Let Lin be a basketball player first

February 14, 2012, 8:01 pm
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There are no pieces of Jeremy Lin that have been left unchewed. Once Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao decided to weigh in on opposite sides of the ethnic debate for their own selfishly harebrained reasons, the topic of Lin jumped the shark.

Not Lin, mind you. The concept of Lin. Lin, mercifully, has maintained his equilibrium, at least for another day.

But he is not superhuman, and stronger and more worldly people than him have been confronted by the wormhole of global cultural demands. In short, we fear for the concept of Jeremy Lin.

Lin the basketball player is fine. He has found his happy place, the Mike DAntoni Knicks. He has a coach who plays the style that best displays his gifts, and he has seized the opportunity with a firm two-handed grip.

But the further from the games we get, the weirder the matter of Lin becomes, because it stops being Lin at some point and becomes a battle of our own perceptions and of those who hold others.

He is Asian. He is Chinese. He is American. He is a Christian. He is a child of privilege. He is outwardly self-effacing. He is industrious in the face of long odds. He is a marketing bonanza. He gets paid only a scoche over the NBA minimum but is an economic engine. He went to Harvard. He was a sabermetricians midterm project. He was most assuredly a surprise to every team in the NBA -- yes, even new York.

And he has cheated odds he didnt even know he was facing.

But the people fighting to define him by their own specifications have now taken the court, and that is the game that Lin cannot win because that is where Lin stops being Lin, but an idealized Lin defending other peoples prerogatives without even knowing it.

Lin gives every indication that he is a basketball player who wants to be a basketball player. He has other interests, but he came to New York because the Knicks needed a quick fix at guard, and he just happened to be around. If it were that simple, and all he did was do everything on the floor that he has done, it would be grand entertainment.

We never let grand entertainment stand on its own, though. We are an extraordinarily devoted class of chatterers, addicted to explanation and extrapolation. We need to decide what it all means, and we need to show how it fits into each of our own individual world views.

In other words, we need to reinvent everything we touch, the way we need to change the wallpaper on our cellphones. So Jeremy Lin has been snatched by the rest of for our own devices -- most recently by a couple of boxers who hate each other so much that they cant even agree where to beat the hell out of each other, or who should get paid more for it.

And how Lin keeps his sanity, and even his atomic structure, while his body mind and soul are pulled in all directions at once is the next story.

In short, what Jeremy Lin wants to be, an effective NBA player, is rapidly becoming immaterial. What he is becoming, even though he didnt ask for any of it, is collateral damage for our own need to put voice to our own individual version of Jeremy Lin.

Jeremy Lin has captured the planets imagination. Now his next and far more impressive trick will be to figure how to convince it to imagine something else for awhile.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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