By Malik Grady – OGGOA Columnist
A great deal of national attention has been paid to NBA phenom New York Knicks‘ point guard Jeremy Lin as of late; unfortunately much of it has consisted of the second-year player being compared to former Florida Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who had a breakout season in his second year in the NFL.
And though Lin and Tebow do share a few parallels – mostly in the social realm – the less obvious and more interesting comparison is actually with another former Florida player – point guard Jason Williams. What Lin has done and continues to do night-in and night-out is without question on an exponentially greater level but there are historical, racial and other parallels to what happened when Williams burst on the scene.
WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL
* Feb. 6, 2012: In a season shortened by a lockout, Lin bursts onto the national scene at the age of 23 years and 167 days, posting 25 points in 36 minutes for the struggling New York Knicks, a team in need of a spark and plenty of victories.
* Feb. 5, 1999: Exactly 13 years earlier (minus a day) – after a bitter lockout and the second retirement of Michael Jordan sapped the NBA of fans and support – Williams, at the age of 23 years and 79 days, scores 21 points in 36 minutes for the Sacramento Kings, one of the worst teams in the league the year before.
A PLAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY
* Feb. 14, 2012: Lin’s game-winning shot against the Toronto Raptors is endlessly played on SportsCenter, furthering his breakout campaign.
* Feb. 17, 1999: Almost exactly 13 years earlier, Williams’s crossover of Gary Payton (video) in a win over the Seattle Supersonics is played on a loop on SportsCenter.
EARLY HYPE AND ADORATION
* The slightly offensive nickname “Yellow Mamba” pops up for Lin.
* The slightly racial nickname “White Chocolate” pops up for Williams (though it was started by a team staffer and embraced by Williams).
* Lin is prematurely compared to Steve Nash.
* Williams is prematurely compared to “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
* Lin’s No. 17 jersey (including counterfeit versions) cannot be printed fast enough to keep them in stock in the United States or China.
* Williams’s No. 55 jersey becomes one of the top five sellers nationally in the NBA.
Perhaps the most interesting parallel between Lin and Williams how their physical characteristics have played a role in their acceptance, popularity and backlash.
Any time there is something that is out of the ordinary or different, the curiosity factor becomes a compelling reason for people to pay attention. Whether a player is really tall (Shawn Bradley), really ugly (Shawn Kemp), really tall and ugly (Manute Bol) or has a certain characteristic that is stereotyped to be one thing and not another, he becomes particularly noteworthy to the masses.