The Layup Drill — Lin and Ichiro leave, fans say farewell, others say good riddance

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Jeremy Lin

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

Is Jeremy Lin stupid?

I know I’ve written before that there were too many articles on Jeremy Lin and the Linsanity phenomenon, but this summer required another look. This time, Lin made a controversial career decision by leaving New York and heading to Houston.

As a “restricted” free agent, Lin was able to field offers from other teams with the asterisk that the Knicks could match any offer. Initially, the Knicks indicated that it would match any offer made on Lin. However, the Houston Rockets made a deal that Lin could not refuse. He signed an offer for 3 years and $25 million. Although the Knicks are one of the wealthier teams in the NBA and could afford matching the salary, it decided to let Linsanity head south to Texas.

The Decision

During the summer of 2010, NBA player LeBron James made a much publicized and criticized decision on ESPN, choosing to “take his talents to South Beach,” as he put it. He decided to play with the Miami Heat, leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers. James was widely panned for making his decision so public that he became the NBA’s most hated man.

Likewise, Lin’s decision to play with the Houston Rockets left many of his fans in New York upset. Unfortunately, some criticisms of Lin drew racially charged statements.

Even Forbes magazine, the unnoficial periodical of the 1 percent, labeled Lin as dumb in an attention grabbing headline, proclaiming Lin “may be the dumbest Harvard grad ever.”

The crux of the Forbes piece argues that Lin’s alleged thirst for more money in an NBA contract may have cost him in the long run due to the marketing potential for being in New York City. This assumes that one wants to be in New York, “the center of everything,” according to the article.

The Linsanity brand would mean more in New York than in Houston, the Forbes article points out. The Jeremy Lin story and the legend of Linsanity would be amplified in New York and the New York media would continue to hound Lin and follow his whereabouts through the city as if he were a Kardashian.

Of course, Lin likely took the deal because it ensured financial security. Let’s not forget that this is the same guy who camped out on his brother’s couch. If Lin had stayed with the Knicks, he would have made enough money to continue paying rent in New York, but the Rockets offered more.

Forbes believes that Lin’s ego was a factor. While his fans still love him, there is a camp of people who believe Linsanity and the hysteria surrounding his 25 games went to Jeremy’s head. He was the lead story on Sportscenter, he made national news, and became one of the biggest topics trending worldwide on pretty much every social media platform, from Facebook to Twitter. Time Magazine labeled him one of the Top 100 most influential people in the world.

That’s right, the entire world. This may have played into the belief that Lin was initially offended by the Knicks front office, not matching the Rockets deal immediately. According to reports, Lin believed that the Knicks did not really want him because the organization did not match the Rockets’ offer once it was made.

News came out that the Knicks were looking around for other point guards that may take Lin’s spot. It attempted to get aged veteran Steve Nash, but he headed to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks signed Jason Kidd, who was shortly thereafter arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The Knicks then signed Raymond Felton, a serviceable guard (read, cheaper).

There is the Yao Ming factor which may have influenced Lin. Ming made Houston his home during his NBA career and was wildly popular. Lin looks up to Ming and looking at Ming’s success in the area, Lin may have seen the blueprint for his career. Therefore, despite leaving one of the biggest media centers in the world, Lin probably believes that he could do well in Houston.

Goodbye, good riddance

Upon Lin’s departure, the golden boy turned sour in the Big Apple. And, unfortunately, it turned racist. Not only was Lin bashed for leaving, the haters did not let Lin go silent into the night. Lin’s Facebook page received numerous racist taunts. “You sellout Chink,” wrote one angered poster.  “Die slow you traitor,” wrote another Knicks “fan.” Others chimed in questioning Lin’s loyalty and then bashing his abilities as a player.

After all the taunts and name calling, why would Lin would want to stay with the Knicks, anyway?

Then it was the media’s turn. They said Lin was unworthy of such a big contract, pointing out that Lin’s resume of games is less than a single NBA season. Forbes cited Lin’s ego as being the cause of his departure. And finally, the question of toughness came. Lin decided to have surgery on his injured knee prior to the playoffs, instead of attempting to play on it.

At the time, most believed this was a sound decision. Why risk further injury to the knee? The team was not going to win the NBA championship this season, but if Lin rested, he’d be ready for a full go next year. The Knicks were matched up with the eventual NBA champs, the Miami Heat, so the odds of an upset were slim. However, now that Lin is gone, the detractors see Lin’s surgery as selfish and lacking the toughness needed for an NBA elite.

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Ichiro Suzuki

Lin seemed optimistic about his new home.  Notwithstanding the venom of Knicks fans, Lin spoke of his leaving his former team as if it were a mutual break up with an old girlfriend. Lin recently told a 5-year-old fan over Skype that he still roots for the Knicks. Maybe Lin and the Knicks could still be friends? Or, maybe not. Not everything in sports has a storybook ending.

Ichiro leaves Seattle

Speaking of undesired endings, longtime Mariner Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees in July, thereby ending an era in Seattle sports history. One might argue Suzuki is the greatest Mariner ever, next to Ken Griffey, Jr. But, similar to Griffey, Suzuki’s stay in Seattle was too long for some Mariners fans.

Depending on your perspective, Ichiro’s exit either came at a good time or a bad time. His leaving coincides with a new youth movement, meaning that the team is losing a veteran role model and a more aged experience. However, others believe that Ichiro stood in the way of the new wave of youthful players and think that he should have stepped aside even earlier. After all, the right fielder has lost a step of his speed and his batting average reflected a player nearing the end.

Not only was Suzuki’s all-world skill diminishing due to age, the fans and sports radio universe turned on him. Fans on sports radio dreamed of a day without the 38-year-old right fielder, blaming the Japanese ownership of the Mariners and saying that Suzuki was treated as a favorite. Many exhaled with relief when Ichiro was sent away. These same people perhaps also dreamt of a day where the team would not be subject to Japanese ownership. But considering that less than two decades ago, the fans of Seattle hoped for an owner to buy the Mariners in order to keep it in Seattle, beggars can’t be choosers. Now, some are hoping that a “local” potential owner swoops up the team. For Mariners fans, let’s hope the Japanese ownership does not sell the team to owners from Oklahoma City. Remember how that ended up?

The Ichiro love affair had expired several seasons ago. He was labeled a “locker room cancer” that was all for himself and not about team. There were rumors that Ichiro demanded he play every day and was particular about where he hit in the batting order, which made it seem like he cared less about winning and more about his statistics.

The other issue was his use of an interpreter. Despite understanding and speaking English, Suzuki utilized his interpreter throughout his career with the Mariners. This created a lack of personal interaction with the fans and media. It was hard for fans to be invested in someone that did not speak directly to them or give interviews. Even at his final press conference in Seattle, Suzuki used his interpreter to say goodbye to his fans.

While Suzuki was near tears in reflecting on his career in Seattle, the emotion was not enough. The use of the interpreter infuriated some considering that he refused to connect with his non-Japanese speaking supporters. Although Ichiro provided the Mariners with some of the best moments in its history, fans remember only the most recent play. In an ironic twist, Ichiro ended up playing his first game as a Yankee before his ex-team at Safeco Field. Ichiro’s first plate appearance was met with many cheers and drew a bow.

Not only does Ichiro leave a hole in the Mariners’ lineup, his loss may include an economic loss. Many Japanese tourists have come to Seattle to watch Ichiro play and companies would set up tours of Safeco Field and the surrounding areas centered around the Mariners’ star. Despite diminishing skills on the field, Ichiro consistently drew fans from outside the state. Now those fans may take the detour signed to New York.

With the departures of Lin and Ichiro from their respective teams, fans have expressed mixed feelings. Some thanked them for the memories, while others said good riddance. This happens all the time. But when it comes to athletes of color, racism often makes an ugly appearance as well. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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One Response to “The Layup Drill — Lin and Ichiro leave, fans say farewell, others say good riddance”

  1. Ramkhan says:

    A bit like DC comics suerphero Clark Kent, you know, the one with the nerd/superman alter ego. If you know how really tough NBA basketball is, you’ll appreciate his heroics for a success starved NY Knicks team. Now JLin needs to play well and consistently to deserve the point guard starting position.

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