The Washington Post reports:
By Scott Soshnick, Published: July 17
July 18 (Bloomberg) -- Jeremy Lin’s marketing potential is best cultivated by the Houston Rockets, whose experience with Chinese center Yao Ming has them better positioned and prepared than any other National Basketball Association team to reap a financial windfall from Asia.
There's been much talk that the New York Knicks should have matched the Houston Rockets contract offer for point guard Jeremy Lin just on economic grounds alone. The widespread theory is that it would be easy for the Knicks to continue to profit off Chinese racial pride in Lin. I don't know how true that theory is (here's a post that argues that it's hard for the individual franchise, as opposed to the league, to cash in on overseas racial affinity).
But what strikes me as more interesting is that nobody in the press seems to think that there is anything objectionable about Chinese racial bias in favor of Lin.
Keep in mind that this isn't Chinese nationalism at work. Lin was born in America and his parent are from Taiwan. This is Chinese racialism. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
In contrast, eight years ago the great Larry Bird mentioned in an interview:
"… as we all know, the majority of fans are white America. If you just had a couple of white guys in there [in the NBA], you might get them a little excited."
In response, sportswriters went berserk:
Mike Vaccaro in the New York Post hyperventilated about "logic-challenged hayseeds like Larry Bird espousing his own strange brand of sociology."
Other outlets printed stories entitled "Bird's comments leave us at a loss," "When it comes to race, best to shut up," and "Bird comes off looking like bigot."
One interesting question is whether American whites really would be more interested in the NBA if there were more white stars.
For example, last winter a 21-year-old white rookie had a season fairly similar statistically to the 23-year-old Lin's injury-shortened 2012 season. But, in contrast, it made very little pop culture splash.
Lin played in 35 games, starting 25, while the Spaniard Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves played in 41, starting 31. They are both big (Rubio 6'4", Lin 6'3"), athletic, energetic point guards. Both seemed to greatly improve their teams (the Timberwolves had been an awful 17-65 the previous season), and both went down with season-ending injuries that appeared to badly hurt their teams, perhaps Rubio's even more than Lin's. Moreover, Rubio is a genius at passing (video here).
For each 36 minutes they played, Rubio (who is two years younger than Lin) was a little better than Lin in assists, steals, rebounds, personal fouls, free throw percentage, 3-point percentage, and was a lot better in turnovers. Lin, in contrast, was a lot better at total scoring and 2-point shooting percentage. Rubio is an awful 2-point shooter, while Lin, for a couple of weeks last February, was a lights out 2-point shooter, although he was regressing toward the mean as his season went on. Whether he can keep it up for a career will be an interesting question.
You could argue that the Lin story was just so much more interesting than the Rubio story because Rubio has been famous in European basketball circles since he was 14. (Here's a 2008 highlight video of Rubio's teenage exploits.) On the other hand, a former child prodigy / living legend finally arriving on the big stage ought to be pretty interesting. But outside of hard core NBA fans, nobody in America much cared about Rubio.
I think a couple of things are going on. While nobody has a problem with Chinese rooting for an American-born Taiwanese out of sheer racialism, practically zero American whites will admit even to themselves that they would find it cool to see a foreign white do well in the NBA just because they are white.
On the other hand, white Americans in the Obama Age are slowly, quietly getting a little tired of blacks. So, a Chinese-American "victim of stereotypes" makes an ideal proxy for white fans who are horrified by the thought of themselves being even a little bit racialist (but who, deep down, are). The only thing that could have made Lin more perfect for them is if he were also gay.