Reflexivity and Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin is You, Jeremy Lin is Me

At this point, talking about Linsanity has become just as popular as experiencing it.  You could make a case that these two activities are in fact the same, however, now that Jeremy Lin is infiltrating new social arenas at a seemingly unprecedented rate, I’ve come to believe we might make sense of it all by separating everything Lin has done from everything we’ve done with him.

What Lin’s done, as a player and as a person, is the most easily quantifiable part of the equation.  As a player, he’s taken advantage of a long-awaited career opportunity to the fullest.  He’s made lots of money and generated lots of publicity for the biggest media and sports market in America.  Above all this, Lin has helped win six-straight games for the New York Knicks.  Winning is priceless in New York City–and it has been the fuel that powers the Linsanity mobile.  Sure, the stats are nice, but as goes the wins, so goes the #Linning.  On the topic of stats, let’s take a quick look:

Over the past six games, Lin has played 238 out of a possible 288 minutes.  He has averaged 40 minutes, 26.8 points, 8.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and just over 5 turnovers per game.

Those are some very solid numbers–and they give NBA analysts something concrete with which to measure his performance–but it’s the winning of basketball games in the National Basketball Association, that has made Lin a remarkable sports figure.

And what about Lin as a human being?  After all, his identity and his story are the ingredients that have allowed Linsanity to transcend pro sports.  At this point, most fans are aware that he is (one of) the first Asian-American players in the NBA.  He received no athletic scholarships out of high school and chose to attend Harvard.  He went undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft, but finagled a contract with the Golden State Warriors.  A year later, he was waived, claimed by the Houston Rockets, then waived again, before being claimed by the Knicks.  His out-of-nowhere-ness has been well documented.

These are some of the facts that we know about Jeremy Lin.  We also know that he is 23-years-old.  We know that he is a devout Christian. We know that he has talked an extremely modest game.  We know that he’s been sleeping on a couch.  We know these things about him, yet no one knows for sure what they all mean.  While some want to heap all the attention Lin has received on one or two key factors, I believe that each disproportionate element of his persona has combined to shed some sort of all-encompassing light on what Linsanity means for American society.

For one, Linsanity shows that our obsession with the American Dream is still alive and well.  At a time when new jobs are finally starting to be created, Lin’s rise to fame dovetails perfectly with the proverbial idea that if you work hard and don’t give up on yourself (or the institutions around you), you will eventually find success and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  He is an underdog and we love rooting for him because we can simultaneously root for the underdog within ourselves.  He is not the first American underdog, nor will he be the last, but he has inspired people by being one of the most unusual underdogs in recent memory.

Linsanity is also a phenomenon that is tailor-made for the internet.  The internet allows people on Twitter to espouse Lin puns until their finger’s content.  It allows bloggers to compare Lin to Tim Tebow or Victor Cruz.  It allows Facebook conversations to flow.  Considering Lin grew up with YouTube, video games, and smart phones, his current electronic omnipresence creates a remarkably reflexive relationship.

As Linsanity grows, so does Lin’s inability to avoid it.  He claims he has tried to ignore the media circus, but Lin is not immune to his own burgeoning fame.  You see it in the nerdy handshakes he’s devised with his teammates and in that goofy smile he flashes after an amazing play.  He’s just as elated as we are, yet to reveal this about himself beyond these brief glimpses would be unprofessional.  Nonetheless, the relationship between Lin and Linsanity is reflexive.  In other words, the reaction to and examination of Lin’s actions in turn affect his following actions.

If you don’t think Lin has been affected by the attention, simply look at the stats: he averaged 16.6 shots per game in the early stages of Linsanity and has averaged 22.3 shots per game in his last three games, including last night’s bad-ass, game-winning three pointer with 0.5 seconds left to play.  Lin will continue to give us Linsanity as long as we continue to validate it.  Winning games for the Knicks will continue to be a prerequisite, but from there it depends on the bizarre, self-aware dance between Lin, the public that consumes his on-court performance and off-court persona, and the media outlets that filter this exchange.

Of course, writers could devote an entire column to examining each element of Linsanity.  The topics of Lin and race alone could spawn a thousand articles.  Religion, education, sports media, determination, the American Dream, self-awareness, reflexivity–all of these topics can be explored in depth.  Chances are, Linsanity can tell us more about ourselves than we know.  But as I sit here at half-time of the Knicks-Kings game, aka Linsanity Game 7, Lin already has 6 points and 9 assists.  Well on his way to continuing the madness, it seems clear that Linsanity will go as far as we let it–after all, we are Linsanity.

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