The story of Jeremy Lin’s dreadlocks and why it’s bigger than Kenyon Martin

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Not long ago, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson posted a video on Snapchat with Caris LeVert, joking and laughing, in his typical RHJ fashion, about dreadlocks. LeVert looked reluctant to join Hollis-Jefferson’s banter. After all, his hair is short.

It was a foreshadowing of where we are today.

Before Jeremy Lin unveiled his new ‘do, he and some of his Nets teammates had talked extensively about something controversial. It wasn’t about kneeling or anything like that. It was Lin seeking help, advice from African-American players on cultural appropriation.

He feared people would think he was appropriating African-American culture if he rocked a dreadlock hairstyle. He feared the majority thinking would be like those of Kenyon Martin, who said in a video, “‘alright bro, we get it. You wanna be black.’”

As usual, Lin handled things with class, with professionalism, and planning. He wrote up an Instagram commentary in response to K-Mart, used kind words, actually tipping his hat to Martin by finishing off his statement with, “Thanks for everything you did for the Nets and hoops… had your poster on my wall growin’ up.”

However, what stood out the most is what happened after the Nets’ 107-88 preseason victory over the Miami Heat, after the controversy overwhelming the game. Just as it appeared Lin’s postgame interview was over, he started discussing the issue. It was heartfelt, bordering on the eloquent.

Like his Instagram post, he didn’t use fighting words. Just the classy ones.

“First, I’d hope that a lot of Asian fans don’t go on his page and say racist things to him. I think that’s not the right way to go about it and I think in a lot of ways to pit us against each other, like, ‘I won versus Kenyon Martin winning.’ I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it. It’s not really about winning or losing. The whole point is that we’re trying to be unified, so I feel like even sometimes when people come to me and say, ‘Oh man you embarrassed him.’ It’s like ‘dude that’s not what this is about.’ Right, that’s not the whole point of this discussion is to pit it into two sides to see who wins. The whole point is that we all have to get on the same page. We need to have people stop going on his page and saying racist things. Like, that’s not OK. That’s what I would say, at the end of the day, kind of like what I said in my article. We just need to spend a little more time thinking about what we say, thinking about what it’s like to be somebody else. At the end of the day he said what he said, but im not really that offended. If that’s how he thinks, that’s how he thinks.

He continued in the same vein. He was talking now not to Martin, but to his fans.

“My job is to be gracious and loving. I think if I can share a little bit of my side, then the next time he might have a different viewpoint. He might have a different viewpoint in a week, but not if my whole fanbase comes behind and calling him – I didn’t see it – but I heard people were saying the ‘n’ word on his page. That’s not what I stand for and that’s not helping us move in the direction we want to move in. And I think both sides need to come together. Then I think like I said in my comment, as minorities if we are able to appreciate it – if Asians are able to be passionate about issues that aren’t just related to Asians. If African Americans are able to be passionate about issues that aren’t just related to African Americans, I think we’ll see something big start to happen. I think we’ll be able to influence mainstream society and that’s the ultimate goal. All this pitting me against him – or whatever that creates division I don’t stand for.”

Now let’s bring it back to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson posting that Snapchat video. Before the controversy. Hollis-Jefferson explained the conversation to NetsDaily.

“When Jeremy started talking about ‘I’m about to do XYZ’ with his hair I looked at him like, ‘oh that’s kind of dope.’ And then I was just like, ‘hey bro, if it makes you feel any better I’ll grow my hair out’. At first he thought it was a joke. He said, ‘ha ha yeah whatever. It’ll take a year or two’. I was like ‘alright, we’re gonna see!’ Then slowly but surely, my hair started growing, kept getting longer, so I was like ‘you think I can get it braided?’ and he was like ‘no way!’ A couple weeks later I come in with the braids and he was like, ‘dude that looks sick.’ It kept growing and kept growing and here we are today. He was serious and he set the appointment. I was super scared (laughs). I told him a couple days before, ‘dude I can’t do it’. But then of course I went and got it done.”

Back to Thursday night. The Nets just won their second preseason game, good vibes are flowing and guys are happy in the locker room. But here is Kenyon Martin, retired for over a year, a former New Jersey Net still much beloved for what he did during the Jason Kidd era. His words represent a bigger issues we face as a society.

Forget the hypocrisy of a player with Chinese characters on his arm. It’s about the bigger picture.

Martin was pushing an agenda and even made a second video. No apologies, no regret. Still, it was Lin’s ultimate response that spoke volumes, both on Instagram and in the locker room. He was humble throughout his explanation, and he actually apologized to reporters for going on a rant.

Here’s what RHJ told NetsDaily:

“The way Jeremy handled it was so so amazing, so professional. He did a better job than me, 100 percent. I feel like we get the principle of it and maybe why Kenyon said something, but at the end of the day, with Jeremy being on the platform and him being able to understand being a minority - understanding the culture just being around us so much - I feel like that message goes a long way with him standing up and speaking about acceptance and cultural diversity and all these other different topics.

He summarized his feelings this way:

“If anybody... Jeremy being the person he is – caring about so many people and as humble as he is. If I had to pick anybody to do it, it would be him.”

Lin never does anything without preparation, without a plan. That’s how he got through Harvard, got to the NBA, and stayed. It’s who he is.

He wrote it in his piece on the Players Tribune. He sought advice from DeMarre Carroll, who has dreadlocks. He got Hollis-Jefferson to get dreadlocks with him.

This is bigger than a hairstyle, Kenyon Martin, or anything like that. It’s what Lin described in his piece, “The difference between ‘not caring what other people think’ and actually trying to walk around for a while in another person’s shoes.” It’s about being comfortable in your own skin as a minority. Lin hopes to preach unity in diversity. This entire situation explained what he was trying to explain in his piece.

“Hey, Jeremy got it done and I support him. Anybody that got a problem with it… I’m Team Jeremy,” Hollis-Jefferson said.

I think a lot of people are.

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