This is going to be part one in a continuing series that we'll call "Buzz Bissinger should shut the fuck up and just enjoy his well-deserved royalties from Friday Night Lights."
If you've been following the NBA even just enough to know what those letters stand for, then you've heard about Jeremy Lin. Sportswriter-cum-curmudgeon Buzz Bissinger certainly has. Here's his column. He makes some interesting points, such as saying that it's ridiculous to think that Lin is better than Jordan or Chamberlain.
It's important that Bissinger say this, as Sylvester Q. Nobody has been repeatedly making just that claim from his daily column in the Nowehere Daily Nothing-Courier.
The dutiful frisking of strawmen completed, Bissinger addresses the racial component of Lin's fame. YOU MEAN THAT JEREMY LIN IS ASIAN AND MOST OF THE NBA ISN'T? HEAVENS TO MURGATROID. I NEVER WOULD HAVE NOTICED IF A GROWN MAN NAMED BUZZ (who does not have the excuse of having walked on the goddamn moon) HADN'T TOLD ME.
The problem here isn't that Bissinger is obliviousness to the most obvious facts of the situation, though; it's that he's critical of anyone excited by Lin's diverse background. And that is just wrongheaded.
Diversity is a VIRTUE. We are better off when we acknowledge that different people have different backgrounds. We're better off when we learn from these backgrounds, and appropriately adapt our own lives to what we've learned. If we dismiss everyone's different backgrounds as "irrelevant", we're just cheating ourselves out of the whole story.
So, the NBA and the broader basketball community is right to celebrate its ability to attract players of different backgrounds. It is right to celebrate its successes in promoting diversity. It is right to take a little pride that someone can find success and fame in the NBA even if they don't fit the typical NBA profile. It is well justified for the NBA- for all of us, really- to be happy when the Grand Meritocracy that sports are supposed to represent actually seems to work.
Of course, we have to be careful that the NBA isn't making Lin into a token. We can't let the NBA just point to Lin and say "RACISM OVER." But let's wait and see if that actually happens before we start yelling about it, huh?
The NBA, like society as a whole, has plenty of hang-ups about race (the Fifth Blog Cylon Mike has a plan for a blog post about race and the NBA dress code). It's learning as it goes. We all are. And the work is never really done, we're always going to have to figure out how to live alongside different kinds of people. But it really is okay to smile a little when we have some success at it.