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Linsanity and The Underdog

by Lewis Krell

Poor Eli Manning.

The guy just won his second Super Bowl and he should be the toast of New York City. He's weathered media criticisms and a fan base that never truly embraced him until this year and yet, here we are, one week after the Super Bowl and no one gives a flying fuck about Eli Manning or the New York Giants. The city and the sporting world have been swept up by the Jeremy Lin story. The Giants have become nothing more than the large men who sit courtside and watch the Jeremy Lin show.

Linsanity has officially hit the sporting world and every single media outlet ever has already bombarded you with stories about why you should care and also if this is a flash in the pan or if he is the real deal. There are a million reasons why you should be watching Lin play and why this story is so darn captivating but one underexplored aspect of this Lindemic is that we as fans simply love seeing the guy who doesn’t fit the mold excel.

Eli Manning has every single advantage in the world. The guy was bred to be a quarterback, he is the son of an NFL quarterback, the brother of a legendary NFL quarterback, he played in the SEC, he is tall and strong and white and outside of his goofy, goofy face, he pretty much has the look of what the prototypical NFL quarterback should resemble. It makes cheering for him a lot less enjoyable, his success almost routine.

Jeremy Lin, on the other hand, is unexpected in demeanor, style, look, and background. He is completely and entirely new and different. I personally think the race part of this story has been overblown in some circumstances. If you are Asian then of course you should love this unexpected ride. You may see some of yourself in him and you may also just beam with pride that someone from your community has made it to the pinnacle of his profession against heavy odds (albeit in a week-long sample sze). I know a huge part of the reason why I love Steve Nash is because he actually has some similarities to me. We are both 6’3, white Canadians, we both have pretty terrible vertical leaps and we have both dated Elizabeth Hurley and Ginger Spice.

As a white person, I don’t really care that Lin is Asian; I am drawn to him because he is so against the grain. He is poorly cast for the role of NBA superstar. Watching him on an NBA court scrambles your brain a little bit because he sticks out against our predetermined idea of who should be out there. They definitely are not supposed to be 6’3. They definitely are not supposed to have a really herky-jerk, all over the place style, and they definitely should have a prettier jump shot than Lin. Years of watching basketball has programmed me to know that the guy who finishes the night with 25 points and 10 assists should be incredibly athletic, incredibly skilled, incredibly smooth and more than likely, tall and black. Not, well... Jeremy Lin.

I am not trying to downplay the fact that Lin is the first Asian-American in the NBA, but I look across the NBA and see many examples of popular players who personify this idea of not fitting the prototype. Stephen Curry is one of my favorite players in basketball because in addition to his beautiful shot and all around high level of play, the guy looks like he’s 11 years old. Seeing him cross up and nail a 3 in some grown man’s face is always thrilling because Steph looks like he should be pulling that off after school at a local YMCA.

Dirk Nowitzki is another guy I love watching because although he certainly has an enormous advantage due to being 7 feet tall, Dirk’s game is like nothing anyone has seen before. His leg kicks and his all around awkwardness is downright endearing. We see him use every strange motion and every lurching move his body can make to score points in bunches against much, much more athletic and graceful players. He looks like he should be wearing short shorts with goggles and running around at the Wurzberg YMCA.

Jeremy Lin is an incredible athlete but his game does not resemble anyone else’s in basketball. Like Curry, Nash or Dirk, I watch Lin and he reminds me of hundreds of guys I have played pick-up against over the years more then he reminds me of Jordan or Magic. Rocky just didn’t look like he could be capable of beating Apollo Creed and Jeremy Lin just does not look like he could be capable of scoring 38 points against Kobe and the Lakers.

Random side tangent: seeing the viewing public embrace Lin with open arms has made me really wish more aspects of life had really poorly cast underdogs given a chance to compete. Every season of "The Bachelor" should have one incredibly unattractive girl who is a perfect personality match with the Bachelor. Every season of the Biggest Loser should have one incredibly skinny and incredibly good looking person on the show but they are doggedly determined to lose as much weight as possible. I think an NHL team should sign a 7’5 guy and one NBA team should put a 500 lb. woman on the court for a few plays a game. She would at the very least set some devastating screens. All these people would also come with names that are easily turned into puns. If there are two things that all people love it’s underdogs and puns. Jeremy Lin combines being an underdog with also having the most easily ‘pun-able’ name ever. He was destined for greatness.

My first year of being a Golden State Warrior season ticket holder coincided with Jeremy Lin’s first season as a professional basketball player. As a life-long fan, student, and participant in the beautiful game (that’s right, I said it, fuck you soccer fans [ed. note - watch it.]) I can tell you that I thought Jeremy Lin sucked. I didn’t think he sucked at basketball, and I certainly didn’t think he wasn’t an amazing, world-class athlete, I just thought he sucked at being an NBA player. I saw flashes of his quickness, his handle and his ability to finish at the rim, but mostly I saw a very below-average player who has no discernible reason why he would have a long lasting career in the League. When he was released I truly believed the world has seen the last of Jeremy Lin in the NBA. I assumed he would go play in Europe or maybe use his Harvard degree for something other than basketball.

I am extremely happy to say that I was dead wrong. It has been an absolute pleasure watching Lin and, like the entire city of New York, I am fully on board the Lin bandwagon. I will not pretend to know how his career arc will play out -- although setting an NBA record for most points scored in your first four starts is a telling and incredible statistic, regardless of sample size. I hope Lin keeps this up and I hope he converts more and more people into basketball fans. His underdog story is compelling and he is by all accounts a really great kid.

Maybe he will serve as an inspiration to so many young Asian kids that one day watching an Asian player on an NBA court won’t be a rare occurrence. I have no idea where this Lin story is going to go but I know two things are certain: one is that myself and the rest of America’s sports fans will be watching a lot more Knicks games, and the other is that Eli Manning is probably plotting his death as we speak.

Image courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE via Rant Sports

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Lewis Krell is a Canadian expat and Inclusive staff writer. His work with a more maple leaf-styled slant can be found at Fifty Mission Cap. Contact him at lewis.krell [at] theinclusive.net