It wasn’t met with quite the same international buzz as the first time but Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks returned to the Air Canada Centre, the stage that just over a month earlier saw Lin push the mania surrounding him and his story to unimaginable heights.
It was then, when Lin hit a game winning three pointer to give the Knicks a 90-87 win, that the “Linsanity’ reached its pinnacle. The phenomenon gripped the world because of the surreal facts about Lin, which include that he’s a Harvard graduate, was cut multiple times before landing with the Knicks, and most importantly is an Asian-American, and while the general interest in the story has decreased, Lin continues to be a big deal in Toronto.
The universal spotlight on Lin has diminished for a couple of reasons. First of all, in the era of short attention spans, new stories have developed and overshadowed the “Linsanity”. Secondly, Lin’s production on the court has decreased and the Knicks have undergone a transformation since the last time they faced the Raptors in Toronto. Mike Woodson took over as head coach following the resignation of Mike D’Antoni and has instituted an offense that emphasizes isolation plays and puts the ball in the hands of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, thus taking possessions away from Lin.
Removed from the hysteria, it’s much easier to examine the situation and why Lin’s popularity in Toronto is especially strong. Asians account for over 10% of Toronto’s population, which is over 400,000 people and exceeds every North American city with the exception of New York.
Lin’s return to Toronto even prompted a historic event; to satisfy the demand, the game was broadcast in Mandarin, a first for a Toronto Raptors game, on semi-national station OMNI, a network that aims to serve Canadian cultural minorities.
On February 14th, the night Lin scored the game winning three, the anticipation was nothing like I had ever experienced. Two days before, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers had played in Toronto and came nowhere near to matching the atmosphere for Lin and the Knicks.
Last night, there was a definite vibe in the arena prior to tip off. Lin’s presence certainly incited a reaction. People in Lin shirts paraded around the concourse and there were many Lin signs and even a few Taiwanese flags. The loudest cheer during the player introductions was by far and away for Lin and every time he touched the ball he was simultaneously showered with lively cheers and blasting boos.
During the game, using Twitter, I discussed with Eric Smith, the Raptors radio color commentator for Sportsnet 590 The Fan, about the in-arena reception for Lin. He contended that the cheers were “over-the-top” for a player that “has accomplished little (YET). Good player, good kid, but folks need to temper things a bit. Let him live…let alone play”.
I responded with, “I see it as the Asian community celebrating his accomplishments thus far [as the first Asian-American to play in the NBA], it’s one of the few sports related topics that I think race plays a factor,” to which Smith said “You’re probably right, much appreciated.”
I happen to agree with Smith that praise and idolization in professional sports is not earned like it once was but in this case there are many more factors that need to be considered.
The brilliant book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, explores the hard working ethics of the Asian culture. This, above all, highlights just what Lin’s success means for them. It’s a story of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and those qualities speak loudest to the Asian community.
It didn’t end like his initial visit to Toronto, as the 23 year old point guard was limited to six points on three of nine shooting but Jeremy Lin continues to represent a champion and act as an inspiration and a source of pride for the Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians following his journey in the NBA.
Based on the response to Lin’s achievement, maybe if the Raptors wanted to generate more attention locally, they should consider pursuing a player from Asia or of Asian descent.