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Is the 'Linsanity' hype caused by race?

By Rick Quan, Special to CNN
updated 11:31 PM EST, Thu February 16, 2012
Jeremy Lin holds the ball as the New York Knicks play the Los Angeles Lakers in New York last week.
Jeremy Lin holds the ball as the New York Knicks play the Los Angeles Lakers in New York last week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. said the Jeremy Lin mania is because Lin is Asian
  • Rick Quan: While Lin is talented, race is a factor that people can't ignore
  • Quan: Lin is the first Chinese-American to make a major impact in the NBA
  • He says that Lin has given Asian-American men someone to feel proud of and rally around

Editor's note: Rick Quan is the principal at Rick Quan Productions and a sports anchor at KGO-TV in San Francisco. He has profiled Jeremy Lin previously on his website.

(CNN) -- In the frenzy over the sudden phenomenal success of Jeremy Lin -- known as "Linsanity" -- there's been some talk of race. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the famed boxer, caused controversy when he said the other day, "Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise."

Before you get up in arms about Mayweather's comment, first consider the source. Mayweather is known for causing a stir and pushing people's buttons. He's made homophobic and racist comments about sports figures in the past, including champion boxer Manny Pacquiao.

So anything Mayweather says you might want to ignore. But does he have a valid point? Is Lin getting this much attention only because he's Asian? Absolutely not. Does race play into the equation? Absolutely.

Rick Quan
Rick Quan

Lin is the first Chinese-American to not just get on the court but make a major impact in the NBA. That is huge. No one since the NBA-ABA merger during the 1976-77 season has scored at least 20 points and seven assists in his first five starts. Nobody. Almost single-handedly, Lin has given new life to the once proud New York Knicks franchise.

Yes, there have been other Asians and Asian-Americans who played in the league, but most were of mixed race (Rex Walters, Raymond Townsend, Wat Misaka). We had the star Yao Ming for a while, but he was from China. Lin is from California. He went to Harvard. He can even dance the Dougie. There is a difference. Not all Asians are alike.

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No one thought much of Lin until he was given a real chance. And it came unexpectedly. The Knicks were reportedly set to waive Lin but gave him the opportunity to play because of a lack of depth at point guard.

Lin was on the Golden State Warriors last season before getting waived on the first day of training camp and then was briefly with the Houston Rockets before being let go. Now, there were financial situations involved like salary cap, guaranteed contracts, etc., but there is no doubt in my mind that because Lin is Asian-American, it made it easier for management to overlook his potential.

Lin has benefited from playing in New York City -- the media capital of the world -- but his emergence to stardom is due to his talent, his faith and his determination.

Has race been on people's minds? Yes. You stick out on the court when you're the only Asian face. While there are Asian-Americans playing in the NFL and Major League Baseball, the NBA is different. Maybe I'm guilty of stereotyping as well, but this is a game dominated by black athletes like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. If a Chinese-American guy can hold his own against the best athletes in the world, wow!

Lin has also struck a chord among Asian-American men. I have heard many negative stereotypes over the years. We aren't tall enough, sexy enough, strong enough or good-looking enough. These stereotypes are still portrayed in our culture today. Just take a look at the Asian male character on the TV show "Two Broke Girls," or read the crude sexual tweet by the sports columnist Jason Whitlock. I have faced my own share of stereotypes as a rare Chinese-American television sportscaster. (I believe I was the first in the country.)

Really, not since Bruce Lee displayed his power in "Enter the Dragon" have we Asian-American men had someone to rally around. Lin has given us a sense of pride.

So Mayweather is right, race does play a part -- but Jeremy Lin is no token minority. The man has game or he wouldn't be getting the attention he deserves. I don't know if he'll have a long career or be an all-star, but you can be sure he is starting to change not just the way general managers and pro scouts look at Asian-Americans playing sports, but also the way our society thinks about them.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rick Quan.

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