Indulging in the Friday night fun that Chicago’s River North neighborhood has to offer, I found myself among several 20-something-year-olds glued to a flat screen TV at The Kerryman while Sportcenter ran highlights from the Knicks-Hornets game. The Knicks lost for the first time since Mike D’Antoni named Jeremy Lin his starting point guard seven games prior. Lin had 26 points, 5 assists, and 9 turnovers, 8 of which he gave away in the first half. As soon as those numbers were flashed onto the screen, along with the 85-89 results, by ESPN, the bar’s sound system was immediately drowned out by shouted expletives and filled by middle fingers all directed toward Lin. I was and wasn’t surprised by that reaction. The national coverage of “Linsanity” has been shoved down the typical sports fan’s throat so hard, that he or she can’t help but spew annoyance and anger. Unfortunately, Lin has become an innocent victim to the fame and hype that has been packaged by the likes of the New York media, ESPN, and other national outlets.
Lin’s story alone is remarkable. He’s a Harvard graduate who was also an undrafted free agent to the NBA a year ago. He bounced around between the Association and the D-League multiple times, was Golden State’s version of Brian Scalabrine, and made his way to a reserve roster spot with the New York Knicks. Before he was almost cut for a 3rd time during his short career, Lin was called to start due to the rest of the roster being plagued by injuries. And so began the rise of Linsanity. During the Knicks’ 7 game win-streak bringing them back into playoff contention, Lin averaged 24.4 points per game and 9 assists per game. Despite the current record of the teams defeated in the streak combined being 84-136 (12-19 on average) and Lin setting a franchise record of consecutive games with 6+ turnovers, “Linsanity” spread through the national media faster than “Tebowmania”. Thus the beginning of where the coverage of Lin went too far…
A little over a week into Jeremy Lin’s fame building steam, ESPN began comparing Lin to Tim Tebow. The only thing the two truly have in common is the fact they are devout Christians. Lin’s story is that of a true underdog and before finally getting his start in the NBA, was an absolute mystery. We knew what Tebow was coming into the season. Tebow was a Heisman trophy winner, a national champion and a 1st round draft pick. Tebow appeared in an anti-abortion commercial, was given the starting quarterback job by the pressure of an ignorant and restless Denver fan base, and has been justifiably regarded as the most polarizing professional athlete in sports today. Lin has played beyond himself and has produced at the level of a superstar in a game that can be dictated by an individual. Tebow is a sub-par (sometimes average) quarterback in the ultimate team sport, where wins are dependent of the whole team (offense/defense/special teams). Kurt Warner, on the otherhand, was bagging groceries and playing arena football before he became a Super Bowl winning quarterback throwing with the best in the NFL. Warner’s story would have made a much more effective comparison to what Lin has accomplished. But Lin has still received more attention in two weeks than Warner ever received during his 12 seasons in the league.
On a weekly basis, Deadspin.com keeps track of how often an athlete, team, and league is mentioned during SportCenter’s 11pm ET broadcast over the course of the week. They call it “Bristolmetrics.” Just last week, Lin’s name was used 350 times. That is more often than either “if” or “but” were used. For an hour a day, five days during the regular week, Lin was mentioned nearly once a minute. To add perspective to the absurdity of the amount of coverage dedicated to Lin here are the other athletes and figures whose names were used and how often they were mentioned:
Jeremy Lin: 350 mentions
LeBron James: 70
Tiger Woods: 61
Peyton Manning: 56
Phil Mickelson: 46
Kobe Bryant: 44
Blake Griffin: 42
Carmelo Anthony: 37
Amar'e Stoudemire: 32
Dwyane Wade: 30
Chris Paul: 26
Jim Irsay: 24
Rajon Rondo: 23
Tim Tebow: 22
Randy Moss: 20
*according to Deadspin.com
Lin was mentioned 5 times as often as LeBron James and over 280 times more than his Knicks teammates, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, combined. It seems that ESPN and the national media are repeating their format used for Tebow, making Lin the only story with the assumption that the audiences want that as well.
Making those assumptions have really tarnished the credibility of a network that was originated for sports highlights and news, and is now nothing more than hype and advertising. Lin didn’t ask for the attention. He’s just playing basketball. But the attention has hurt the credibility of those commenting on the matter, even those who have nothing to do with the sport of basketball. Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald made this tweet just a week ago:
“@coachfitz51: There's finally a NBA player who plays hard and says the right things off the court”
Apparently Coach Fitzgerald forgot about another superstar in Chicago with a reputation in the league for being humble and playing harder than anyone on the floor night in and night out, but that’s beside the point.
As I mentioned earlier, what Lin has done with his opportunity in the NBA is extremely admirable. Even after a reckless performance turning over the ball against New Orleans, Lin made the adjustments to defeat the defending champion Dallas Mavericks the next game. Lin scored 28 points and had 14 assists to lead the Knicks on national television. He still turned the ball over 7 times, and that is a reasonable concern for criticism. However, nothing Lin himself has done warrants the hate I saw at the bar Friday night or on social media which is always so prevalent. If you wish to direct your frustrations and displeasure somewhere, I recommend taking aim at the people gushing over Lin so often that it makes you gag. If you are feeling suffocated by the coverage simply change the channel. Nothing gets a message across better than bad ratings.