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Why Jeremy Lin Is Important

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Whether you want to call it LinCredible, LinGenious or simply LinSane, the emergence of Jeremy Lin over the past three games for the New York Knicks has lit a fire underneath this NBA season in a very unique way.

If you haven't heard about Jeremy Lin yet, just turn on the TV, or if you're in New York, put your head out a window, because there's a very good chance that someone's talking about him right now.

Lin was a little used reserve player that had stints with the Golden State Warriors, Rockets and National Basketball Development League before finding a spot squarely at the end of the New York Knicks bench entering the 2011-12 season. Last Saturday, with Carmelo Anthony struggling and the team in the midst of a 2-11 slump, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni decided to think outside of the box and called on Lin, who up to that point had mostly played in garbage time, to play point guard. The Harvard graduate responded by leading the team in scoring with 25 points while also dishing seven assists.

Good call, coach.

Lin followed up this performance by leading the Knicks in scoring in the next two games, both victories, notching 28 and 23 points respectively.

Not bad for a guy sleeping on his brother's couch.

Beyond having among the most pun-able last names in recent memory, Lin gives the NBA something that it has lacked in recent years: the unexpected.

Just about anybody could have guessed before the season began that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant would be among the league's three highest scorers. They also probably could have told you that the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and Spurs would have the best records in their respective conferences.

But nobody, probably not even Lin himself, would have predicted that a bench warmer would take the reins of the team located in the world's biggest media market and re-energize the entire franchise.

In the wake of Lin's rise in popularity, the first person that the media wants to compare him to is, naturally, the hottest athlete at the moment: Tim Tebow. But for many reasons such a comparison is lazy. Tim Tebow was a first round draft pick. Jeremy Lin went undrafted. Tim Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner. Jeremy Lin didn't receive one major college scholarship offer. Finally, and most importantly, there are no shortage of Caucasians with the ability to run that have played quarterback in the NFL, but there has never been an Asian American athlete that's excelled at this level in the NBA.

Even though Asians comprise almost five percent of America's population, Lin is only the fourth player of Asian American descent to play in the NBA -- and he might already be considered the best.

And for a league seemingly struggling to generate excitement following a bitter labor feud, Lin's arrival couldn't be better timed.

In the wake of Yao Ming retiring, the NBA has been desperate for an asian ambassador to carry forward the momentum that the league has built in China. And in the same vein, the younger segment of the Asian American community, many of whom are extremely avid basketball fans, have never had an athlete like Jeremy Lin to look up to. By virtue of succeeding in the NBA, Lin has the potential to breaks barriers in a way that even Michelle Kwan and Tiger Woods haven't.

To be clear, Lin's appeal isn't based on race, but rather nationality. Yao Ming was certainly a transcendent figure during his time in the NBA, but even he might not ultimately have possessed the potential -- both from a marketing and cultural perspective -- to shake things up in America that Lin does.

Unlike Yao, Lin wasn't bred by former professional basketball players and raised in an academy that taught him the intricacies of the game. He was born in Palo Alto, California, the son of two Taiwanese immigrants and has had to overcome extreme odds at every level in order to make it to where he is today. Now, quite improbably, he finds himself as one of the most talked about basketball players in America. His story isn't one of talent, but sweat, and that's probably why the country as a whole finds themselves drawn to him. To simplify it, Jeremy Lin is one of the best personifications of the American dream that the sports world has seen in many years.

In the short term, he is a great testament to what hard work and perseverance can lead to. But in the long term, if Lin is able to maintain his current level of success, he may very well have a hand in altering the way that we perceive race in this country.

"Compared with other racial groups, famous athletes of Asian descent are relatively few and participation in sport generally has been lower than other groups," wrote Dr. Ronald B. Woods in his book titled Social Issues In Sports. "The goal of becoming a doctor, lawyer, scientist, or other professional is instilled in their youth by their parents and culture rather than that of becoming a sports hero."

The commentary, while perhaps over-generalizing, is a mostly fair description of how most Americans would characterize Asian American culture and upbringing. But these sentiments are likely accepted without seriously considering the possibility that an Asian American in fact can become a sports hero in the National Basketball Association.

By bucking this assumption, and in turn forcing Americans to re-evaluate long held beliefs in regards to what Asian Americans are capable of in this area, Jeremy Lin may in fact be nothing short of a pioneer.

"He loves the fact that he is who he is," Roger Montgomery, Lin's agent told The New York Times. "He loves the fact that he's Jeremy Lin. But I think he will be really excited when people can say, 'Man, Jeremy Lin can play.' Not, 'Oh the Asian guy -- he's pretty good, huh?'"

Jeremy Lin's influence, already magnified by New York media, will likely only grow from here on out, and from a sociological perspective, it's exciting to see where his dunks and assists will take us.

Just keep Linning, baby.

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