- Lin played unsustainably great basketball, leading the Knicks to a 7-1 record while starting with Carmelo Anthony injured and averaging 25.0 points and 9.5 assists per game in that span.
- Lin was excelling in New York, America’s biggest media market.
- The Knicks were desperate for success, having not won a single playoff game in the last decade.
- Lin was undrafted and relatively unknown before breaking out.
- Lin played at Harvard, which is universally known for academics and barely known for basketball.
- Lin is Asian-American, a rarity in high-level basketball.
Yes, that last factor mattered.
“In some ways, Linsanity wouldn’t have been Linsanity if I was a different skin color, most likely, it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal, and that went to my advantage, too, but if you look prior to that, a lot of the obstacles to even get to that point where I could get to a position of getting on the floor, those were definitely obstacles that were very much stereotypes that I had to fight along the way. So I’ve always understood that there’s good and there’s bad and you have to take them together and just be thankful for it all.”
Linsanity was a culmination of all the elements listed above. Maybe it would’ve happened without one or two, but THE essential factor was Lin’s on-court production. Without that, he never would’ve become a national phenomenon.
Lin’s heritage – he was born in California to Taiwanese-born parents – accentuated his basketball skills, but the basketball skills were the base for his popularity.
And as Lin said, his race was a double-edged sword. It made him less likely to get the benefit of the doubt when rising through the basketball ranks. I believe that coaches, scouts and other players were less inclined to believe in his basketball ability because of his race.
But Lin overcame that and eventually reaped the awards of being an outlier.
Lin has long seemed to possess a keen understanding of himself and a willingness to discuss it. I think he’s spot-on here, and it leads to a better understanding of one of the biggest NBA stories in recent years.