So, I guess I had some plans to write something mildly analytical comparing Kyle Lowry to Andre Iguodala, but that will have to wait so that I can give voice to the sentiment that (I suspect) most right-thinking individuals feel, even if they won't admit it to themselves or others: This Jeremy Lin shit is getting old. And it has only been around for about a week, too. At this point, I'm hoping he crashes and burns just so maybe ESPN and every other arm of the Sports Entertainment Media Machine can stop freaking talking about him for a few minutes.
It wasn't always like this. When the Rockets cut Lin so that they could sign Samuel Dalembert back in December and the Knicks picked him up, I was pretty certain that he was the best point guard on their roster. No, I didn't foresee him throwing down 30-point games, but I thought he could be an average point guard. I was sorry to see him go, but understood why the Rockets did it (stupid Jonny Flynn has a stupid guaranteed contract). Seeing him succeed is not only a feel-good story about an unrecruited-and-undrafted player -- it's personal validation of my own analysis, and that always feels good. What couldn't you like about Lin? He was an odd player, coming out of the Ivy League (Division I's legacy applicants at this point). He seemed clever and played clever. He had the ideal sort of body for a point guard, he attacked the basket, he played good defense, and yet he couldn't get playing time on a bad Warriors team that gave Acie Law over 600 minutes last year. Watching him tear through the Spurs defense in the closing minutes of a preseason game was kind of amazing (I came out of that game with two certainties: Terrence Williams can play, and Jeremy Lin can play; the former was a classic case of a highlight play overriding your sensibility, the latter had a little more grounding to it). For someone like me, Lin was basically the perfect basketball icon. He did the sorts of things coaches say they want players to do, and yet he couldn't get playing time. He was living proof of the old guard's nonsense.
But, like the consummate hipster I am, I was a little bitter when Lin suddenly got starting time and wasn't just quietly competent but rather obviously playing spectacular basketball: He was no longer the secret band that plays at the local dive (you wouldn't have heard of them, they play some great stuff influenced by Brahms and postmodern architecture. Now leave me alone and go back to the Kings of Leon and Nickelback for you cannot touch my impeccable taste, you philistine) but rather he was the local band making it big and getting noticed by all the wrong people.
And that's where the betrayal is. Lin isn't the darling of the NBA Blog Set or its cadre of amateur and professional statisticians -- he's a marketing opportunity for ESPN and the NBA proper. Listening to The Basketball Jones' crew call what was happening on the twitters and facebooks "amazing" was vaguely sickening, not because it was particularly wrong (though little happens on Web 2.0 social media sites that is ever "amazing;" I'll make an exception for Iranian protestors organizing or something but that's it) but because it was perfectly echoed by the line fed to us by Hubie Brown and Marv Albert on Friday night: What an amazing phenomenon blah blah blah.
I'm not alone in this feeling, I know it. Bethlehem Shoals -- previously the champion of the little-appreciated awesome players out there -- wrote a blog post ("Kobe Stops the Linsanity") on the subject before the Friday Knicks-Lakers game, and the burgeoning resentment is palpable:
It's one thing to turn Jeremy Lin into a walking meme, or embrace the moment as one of some cultural significance. It's emotion, enthusiasm, and hype at its most benign. If we're going to talk about actual basketball, though, I'll defer to Kobe Bryant. That surprise in voice, which gives way to spite, is the real measure of authority.
Really? We defer to Kobe Bryant, who has spent his entire career slighting anyone who might play against him? Remember, this is the guy who claimed over and over that Shane Battier never affected his game (he, of course, still took the time to complain nightly of "face-guarding" during the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals). He rarely gives credit to his opponents prior to a game. More to the point, this statement ("Let's defer to Kobe, guys!") just seems so... un-FD. But I understand the sentiment, even if normally the roles would be reversed. In a standard season with a standard player breaking out for a few games, the standard media would ignore it, the statistical sect would call for calm, while those with Wordpress accounts and a desire to share their own effusive enthusiasm for anything or anyone exciting and new would be screaming for Lin to get some respect.
But Shoals's piece for GQ is the exact opposite. It's the picture of measured response. It's hipster-as-scorned-lover, and it's exactly how I feel but would not if Lin were at all obscure right now. Ignored-Lin was just so much more interesting than Lin-the-Messiah. Is that fair? No, not really. Lin hasn't gone from one of my favorite non-Rockets to the shit list based on anything he has done, after all. It's all these other people.
These other people (as I said before, the wrong sorts of people) aren't really helping Lin's cause. The constant media exposure has given rise (again, in the space of just a few days) to comparisons to Tim Tebow. That's basically the dumbest comparison one could make, of course, given that Lin is actually helping the Knicks win rather than being someone whom the Broncos hope just doesn't falter and die completely. The "all he does in win/Lin" talk obscures the fact that Lin actually, you know, plays good basketball. But the sublime nature of Lin's game is lost in all this drive to create a mystique, as if Lin's success were totally unknowable and a minor miracle rather than having, at the very least, some measure of precedent.
And that's the rub, as it were. ESPN, NBA.com, and Twitter are sucking the fun out of Lin. Were this 2007 and were Lin playing for the Pacers or Kings or were he the backup point guard for the Suns, I'm sure he wouldn't suddenly be mentioned by the mainstream media every other minute, and I'm sure Shoals and the FreeDarko crew would be writing several opaque pieces on him right now. I'm sure I would be watching every Pacers/Kings/Suns game I could just to take in some of that wonderfulness. But the opposite is happening.
Let this be a lesson to us all: Many people like to malign the "I liked it before it was cool" mindset. Well, I'm here to tell you that mindset is great. Because the truth is that when something (or someone) gets popular, the rhetoric surrounding it gets stupid and all the fun is gone. This is as true of basketball players as it is of authors, filmmakers, or Saturday-morning cartoons. So let's all shut up about Jeremy Lin for a few months, and maybe the fun will come back.