Is Jeremy Lin unprecedented? William Rhoden takes a whack at the question in The New York Times today:
Midway through a discussion about the world of sports at the Connecticut Forum in Hartford last week, Rebecca Lobo, the former University of Connecticut basketball star, posed an intriguing question. Could anyone recall a black athlete who had come off the bench like Tim Tebow or out of the blue like Jeremy Lin, flared to immediate stardom and received the sort of impassioned outpouring of love that has enveloped Tebow and Lin?....
Between the Tebow phenomenon in the fall and the recent Lin explosion, I had been asking myself a variation of Lobo's question: When was the last time a young, untested professional African-American athlete had been on the receiving end of this type of adulation? Specifically, adulation that had more to do with positive, universal characteristics—faith, humility, selflessness—than with athletic acumen.
Well, specifically, that last part is balderdash. Jeremy Lin is getting adulation because he peeled off his warmups moments before the Knicks could slap a return-to-D-League UPS label on his back, stepped out on the court, and started averaging 25 points and 9.2 assists. For the season, those figures would make him No. 5 in the NBA in scoring and No. 3 in assists. The Knicks have gone, in less than three weeks, from not having a point guard to having a point guard who scores like Russell Westbrook and dishes like Chris Paul.
Keep Tebow out of this. All Tim Tebow has in common with Jeremy Lin is that they both wear blue and orange and they both spent time on the bench. Yes, each one self-identifies as Christian, but that's a little like noticing that Adonal Foyle and Wilt Chamberlain both played center for the Warriors. Tebow is a missionary evangelist who plays football; Lin is a basketball player who goes to church. People talk about Tebow's faith and humility because his actual game statistics can't explain how the Broncos possibly started winning with him.
So: when's the last time a young, formerly obscure African-American athlete received adulation like Jeremy Lin? When was the last time an overlooked guard became an elite scorer who inspired his teammates and presented the basketball world with an unusual and genuine and complex character? Easy: 2004. Gilbert Arenas. Maybe Jeremy Lin is better off being Jeremy Lin.