Home > Culture, Sports > Lin-ing in America: Reconstructing a Deconstructed NBA

Lin-ing in America: Reconstructing a Deconstructed NBA

Possibly you’ve heard of this guy by now, even if you have little interest in the NBA (a point of view that has a sizable constituency, I can assure you). Undrafted, Harvard-educated, Evangelical Christian, Asian-American New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has improbably and nearly single-handedly revived the public brand profile of a sports league whose biggest single superstar has become so divisive and oft-reviled as to overshadow his sublime talents, and which recently truncated its season for a new labour deal of dubious benefit.

Jesus, grant me a big fat contract that my GM come to rue in a few years...

Lin’s thrilling five-game run as a starter (during which he has averaged 27.7 points and 8.8 assists a game), culminating in a last-second three-pointer to beat the (admittedly pathetic) Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, has sucked up all of the oxygen of the New York (and thus continental) sports media, and what a hot young fire has raged as a result. With a Super Bowl champion football team and one of the best teams in pro hockey, you’d think New York City would not, at this moment, need to focus on a short win streak  for their generally disappointing NBA club sparked by that most American of underdogs (you know, the kind with an expensive Ivy League education).

But New York is ever restlessly dissatisfied with its own lofty successes, and that’s what makes it New York, and thus better than your loser of a city, whichever that city may be. Its embrace of Lin says more about the city (and the country) than it does about the man himself. A figure of well-circulated humility like Lin (that damn sleeping-on-his-brother’s-couch story simply will not die) feeds that much discussed American need for the culturally-constructed aspirational tale even as he gives the oft-ignored minority group of Asian-Americans a folk-hero who isn’t a gay septuagenarian sci-fi actor who annoys millions with re-posted Facebook jokes.

As Bethlehem Shoals muses about on his GQ blog, Linsanity has a different, more democratic and participatory character than LeBronification, but to observe that is not to privilege one of their movements over the other. If anything, Linsanity is, like Tebow Fever, a transitory burst of optimistic derring-do that constitutes an expression of what America feels that it represents. LeBronification, though, is more likely America as it is: those chosen few with gifts and inheritances that lift them beyond the pale, stubbornly remaking the rules and structures in whatever form suits them best.

Jeremy Lin’s success as a scoring and ball-distributing point guard has an old-school charm to it that evokes fellow underrated basketball iconoclast Steve Nash in his prime. That both players have found their greatest success as the focal points of coach Mike D’Antoni’s sped-up offense, and that both have employed the hybrid big man Amare Stoudemire as a dangerous pick-and-roll partner, is surely no coincidence. But it is a structured success in a sport that has, at its highest level in the NBA, increasingly been conquered by players of such prodigious athletic ability as to achieve the wide-scale deconstruction of the game’s strategic limits. Despite its veneer of unpredictability, Linsanity feels like the last noisy gasps of systemic basketball in the face of the powerful deconstructionism of LeBron and his Miami Heat running mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That we find ourselves rooting with tense delight for the triumph of the algorithmic over the purely creative should perhaps not be as surprising as it may seem to be.

Categories: Culture, Sports

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