Jeremy Lin is labels. Harvard. Asian. Asian American. Taiwanese American. These labels perhaps shrouded his talent from those trained to assess it. To be atypical is to often confront skepticism and bias. It is possible that blinkered assessments once hindered the career of a player who–at the very least–should have been drafted. Now that the kid’s succeeding as a Knick, the albatross is actually flying Lin to heights wings rarely reach. To quote Howard Beck: “The qualities that make Lin unique, and seemingly held him back, are now the qualities that make him a sensation.”
Jeremy Lin isn’t Jeremy Lin. For all the talk of him, there is a conspicuously little to shed light on the man’s personality. We know he is religious, we know he’s been sleeping on his brother’s couch. Beyond that, there is not much to draw from, at least not much publicly projected. People are content to embrace Lin as a symbol for now.
Last year, in the Warriors locker room, Lin sat alone. He was back from a Reno Big Horns relegation, I was excited to pick his brain on the experience. After all, a Harvard grad would have some profound insight on this D-League detour, on how Boston and Reno are culturally similar in a way I never would have guessed, on how Nevada’s pro gambling legislation impacts Reno’s economy like so. Was this whole experience Kafkaesque? Was it a quixotic adventure? Lin kindly, patiently, listened to the questions.
The result was platitudes, ushered out of his mouth by monosyllabic mumbles. The monosyllabism was occasionally interrupted by the throaty trill that creeps into the voice of a nervous speaker. Despite an unusual background, Jeremy delivered clichés like an athlete cliché, normal and boring as they come. For my purposes, the Harvard education was merely, only a label. There was nothing to discuss apart from his game, his background, and how that confluence resonates with fans.
Does it matter if this is who he (publicly) is? Jeremy Lin already represents so much to so many. He may just be able to exist only as a rather successful symbol. Kevin Durant’s appeal is infused with understated charisma, but not everybody needs to follow that plan. Bulls fans know the bullet points on Derrick Rose’s “humility” but Rose guards himself better than anyone in the league does. Chicagoans need not know Derrick to feel connected to the local kid made great.
In a Knicks-era Jeremy Lin interview, you can hear the dry platitudes, the nervous warble. And at the 2:30 mark, you can hear Lin ease into a joke about becoming a permanent houseguest at Casa de Landry Fields. Perhaps Lin is starting to transmit charisma towards the millions he already had at “hello.”
Right now, Jeremy is widely identified with, though largely unknown. With so many in his corner, will he ever even need to be liked for one iota of who he is? Does he need to be anything other than a symbol?