It's popularity, not polarity, when it comes to Lin and Sixers

Posted: March 22, 2012

When boxer Floyd Mayweather felt compelled to enlighten the world with a tweet last month that Jeremy Lin garnered the attention he did because he was Asian-American, I felt I would be doing a disservice to some of the 76ers if I didn't give them the opportunity to address the statements - rather than let 'Money' seem to be speaking for them.

Said Mayweather: "Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise."

Well, no, they don't. No undrafted rookie free agent ever did what Lin did in those seven magical games from Feb. 4-15.

Lin was at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night and contributed 18 points in the Knicks 82-79 victory - a solid but not scintillating performance.

But Lin was the talk of the sports world when I asked the Sixers' Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala for their reaction to Mayweather's remarks. Even though Williams and Iguodala implicitly said the uniqueness of the situation - Lin's Taiwanese heritage, a rookie from Harvard and performing in the media capital of the world - was at the core of the Lin skyrocket, I knew their mentioning of his racial uniqueness would instantly polarize the bigots among us.

The two Sixers used words such as "respect," and said nothing disparaging. They laughed at Dennis Rodman's foolish suggestion that Larry Bird got his props because he was white, and both Williams and Iguodala said that Lin's success was good for the league, which is correct.

But reaction to a blog post on Philly.com on Feb. 17 that carried the assessments of Williams and Iguodala to Lin's play, would make it seem they had incited racial Armageddon.

For sure, online commenters, no matter the topic, are not necessarily representative of commonly held views. That said, the two Sixers were compared to the racists who taunted Jackie Robinson. Their intelligence was questioned. There was very little middle ground, very little intelligent and temperate processing of what the players had to say about an interesting and provocative drama playing out on a very public stage.

Maybe it isn't surprising that an attempt at a conversation about Jeremy Lin and the attention he was generating would be just as divisive as what we see and hear on television every night. Think MSNBC vs. Fox and the polarities each often stakes out on issues such as politics, social issues, religion and the distribution of wealth.

I've been going in and out of locker rooms for years and I'm happy to report that when it comes to issues of race, ballplayers are way ahead of the rest of us.

Sixers center Spencer Hawes is a hardcore Republican, and if you hear him talk politics, you'll find out quickly that it has nothing to do with his tax bracket. Conversely, Iguodala, who makes significantly more money, is a staunch liberal.

I've heard them go back and forth on political issues. I've gone off the record with both about things light years removed from defensive rebounds, the pick-and-roll and other basketball-related matters.

But what they are capable of doing, what most athletes that perform at the elite levels do much better than Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann and the rest of us, is sheath their differences and make them secondary to a shared goal.

There's no hiding your flaws in professional sports, so it stands to reason that those who arrive there, with the riches-beyond-your-wildest-dreams lifestyle, would dismiss even their greatest differences to sustain it. There are no quotas. The NBA Players Association is likely the wealthiest union in the world, and it is more than 80 percent black.

Give Iguodala credit. When he addressed the Lin phenomenon, he suggested I check back with him in 30 or 40 games. He might be right: Lin looks as if he could become a good player, but he struggles with turnovers and is no longer his team's first option at crunch time.

So while I'm a little disappointed in the reactions Iguodala and Williams received for their observations, I sort of envy the two Sixers. Not for their talents, fame or fortune, but for the fact that they aren't mired in the ideological quagmire that swallows so many others.


Contact staff writer John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JmitchInquirer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/deepsixer

 

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