The Jeremy Lin Economy

The kid is money.
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Original artword by Willow Mayor. View the full-size version and two bonus Lin drawings by Willow at The Classical's Art Annex!

It came at the end of the seventh win last night. The camera had panned lovingly on Jeremy Lin’s face throughout the game, even, maybe especially when he wasn’t playing—he was the go-to reaction shot. It was as if the whole game was in his POV. He remained goofy if also focused, a kind of playful skittering energy coming off him on the bench, as if he just wanted to get back out there. Now it was the end, the team had won again, seven straight wins in a row. As the interview with him paused, a picture of a giant fortune cookie with his face in the middle, his now-trademark blue tongue sticking out, and a banner written like a Fortune Cookie read “Knicks Good Fortune.”

I thought of his grandmother in Taiwan watching from home, and hoped she just laughed. I was in a shocked silence. I’d gone to a bar near my house to watch it. No one else had reacted, or if they did, they were in a shocked silence too. The three nice older white women near me who had been affectionately watching each time Lin came on kept glancing over, for one more shot.

When I thought about it, it was the kind of thing I hoped wasn’t going to happen. What made it worse was that they were panning to the cheering Asian fans still holding up their giant signs made from pictures of his head, shaking them as the camera passed over them.

We were no longer in Jeremy’s POV.

***

In the first two days, just after February 4, 2012, for most of us, Lin was a thirty-second whirl on a YouTube clip and a basketball arena full of people cheering, a status update from someone you didn’t know cared about basketball, a headline that didn’t quite mean anything to you until it did and then you thought “This kid is everywhere.” This kid. 6’3”, 200 lbs., a great smile, like he was having the best time ever. There were nicknames, headlines, blog posts that began “I don’t normally write about sports/care about basketball/don’t want to seem like another Asian guy/girl who loves this guy but” . . . Yes. But-but-but-but. It just kept coming, there were all these games being played that very next week. By Day 3 you could already get a Fathead decal of him for your room, as big as the wall, and by Thursday, Day 5, Spike Lee was seeking nominations on his Twitter feed for a new nickname for this kid, and for four hours he tweeted his favorites. He decided a winner but who knows if anyone uses it, no disrespect to Spike, because by then that was a leaf in a storm. Just on Twitter alone, for example, where people often go to ask questions of the Internet that they won’t Google, the gamut ran from “Why’s everyone talking about this guy?” to “Who is this guy” to “#LINSANITY [Enter score sports move praise here] [SOMETHING IN ALL CAPS HERE].” (All caps made a comeback in the last year, but never did you notice more than now.)

A forest of columns and blog posts appeared as everyone ran something of an op-ed about him. He was link-bait, like-bait, there were encomiums and paeans and stats, followed by dismissals, which were then followed by more games, more scoring, more YouTube videos, followed by more praise, more doubters. Memes. People were fighting pro-Lin/con-Lin like they were Democrats and Republicans and this was Bush vs. Gore. There was a FOX Sports commentator Tweet scandal followed by a demand for an apology and then the apology came, there was Magic Johnson on SportsCenter talking down a naysayer, explaining the elements of his technique (Shorter Magic: he reads the defense like one of those books he plays at opening before games, and then he walks through the holes).

By then it was the Lakers, the big time, Kobe Bryant saying “Who’s this kid” and then finding out. It was the fourth game of the Linsanity. The next night the Knicks played the Timberwolves, where no one reported the booing you can hear if you listen hard, and they tried to hobble him. By the time he left the court, he told the New York Times reporter afterward, “I’m just a little numb. I can’t feel my legs right now.” But he still made a final free-throw shot that helped the team take home another win.

He had two days off till the next game, but it didn’t matter. The Linsanity didn’t care, doesn’t care, it doesn’t care what you want, it doesn’t care if you love him or hate him, it doesn’t care if he’s even playing because come on, YouTube, and here is a blog post about his new apartment, it’s bigger than you and it doesn’t care that you resent that part of it too—no one can’t stop it. You can play him on NBA 2K12 (though maybe wait until the update, due out tomorrow), read the “Hey Girl” Ryan Gosling meme now starring Jeremy Lin, you can make a sign, like the fangirl who held up a Linderella poster with a cut-out for her face as the camera swept the Garden. And the whole time, we all think we know him: Asian Americans, Asian American Christians, Christians, Asian American Sports fans, Sports fans, Knicks fans, people who are just nice, also the mean ones, the nasty ones, the haters and the racists and the ‘if he’s famous in a week I’m a hater automatically’ crowd, they are all trying to tag him, it is like watching everyone come off the bleachers, all over America, and rush this one kid to hug him or put him on their shoulders or hold him down.

Also China, Taiwan and the Phillippines, who added Knicks games to their markets on the third morning of the Linsanity. They came off the benches too. China decided he was Chinese. Taiwan was all “Not so fast,” but as Deadspin put it, “Too bad y’all. He’s ’murican.’”

Meanwhile, somewhere on Wall Street, MSG’s stock price rose six percent that week to an all-time high—as CNBC reporter Darren Rovell Tweeted, MSG’s market cap has grown $228 million since February 4, during which time they paid Lin just $48,100, which means he brought them a 474,000-percent return on their money that week. What kind of bonus do you get on that? Also? That Knicks/Timberwolves game Lin played in had the highest Nielsen rating of any Knicks game in a year.

If you look, just beyond the rings of videos of him leaping and leaping again to his Megastardom, you can find a YouTube channel for him. Most people have not found this, because there are just 74,000+ subscribers as of today, though that number has been growing at a rate of 5k per day since I first checked it last Saturday. The page features a logo sure to be on a sneaker by next Monday, probably. There are a few video diaries of him, hanging out with friends and training like a maniac all day. “Day 1” starts with a flash of his abs as he dramatically, self-mockingly, gets out of bed in his basketball shorts, eats an enormous Denny’s breakfast with a T-bone and eggs and potatoes, chooses his sneakers from the rows neatly lined up in his car trunk, and then there are the weights, the drills, a change of clothes, a handful of t-shirts wrung out in the parking lot as the cameraman skeeves out. It was made back when he wasn’t particularly famous and mocks itself some even as it is also sincere for the fans—and when you see how he trains, you understand how the skinny kid is strong.

The self-mocking reaches perfection in a hilarious confession that he failed his first driver’s test for driving too slow. Hilarious because of the Asians can’t drive thing and of course one of the Top Linsanity Tweets is “WHO SAYS ASIANS CAN’T DRIVE?” He’s SNL-ready (come on SNL—you know you want this Jeremy Lin driving skit), but he’s also just a good-looking goofy kid with a big smile on his face who is much stronger than you think, looking like he is having more fun than anyone on the court except maybe his team-mates. And it may be as easy as this, to understand what’s happening.

For years, fans have been mourning the lack of a love of the game at the pro level, tired of the unsmiling giant millionaire players with tattoos like MMA fighters, epic scandals and no ability to get the fans roaring on their feet. Many had gone back to college ball to remember the love of the game, sick of the epic ticket costs and the cable premium charges and now the cable company battles. It may be that the biggest part of what’s happening is that it’s just great, just plain great, to see someone smiling his way down the court, and not like a dope, but like the guy who’s about to go around you to the hoop—and get there.   

***

There’s a light coming off that giant horrible Fortune Cookie, and in it, you can see there are two games Lin is playing and winning—one is basketball, the other is the game the American media complex plays in making you think X about Asians. Winning one wins the other—he makes changing the world look as easy as playing ball. All that sad bullshit coming after him, the Jason Whitlock jokes, the “he’s just getting attention because he’s Asian” stuff, the Fortune Cookie graphics, it’s all an attempt to put him back in his place, back behind the curtain, to make sure he doesn’t really appear. And it’s too late. Many people were making money off of the way things used to be—now they are making money off of the new way. Something in the power of his game has tipped the balance and the kid is money now, literally—he has the ratings on his side, the web traffic, the new army of fans, his team. This isn’t an equal opportunity hire, no one at the Knicks did this to be nice to Asian people—the fortune cookie proves that. No, the people in the Skybox are getting paid. Lin has managed to make something bigger than their bullshit and he’s riding it out from behind the stage. And a month from now will be the first spring all the coaches in America go through their teams one more time for the Asian kid they missed. They’ll never miss him again.


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Comments

Fortune cookies are 'murican too. Ironic, no?