I give all this Jeremy Lin hoopla another month or so. No, I don't think Jeremy will be finished by then. I think he's got another 20 years of great play in him. What I mean is that this incessant bad punning using his last name will finally be exhausted. I think I'll scream if I hear one more pun using "Lin."
The pundits and punsters are quickly running out of metaphors and superlatives. Yes, Jeremy's arrival means a great many things, to basketball as well as to the Asian-American community. He's a tremendous source of pride for us. But it's also important to recognize what his magnificence doesn't mean. It is not evidence that Americans love underdogs. If that were the case, we'd be seeing Redskins jerseys sweeping the nation.
No, what Americans love is winners — and if they happen to be underdogs, then all the better. But it's winning über alles for most Americans, especially for New Yorkers.
I know what it means to try to root for underdogs. It's an exercise in frustration, as long-suffering Orioles fans know all too well. I grew up in New York City, where, along with some chances to celebrate great victories, I had even more chances to root for underdogs. But it gets frightfully tiresome eventually, so most people simply stop bothering. For instance, we had the spectacle of the Mets' futility from 1974 to 1985. We had the Columbia University football team's glorious 44-game losing streak from 1983 to 1988. We had the New Jersey Devils for the entire decade of the 1980s. Somewhat before my time, New Yorkers got so frustrated with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the baseball Giants' inability to take down the Yankees that we threw them across the continent.
And we had the sad-sack Knicks. Does anyone remember who was the most highly touted NBA draftee of the 1980s? No, it wasn't Michael Jordan. It was Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, whom the Knicks obtained with the first pick of the 1985 draft. What happened next? Mr. Ewing was one of the greatest basketball players of all time to never deliver an NBA championship. He was no underdog. Rather, he was top cat. But he never delivered the big win for us. So we threw him across the continent too.
Jeremy fever should therefore not be about rooting for the underdog — although his credentials are certainly substantial. You know them all by now. Yes, the Asian-American community has gone gaga over him, but we needn't and shouldn't cheer Jeremy because he's Asian-American and therefore an underdog in the NBA. We should cheer him because he's an American winner despite being an underdog. Just like Eli Manning and the Giants.
In any other year, we'd be talking about Eli's Super Bowl victory all the way through spring training. But that got severely curtailed because of Jeremy Lin. Imagine anyone else going 9 and 7 in the regular season and then winning the Super Bowl, (and against Gisele's husband, no less). This was even greater than the Mets going 82 and 79 and coming within one game of winning the 1973 World Series. I couldn't fault Eli if he were just a bit peeved at Jeremy for stealing some of his thunder, although I'm sure Eli's too gracious for that.
Can you imagine what will happen if Jeremy leads the Knicks all the way to the NBA championship? I'm sure he will someday, but picture the pandemonium if he does it this particular season after joining the Knicks at 9 and 15. Never mind the keys to the city; Mayor Michael Bloomberg would rename the city itself after him. Or if not the entire city, maybe at least one of the outer boroughs. Brook-Lin, anyone?
Michael Justin Lee, a native of Hong Kong, teaches in the department of finance at the University of Maryland. His new book, "The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity," will be published in July by McGraw-Hill. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org