New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has lit the sports world on fire as the unlikely hero has led his once-struggling team to seven consecutive wins.
In case you’ve been in a cave for the last week, here’s a quick rundown of his story.
Lin, the son of Taiwanese-American immigrants, led his Palo Alto High School team to a state title his senior season over Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei.
Despite this prep accomplishments, Lin was unrecruited out of high school and opted to attend Harvard (remember that the Ivy League does not award athletic scholarships). Lin was twice first team all-Ivy League while playing for the Crimson, but went unselected in the 2010 NBA Draft. He hopped around with several teams before landing with the Knicks earlier this season as an injury replacement.
Lin has put on a show since receiving significant playing time on February 4, including a career-high 38 points against the Lakers on national television.
The hype behind “Lin-sanity” also has its critics like boxer Floyd Mayweather, who recently tweeted, “Jeremy Lin is a good player. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”
There’s no doubt that Lin is a good player. You can’t put up 20-plus points six games in a row in the NBA without having some talent. However, Lin is getting the attention he is not necessarily because he’s Asian but instead because he’s unique.
Like Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports pointed out in this blog, the sports community was equally intrigued with Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters since they were excelling in sports that black athletes previously had little success in.
Sure, Lin has yet to achieve what Tiger or Serena and Venus have done, but it does explain the general fascination with someone who looks different from the rest of the crowd.
This type of interest doesn’t solely apply to race. The Tim Tebow phenomenon was also due to his uniqueness – in his case the devout religious beliefs that he expressed on the field each and every Sunday.
So how does all this relate to track and field?
Our sport has a similar case in French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre.
In 2010, Lemaitre became the first Caucasian sprinter to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters. He improved his 100 meter time to 9.92 seconds in 2011 and broke the 20 second barrier in the 200 meters in addition to winning a bronze medal in the 200 meters at the World Championships.
Like Lin, Lemaitre is tremendously talented – just look at this times as a junior (10.04 seconds as just a 19-year-old). His medal in Daegu puts him in elite company and gives him credibility to contend for the win any race he’s in.
Race is clearly a factor behind the hype for the “great white hope.” Lemaitre stands out on the starting line as often the only white sprinter at high caliber contests. That is appealing to some fans. However, race isn’t be the only reason behind his popularity.
Again, I contend it is his uniqueness in a certain event rather than a certain racial background that drives interest to Lemaitre. It’s the same reason Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang drew so much attention during the peak of his career.
In the end, whether or not Lin-sanity continues or Lemaitre medals in London, sports fans will be searching for the next aberration who isn’t supposed to excel but does so anyways.
Props to Chris Nickinson of RunnerSpace who sent me a tweet calling Lemaitre the Jeremy Lin of track for inspiring this post.