02/18/2012 11:59 EST | Updated 04/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Linmania: Racist?

Jeremy Lin is the most popular man in the NBA, perhaps in all of sports right now. Explanation: Because he is Asian-American.

Why we pretend this is a bad thing is completely beyond me.

Earlier this week, undefeated boxer and notorious big mouth Floyd Mayweather said the excitement over Lin is simply because of his Asian ethnicity, and that black players who accomplish the same feats, night after night, aren't praised as much.

You may not want to admit it, but Floyd Mayweather is right.

That, however, didn't stop outrage over his comments.

Asian Americans used Mayweather's words to encourage all Asians to boycott buying his upcoming pay-per-view fight.

Knicks loyalist and super fan Spike Lee immediately hit back tweeting, "Floyd Mayweather I Hope You Watched Jeremy Hit the Game winning 3 Pointer With .5 Seconds Left. Our guy can ball plain and simple. Recognize."

It is about time we stopped being so defensive and started to be honest.

When a black man excels in hockey, people sit up and take notice.

When a white man wins the 100-metere dash, it is inherently a big story.

And when a Taiwanese-American man dominates the game of basketball, it captivates us all.

Not because we are prejudiced against the fact that it is happening, but because we have been hardwired to expect it not to.

Many will say that the story of Jeremy Lin is getting so much attention because it is a true underdog story.

They would only be half right.

Lin was, up until the past few weeks, an NBA journeyman. His story reads like many in the NBA: a skinny kid in high school with decent talent, passed over by all the big name basketball colleges.

He finally settled on Harvard University. Most people don't "settle" on Harvard, but it is not exactly known for basketball dominance.

Lin was not just athletic; he is also really smart. An economics student with a 3.1 GPA that also loved the game of basketball.

So it was no shock that he was passed over entirely in the NBA draft.

When he finally did crack through the walls of the NBA, he was waived by two teams (the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets) and played on four Development League teams, including his latest stop with the BayHawks in Erie, PA.

Not exactly basketball stardom.

Lin finally landed a spot on the New York Knicks roster, but that didn't mean automatic playing time. He rode the bench for quite a while.

Then, as the Knicks coach was facing the firing squad and the team found its roster depleted with injury, Lin got the call.

He proved everyone that ever passed him over wrong.

In his first four games he scored 109 points, the most by any player in NBA history since the 1976-77 season. He also became the first player in NBA history to log a minimum of 20 points and seven assists through his first four games as a starter.

Even President Barack Obama was compelled to weigh in. According to White House Spokesperson Jay Carney, "... we were speaking about Jeremy Lin on Marine One as we flew here to Andrews Air Force Base this morning. It's just a great story and the president was saying as much this morning."

Maybe the President can relate. Obama is of course is also known for not only what he has accomplished, but for breaking down a race barrier that many thought could never be accomplished.

On Tuesday night Lin was here in Toronto, leading the Knicks on another impressive comeback, this time over the struggling Raptors.

But even more compelling was the reaction: how Asian Canadians rallied around what is now being called "Lin-mania."

Tickets to the game were selling for double their face value.

I had a chance to talk with some Asian fans on the subway ride home. They told me that this was bigger than just basketball, this was a barrier that they were proud to break down.

Jeremy Lin was an icon to them. The one they had been waiting for.

My guess is that Lin was only too happy to please. Much of what Lin has overcome is rooted in race.

When he spent time in the Ivy league he constantly heard taunts and slurs, ranging from "Wonton Soup!" to "Keep your eyes open!"

I assume those so-called geniuses are eating their words now.

Which is why this story is just as much about race as it is the unlikely.

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947, it wasn't just about baseball, and it wasn't just about one man playing the game.

It was about the hope and inspiration he provided to people that were told they would never be good enough.

Granted this isn't the 1940s and we have come a long way -- even in 2012 there are still people who will challenge expectations for a 23-year-old son of Taiwanese immigrants.

And yes, race has got something to do with it.

Of course it is possible, but was this probable? Many would say no, which makes it pretty Lin-credible, and a nice surprise.

An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that Lin had a 4.2 GPA at Harvard. Lin's GPA was 3.1, according to a recent interview.