The Jeremy Lin story hiding the bigger story


Richard Taylor took exception to my post on Jeremy Lin and he made a really good point in the comments.

I’m concerned at the mass fascination and the way the story is being told. Feels a lot like a classic pull yourself up by the bootstraps story of the American dream. As the world falls apart around us, he is proof that we can, by dint of hard work, make it and be the stars of our own world. Colbert must love this guy. He is proving him right in every measure! Every time a real manifestation of a dream appears, we can distract ourselves from the much messier reality and tell ourselves that with just a bit more effort we can pull ourselves up without any help from our community. Maybe I’m cynical and defeatist….I – I being Steve – do want to point out that Richard does go on to say, I do applaud and celebrate Lin for his accomplishments.

I can quibble with Richard around the edges – I think Colbert’s persona would love this, not Colbert himself – but I completely agree with his main point. We read a story about Lin, or any number of other basketballers and it hides the fact that it is almost impossible to escape poverty by getting in the NBA. Lin was great in highschool – the MVP – but, when he tried to get into Stanford or UCLA via basketball, everybody he was competing against was also a MVP. He ended up at Harvard, I suspect, mostly on his grades.

When he tried to get into the NBA from Harvard, the winnowing was exponentially tougher. NBA players are all great players from basketball schools. When we read about great players – or just mid-level NBA players, who were great in college –  and read about how hard they worked1 and how lucky they are, it hides the very real fact that they are also very, very, rare. We don’t read read about the kids who worked just as hard, were just as good, and didn’t get that one lucky break. They end working at 7-11 or in prison.

It is even tougher and the winners from poor small towns or the ghetto are even rarer in the financial arena. I am an idealist and a optimist, so I don’t think that the system is rigged against poor black kids – or poor Asian kids or poor white kids for that matter – I just think that the people who are already rich, want to stay there. The very rich want low tax rates and lots of loop holes not to keep working people out, but to keep them and their descendants in. Shutting down social and financial mobility is a byproduct of the system, not the goal.

We used to be the land of opportunity and now we are not. Sure, some people make it, but a smaller percentage than in most countries in Europe. We have ended up with a system that is not the American dream, but the British gentry dream. As Richard pointed out, the Lin story hides that fact.


1. Lin worked very hard, according to Inside Bay Area Lin could barely squat 110 pounds last May, three months later, he was pushing up 231 pounds; improved his vertical leap by 3 inches; lowered his time in the pro agility run by 17 percent, to 4.4 seconds, which makes him comparable to an average NFL running back. The New York Times also has a great article on how hard he worked

One thought on “The Jeremy Lin story hiding the bigger story

  1. Hear hear!!

    Time magazine has noted:
    A recent study from the Pew Charitable Trust found that Americans born in the a family that was one of the bottom fifth in terms of wealth, only had a 17% chance of making into the top two-fifths as an adult. It now appears, as Foroohar points out, that a number of recent studies have shown that it is now easier to move up the income ladder in Europe than it is in America. So much for the land of the opportunity.

    Read more:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *