They come with cameras. You hear the soft hum of internal fans attempting to calm down the heat of overworked hard drives. They come with lights, you feel the warmth. A havoc of plastic media badges clap together, swinging like udders from the necks of those paid to show the world a glimpse. Rooms are packed with wagging tongues and skeptical laughter. Disbelief is measured in dialects and language. They have all come to discuss and document the rise of a 23 year old Harvard graduate who found success 2,939 miles outside of Silicon Valley. They are wondering if this conflagration of points and assists can continue to leave jaws hanging agape.

For the better part of this week I have been trying to map the fascination that is Jeremy Lin. Linsanity has captured a great deal of interest and those of us who follow sports have been trying to flush it down the toilet as the latest passing fad. He is on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated. 3 pointers, dunks and no look passes are wallpaper in the NBA. The story is the crowd. Men, women, and children who have paid to see their team play are switching allegiance during the game. Toronto Raptors fans erupted to celebrate the opposing team.

Many have traveled the road from rags to riches, only to wind up back in rags. But the shape of this individual bell curve is not like the others. Something else is going on here. There is a societal bend to this and the context begs to be examined. When you drag your fingers over this phenomenon, one thing emerges: it’s not about the basketball.

The buckets of ink spilled in the last week about Lin have all chiseled his biography. The thread that stitches all them together is the tale of the overlooked. They cast Lin as a true Cinderella, forced to battle while scouts and coaches chuckle like the three evil sisters. The story has resonated, spontaneously raising the heads and sparking the attention of so many low slung shoulders. Cinderella stories always warm our hearts but this time the nerve seems a little more raw. It’s when you zoom out from Lin and stare at the crowd in the opposing stadium that you start to sketch the map of what’s really going on. It’s not Lin himself but our reaction to him.

The last couple of years have been tough for most people. The great recession was a global tidal wave of pain. The damage ranged from people who lost a lot, to people that lost everything. Many have found themselves overlooked and downtrodden, crawling on shards of a shattered life that once was reliable as a sunrise. Many have had to fold what was left of their dignity and tuck it into a place they can visit later. Scores have had to take a series of part time jobs in industries they’ve never known. Others have desperately searched for survival, obsequiously bleating out cries for help to people that offer nothing but pity and shame. News shows point cameras at a generation being raised in cars. Children shivering in the parking lot of a homeless shelter that has no more room and parents that helplessly pound fists into walls out of pure frustration without remedy.

Much of the world has felt this weight. A conversation with family and friends reminds just how close it is. You hang your head in exasperation or you bow and pray that you are not next. It takes a lot to lift that spirit. It takes an impressive story to lift you out of that mud, even for a brief moment. There has to be an unstoppable force of enthusiasm that ejects those people to their feet. There has to be a beam of radiant light that cuts a gathering darkness, free of demagoguery and cultural finger wagging. There has to a reason that Toronto Raptors fans leapt out of their seat overcome with joy that someone just beat their team and it’s not about the basketball.

It’s about every kid who has ever shot hoops with dusty hands in the driveway. It’s about every breath that has extinguished birthday candles embedded like stalagmites in frosting. It’s about every person who steadied themselves after losing a job or a loved one or digested news of a tragedy. It’s about that little girl sleeping in the car with her fingers crossed for a roof tomorrow. It’s about a 23 year old Asian kid who was dismissed, passed over, ignored and walked upon because of what he looked like. It’s about that kid proving everyone wrong and beaming a victorious smile on international television.
It’s not about the basketball. It’s about hope.

  1. Steve says:

    Nice column, still wandering how come one important cultural and socio momentum is missed. Beside the NY fans most of the people cheering are far and south Asian origin and yes, it does not match with sport itself. “Men, women, and children who have paid to see their team play are switching allegiance during the game. Toronto Raptors fans erupted to celebrate the opposing team.” Simply not true! 75% of those people were not Raptors fans. Most of them probably never even watched basket. And yeah, “Multiculturalism made in Canada”

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