Is the Jeremy Lin foul video fan overreaction or symptomatic of racial bias towards Asian players in the NBA?
Follow the coverage of this viral video on Jeremy Lin getting fouled and you might feel like he’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA. He gets no respect. But like Rodney, you can’t ignore Lin, or at least, not his fans. The video has well over 1 million views on YouTube. And Andrew Keh’s story in the New York Times on the video’s creator got more views than coverage of Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game.
The premise may be flawed, some facts fudged, and clips shown out of context, but the video shows hard fouls, no doubt, and one can see why there would be some concern. It just might play a little too often like the hand-wrung pleading of a parent watching a little league game.
So I didn’t think much of the video at first. But after seeing Tom Haberstroh’s follow-up on ESPN.com and his numbers–in particular Lin’s total number of fouls drawn without a flagrant compared to the rest of the league–I couldn’t help but wonder what the prevailing opinion of Asian players in the NBA is today. Even if the video’s creator, Hsiu-Chen Kuei, was very careful not to label it as racial bias.
Are Asian players considered soft throughout the NBA in 2016? Or just not good enough to play at all? There is only one left (sort of).
This prevailing opinion makes a difference. NBA referees don’t function like a sequestered jury in a criminal trial. They see, hear, and have many of the same opinions a player, coach or fan might have. It’s not out of the question to think referees develop their own biases. And if the prevailing opinion in the NBA is still that Asian players can’t play, or that they’re soft, that could certainly affect whether or not Lin gets the benefit of the doubt in foul calls.
Or alternatively, are players going extra hard at Lin because they think he’s soft?
The NBA is no stranger to these kinds of stereotypes. European players were once considered soft. NBA Hall of Fame inductee, Yao Ming, was once considered soft. It took time and a bigger sample size to shed these labels. But the sample size for Asian players in the NBA right now doesn’t lend itself to overcoming widespread stereotypes.
Jeremy Lin is the only visually obvious player of Asian descent playing in the league today. Jordan Clarkson is hapa Filipino, and there may be others I’m forgetting, but Lin is the most representative of Asian-ness, in not only his face, but his fans. And as the sole player representing Asian-ness in the NBA, the numbers seem to play into what may be his fans’ greatest fear. That he is still not respected in this league because he’s Asian.
You can make the argument that fouls are missed all the time. Just earlier this week, Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic lost a tooth on a no-call. He played on, just like Jeremy did. Maybe the video is a little silly, essentially asking for special treatment, but that isn’t something the NBA is unfamiliar with either, especially for its stars. And whether NBA fans universally agree or not, Jeremy Lin is a star, even if he’s not your kind of star.
If nothing else, the video shows that Jeremy is demonstrably not soft. He is no flopper. Lin attacks the paint fearlessly, even recklessly. Just Google search “Jeremy Lin bloody” and you’ll find a shot of him dripping blood on just about every team he’s played on. Every player knows the painted area is not for the faint of heart. You get hit hard attacking the rim, and with all those big bodies flying around, it can be hard for referees to see every foul in live action.
So now, whether the NBA likes it or not, there is a substantial contingent of fans watching closely on Lin’s behalf. And now that the video has received this level of national attention, the NBA probably shouldn’t ignore them.
In the meantime, while the league sorts that out, the simplest solution for Jeremy? Work on that floater.
Cover photo from Deadspin.com.