Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Floyd Mayweather's racial comments about Jeremy Lin do not hit the mark

“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” — Floyd Mayweather

This quote from the talented boxer found me by way of an online basketball forum I frequent, as reposted by another member. The comments that followed seemed split as to whether the boxer Mayweather was making a valid point or was woefully incorrect.

Basketball is not the primary sport of Mayweather, who has amassed a small fortune inside the ring, but I had hoped that exceptionally talented athletes could recognize others, regardless of sport or race. Sports enthusiasts as a worldwide collective, who constantly consume athletics at every level, can register when they see an anomaly.

Jeremy Lin is such an anomaly. He is leading the New York Knicks, a team with established household-name stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire to a level the team had yet to achieve before he took the court. He led the Knicks to a win over Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and the Timberwolves. He outscored Kobe and beat the Lakers. Through his first six games (all wins) he has averaged 26.8 points per game (161 points total). Granted, that is a small sample size, but as I write this, only two players in the league have a higher average: the aforementioned Bryant and LeBron James, and Kevin Durant is tied with him in PPG. Each of them is African-American.
The player directly following Lin in scoring average, Love, is white. Love’s teammate Rubio, another extremely exciting young point guard, who has been a fan-favorite in this young season, is from Spain.

The thing that connects each of these stars is their talent. Each player listed above has made an impact on fans because of their level of play, not their race.

Lin is special for another reason, though. He has an incredible story that has nothing to do with his lineage. Any Harvard graduate with a degree in economics, who was cut twice in the same year after being undrafted, then emerged on one of the sport’s grandest and most hallowed stages to bring hope to a team that had underachieved with two expensive stars has an unbelievable storyline before even mentioning his background. (For those who don’t know, he is the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese decent.)

His background is in the background. It is not the story. The story is his couch surfing, his underdog status and his ability to rise to the occasion. (Lin only moments ago hit the game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Knicks over the Raptors, 90-87.)

Hype surrounds talented players who excel in their sport. That will always happen. Tiger Woods would have generated the most coverage of any golfer in the last 15 years regardless of his race. Would he have hit the same level of stardom? It is difficult to say. Woods may have raised the sport’s presence among African-Americans and Asian-Americans in a way that the predominantly white sport had failed to do prior, but I will not speak on that one way or another without the numbers to back it up.

(Perhaps Mayweather intended to mean that a small percentage of the hype surrounding Lin is his heritage, and that if he were black, he’d be celebrated as an unlikely star that fans could get behind, but not the icon Lin has become. This is a better observation and one more likely to generate a better discussion, but those were not the words he used.)

What is indisputable though is that Woods is the Nicholas or Palmer of my generation, regardless of his current performance. That was based on a career worth of dominance over the field. Careers do not have a race assigned to them. They are strictly numbers, achievements and awards.

Lin has a much smaller career thus far, but what he has made of it is no less astounding. Mayweather is incorrect because black players do not do what Lin does every night, because no players do what Lin does every night.

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