Now that Jeremy Lin's recent subpar performances have rendered him only human and not some superhero swooping in - with deceptive speed, of course - to save the New York Knicks, maybe we'll finally leave him alone.

But I doubt it.

Because even more than a superhero, we love a good rags-to-riches sports story. Add to the mix that Lin is the first Chinese American to play in the National Basketball Association and you've got a recipe for fanaticism.

Got to admit that Lin's story is the stuff dreams are made of: Overlooked for college scholarships, passed over in the draft, he was sleeping on his brother's couch waiting for a shot in the NBA when . . . it came. Inserted at point guard in the Knicks' injury-riddled lineup, Lin, miracle of miracles, led New York to a 9-3 record in spectacular, give-me-the-damn-ball, buzzer-beating fashion.

What's the probability? Well, Lin could probably answer that, seeing as how he majored in economics at Harvard.

Masks for masculinity

Truth is, as diverse a nation as we are, we're still fascinated by examples of racial exceptionalism, says Murali Balaji, one of the authors of Global Masculinities, an anthology examining notions of manhood and masculinity.

"We celebrate when people do what they're not expected to do," says Balaji, a professor of mass communications at Lincoln University. "Asian men are not supposed to be able to compete in sports."

Let alone have a little swagger, as the 6-foot-3 Lin does. He certainly challenges all of our preconceived notions of manhood, categorized by race.

You know. White men win, Asians are nerds, Latinos and African Americans are chest-thumping macho men.

The media reinforce those images with code words, Balaji says. "How many times have you heard [sportscasters] say of black athletes, 'He's a beast,' while they describe Jeremy Lin as a 'hardworking gym rat'? Or, 'more athletic than he appears'? The dominant culture is prevalent in defining the other."

What's troubling is that, in a lot of cases, men have co-opted the code to identify themselves.

In Jamaica, says Maurice Hall, professor of communications at Villanova University, black men tend to be intensely homophobic because of internalized ideas of what supermasculinity should be.

"Gay-bashing is seen as a mask of authentication," says Hall, another of the authors of Global Masculinities. "It means there is such a thin definition of what it means to be a man. There are no options."

(The fact that I've debated this issue with black guys who wear pierced earrings and jeans slung lower than my most daring hip-huggers is an irony not lost on me.)

The wrong flavor

Lin blew up, and the lazy puns came. "Linsanity!" "Lincredible!" "Just Lin Time," screamed the covers of the New York tabloids.

After that, I knew it was truly only a matter of time before stabs at cleverness crossed the line into insensitivity.

Sure enough, the racial slights followed. A sports columnist's tweet made fun of Lin's anatomy. Ben and Jerry's, the socially conscious maker of ice cream, apologized for creating a Lin-sanity flavor flecked with pieces of fortune cookies.

For his part, Lin has taken the over-the-top accolades as well as the ignorant slurs in stride. I admire his - dare I say it? - humility.

"Obviously, when you look at me, I'm going to have to prove myself more so again and again and again, and some people may not believe it," Lin said at the NBA All-Star game last week. "I know a lot of people say I'm deceptively athletic and deceptively quick, and I'm not sure what's deceptive. It could be the fact that I'm Asian American."

Paradoxically, Lin "challenges and conforms to every stereotype about Asian men," says Balaji, who is of South Asian descent.

Which, refreshingly, makes Lin impossible to put in a box.

So what do we do?

"Let's not label him," suggests Balaji. "Let's just call him what he is, which is a very good basketball player."