Stefan Fatsis On America's 'Linsanity'

Host Robert Siegel talks to sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks, and his rapid rise to fame.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the fortnight of wall-to-wall media coverage of Harvard grad turned pro basketball benchwarmer turned overnight superstar Jeremy Lin, we here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED have been remarkably restrained. We've given listeners just one story about the Lin phenomenon. In case you missed that piece and don't own a television or read the newspaper, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us, as he does most Fridays, now with a Jeremy Lin update. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And in fairness to the program, I should say that Jeremy Lin did come up in your conversation last week with my colleague Audie Cornish.

FATSIS: Yeah, very briefly. I said that the three games that he had started to that point constituted a very small sample size. And the sample size in the last week have gotten bigger. That night, he outscored Kobe Bryant of the Lakers 38 points to 34; then he scored 20 against Minnesota, including the game-winning free throw; 27 against Toronto, including the game-winning three-point shot with a half a second to play; and then he had 13 assists against Sacramento on Wednesday.

The Knicks are at home tonight against New Orleans, Robert. I can get you a couple of courtside seats on StubHub for just $4,056 a pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And the tickets are just the tip of the iceberg here, this phenomenon about Jeremy Lin.

FATSIS: Yeah, they are. And the comparison that's been made a lot has been to the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela and Fernandomania back in 1981. But I think this exceeds it. You know, thanks to the Internet, social media, the way the sports business has grown, Jeremy Lin, the first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, has become a worldwide phenomenon, especially in the Far East. And that's huge for the NBA, which has seen its business take a hit in China of late.

Forbes magazine estimates that if Jeremy Lin keeps this up, he could boost league revenue by up to $80 million this season.

SIEGEL: Now, on top of all this, the NBA yesterday added Jeremy Lin to its upcoming All-Star festivities.

FATSIS: And we always have to say both names, by the way: Jeremy Lin. You can't just say Lin. And inexplicably, NBA commissioner David Stern had balked at adding him to the game. The game is the Rising Stars Challenge. The gimmick this year was to let Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley pick the teams. Shaq took the L.A. Clippers Blake Griffin with the first pick. Barkley took the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Kyrie Irving with the second pick. And Shaq very wisely took Jeremy Lin with the third pick.

SIEGEL: Now, there have been two popular elements in the coverage of Jeremy Lin: his ethnicity and also his recruitment or his under-recruitment both out of high school and also out of Harvard. Was Lin actually overlooked?

FATSIS: You know, I think it's easy to say in hindsight that major colleges and NBA teams made a big mistake here. But I think it's also worth pointing out that Jeremy Lin himself has said that he believes he wasn't recruited by big schools partly because he was skinny and kind of short coming out of high school. It's also true that while he was excellent at Harvard, he did not dominate the Ivy League. And it's not like the NBA totally whiffed either. Jeremy Lin did make the league, which is an amazing achievement in itself.

But on the flip side, he has not discounted the role that race has played in his career. He's talked about the subconscious downgrading maybe of his ability because of his Asian background.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Lin was interviewed by NPR's Michel Martin in February 2010. He was a senior at Harvard at that time. I want you to listen to a bit of that interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JEREMY LIN: You know, stereotypical jokes in terms of go play the orchestra, or they call me sometimes - I heard: Chinese import, go back to China. Slanty eyes, can you see the scoreboard?

FATSIS: You know, one of the great things that come out of the Jeremy Lin story has been this conversation about race. And what he has done is force people to think about perceptions and expectations in sports. He's already debunked the stereotype. Maybe he's put an end to these kinds of taunts and biases that he experienced on the court.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, Stefan. Have a great weekend.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate.com's sports podcast "Hang Up and Listen."

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