greater than the trolls who make their living denying that.

Previously - The Linsanity Defense