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Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 at 12:56 pm  |  46 responses

Defying All Odds

Jeremy Lin isn’t a gimmick.

by Ben Sin / @bennymeter

There’s an early scene in the 1992 cult classic White Men Can’t Jump that Jeremy Lin – along with probably quite a few Asian American ballers – can relate to. The scene in question saw Woody Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle, supposedly just a spectator in the stands, being picked out by Sidney Deane (played by Wesley Snipes) to play for an opposing team simply because, Deane assumed, that Hoyle was a chump based on his skin color.

Lin told SFGate.com two years ago that growing up as a Chinese baller, he was always dismissed: picked last, deemed too short, and getting the MJ-first-All-Star-game freezeout treatment when he did played. Things got a bit better when he became captain of the Harvard team and led the Crimson to one of its better seasons in recent history. But still. It’s the Ivy League, many thought. “It’s a sport for White and Black people,”Jeremy Lin Lin said then.

All that changed for Lin when, on a cold December night, he dropped 30 points on UConn. Buzz about “that Chinese kid” started picking up, and soon profiles and features appeared on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and even Time Magazine.

Over in Taiwan, where Lin’s parents hailed from, media frenzy snowballed – Lin’s relatives were sought out and interviewed. Asian American communities paid extra attention to the 6-3 kid, with fan sites and customized YouTube videos popped up all over the net. For other basketball diehards, it would seem Lin had pulled a Gilbert-Arenas-in-’06 or Anthony-Randolph-in-’09 type of overnight jump from underrated to overrated.

Lin went undrafted after graduation, but the Dallas Mavericks Summer League Team gave him a spot on the roster. Of course, the novelty of his skin color was a topic everywhere he went. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to assume that was the sole reason for the invite.

But it all changed again, for a second time, when Lin dueled No. 1 pick John Wall and more than held his own during a summer league game. The buzz started again, could Lin make the NBA? After a few more solid performances, Lin defied the odds and signed with the Golden State Warriors on July 20, 2010.

For Taiwanese basketball fans, Chinese-American ballers, and hell, just about all Chinese in general, Lin making it to the NBA is a big deal. It’s not just the fact that a Chinese dude is balling against the best in the world… it’s how he’s doing it. Most Asian faces in the NBA before him were hulking giants who made the League almost exclusively due to their height. The fact that Lin is doing it with explosive drives, smooth handles, pesky defense, and – a true rarity for Asians – dunks, brought a sense of pride and enthusiasm, to the Chinese.

The stereotype that Chinese are generally inferior athletes in America is the elephant in the room that mainstream media can’t tackle. But on blogs, and in conversation between friends, Lin making it to the League is widely considered as the first attempt to kick that elephant out.

But can he? While many in the Asian American community have taken the signing with a sense of pride, most notably the Banana Times’ Why Jeremy Lin Matters blog entry (selected by Yahoo Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie as one of the 10 best basketball blog entries of the week recently), there are skeptics. William Vuong, a 28-year-old former basketball standout at Alhambra High School in California, says Lin’s signing is a gimmick.

“I want a Chinese baller to make it because of skills, not because he sells tickets and products,” says the 2000 Alpine League First Teamer. Vuong says he watched every Summer League game, and, although Lin is good, he isn’t “NBA good.”

“If the Warriors needed a point guard, why not Sherrod Collins from Kansas?,” he asks, adding that Collins is a proven winner from one of the top programs in the nation. “Anyone who thinks the Warriors, who was recently sold and is based in a city with one of the largest Asian American community in the US, didn’t sign Lin for merchandise and ticketing sales is tripping.”

Whether or not Lin’s signing is driven by an agenda to boost ticket sales and buzz is up for debate, but the move has undoubtedly caused a positive reaction for the NBA in Taiwan. Chris Wang, a veteran sports journalist and current columnist for NBA.com in Taiwan, says Lin’s signing has increased interest in the League, although he isn’t sure if it’s increased enthusiasm for basketball in general, because Wang argues tJeremy Linhat, “pound for pound, Taiwanese basketball fans love of the game surpasses those in China.”

Lin and his family (parents and two brothers) appeared in an NBA-organized press conference in Taiwan less than 10 days after the signing. Hailed as “the first Taiwan player in the NBA,” Lin received a hero’s welcome at the press conference.

Back in the US, where Asian American basketball leagues can be found in all major cities, Lin’s emergence has given a sense of hope for aspiring Chinese ballers. Ren Hsieh, commissioner of the Fast Break NYC basketball league, says almost all Asian American ballers in his league have feel proud and inspired. But Hsieh takes a cautious approach. “Let’s wait and see how he plays first before we label him the Great Yellow Hope,” he says.

Garron Chiu, who wrote the Why Jeremy Lin Matters piece in Banana Times, argues that “[Lin] will be an important stepping stone in proving that Asians have got game too, whether it be in dominating all-star games or contributing 10 minutes off the bench.”

With Nike Taiwan reportedly in talks to create a show based on Lin and Taiwan media sending reporters to the Bay Area for day-to-day in-season coverage, Lin’s upcoming season could play a big part in whether or not the Chinese-can’t-ball stereotype stay strong or take a (minor) dent. Regardless, basketball is about to reach an even higher profile in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.

Yeung Dong-yuen of NBA Taiwan says Lin’s emergence has inspired basketball playing youth in the country to believe. “It’s a long shot to make it to the League,” he says. “But Lin proved it’s not impossible.”

“Asian Americans have never really believed they could make it to the NBA,” says Hsieh. “I know I dreamt about it, but it was never serious.”

Lin has finally, Hsieh adds, added legitimacy to the dream.

Ben Sin is a California-raised, Hong Kong-based journalist currently writing for the South China Morning Post. His true passion, some say obsession, is basketball. Visit his blog at therearenoroads.wordpress.com.

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  • The Philosopher

    He’s better than Sun Yue.

  • MIke Li

    Who the hell is William Vuong to comment on the validity of Jeremy’s signing. I’m glad he had a successful high school basketball career, but his point of view is clearly not as credible as the many general managers who tried to sign Lin. I think its disappointing that the author would recognize this unfounded gimmick theory with no better evidence than a no name high school standout.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    William Vuong is probably just a little jealous. From what I remember, it wasn’t just Golden State hoping to sign Lin. Amoung the teams were Lakers, Dallas, and some others.
    I know I’ve been ecstatic about the Lin signing, but I also want to see him play in the League before hyping him up anymore. Hopefully he’ll get the playing time to prove himself.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Co-sign niQ. What a stupid thing for William Vuong to say.
    Great read, Ben!

  • Ben

    Guys, please don’t bash Mr Vuong. He isn’t the only one who feels that way. I had to tell both sides of the story.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Good stuff, Ben. Thanks.

  • Chris

    He’s not a gimmick yet the main thing people talk about is that he is Asian American. Otherwisen Mm he’s just another ball player no? Like the Iranian center on Memphis.

  • dew

    Don’t deny that Mr. Vuong has a point. Dallas, LA, the Bay Area, are all regions with a large Asian-American populations. Signing to any of those teams would bolster ticket sales and stir up excitement based on the race card. Being from the Bay Area myself as well as being a long suffering Warriors fan, I’m excited about the potential of Jeremy Lin, but don’t forget that the NBA is a business and making money is #1. Lacob/Guber will be no different from Cohan, it’s all about the cash money, dollar dollar bills.

  • dabaldchino

    Ben,
    Good article. It’s good to mention both sides of the story. There are legitimate doubts about the motivation of the Warriors. They have new ownership and they are trying to turn the corner and start a new era for the franchise and signing Lin is only a positive PR move for them. The Bay Area and Cali (LA, San Jose)in general is a hot bed of asian american bball players, leagues and teams. There are tons of high quality Division 1 level talent and a ton or organized youth teams and leagues. I was born and raised and played BBall all my life here in NYC. I wish I grew up in San Fran or LA, I think I would have definitely had a Division 1 or at least Division 2 scholarship. So, what the Warriors are trying to take advantage of this. I’ve been to Warriors game when visiting San Fran from when CWebb was on that team up to last year and there is a ton of Asians in the stands. I’ve talked to many of them and they all are very dedicated and knowledgeable fans. Most of them were fans since the Run TMC days with Mullin, Hardaway, Mitch and Sarunas Marciulionis. A lot of them played either back in Asia and in San Fran and a lot of them coach as well.
    I think Jeremy will get a legit shot at getting playing time b/c Nellie loves to find diamonds in the rough and make unknowns legit NBA players. Nellie, if he likes you, will be a great coach for Jeremy. In practice he will go up against Monta, Curry, Bell and get killed. But hopefully Nellie will like his moxie and fearlessness and keep on teaching him. At the worse he goes to D-League. Right now he is good enough to play in Europe either in Spain, Italy, Greece of France. He’s not good enough of a shooter to make a Euroleague team, yet but he’s good enough for a Eurocup team. The problem I see with that is his motivation to go that route. Does he really want to play for a living in Europe? I would think a Chinese team, ie Shanghai Sharks, Guangdong Tigers or Shanxi will offer him a contract, if he doesn’t stick in the NBA and he declines a European team. I am very excited to see how his game develops and all of this shakes out. I going to try my best and go to a Warrior game in San Fran, hopefully he will get some PT.
    All of this started last year, when Harvard beat Boston College, he destroyed Tyrese Rice. Al Skinner and Tyrese said he can play but many dismissed it as a fluke, But they played again this year and they won again and he had a good game. Then the UConn game and it blew up from there. It was obvious Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker was not expecting him to be that fast, quick and athletic. The whole team and even Calhoun was surprised even after he had that coast to coast drive and two handed slam. They never seen/played against a 6’2″ asian kid with that level of quickness, hops and handle. He was in a great situation at Harvard, Tommy Ammaker is a real good coach and he truly believed in him, he gave Jeremy free reign on the team. Tommy b/c of his Duke background and connections convinced NBA scouts and people that Jeremy was worth giving a shot.
    He needs to get stronger, tighten up his handle and improve his jump shot.

  • ystrrt

    Ben Sin, you need to be consistent with the wordings of your article. You keep switching between Chinese and Asian. He is what he is ethnically but this isn’t about “chinese-american or chinese” in general it is about Asian American there is a huge difference between the two.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Good intelligent piece. Question, what are the qualifications for an Asian American League? Are there quotas?

  • onlyclipsfanonslam

    hmmm how is it that the author believes that dunking is rarely seen by Asian ballers. When the two most prominent ones, Yi and Yao, do it all the time. Other than that good article on an underdog anyone can enjoy to root for

  • total scrotal implosion

    I was wondering that too allen. I havent heard of a league like that, and if they only allow asians, then thats racist and ppl should be up in arms about it like they were when some guy wanted to have a whites only league. He was forced to drop that, but asain only leagues are fine? Hypocricy, thy name is you. ……… And lets see what the kid can do before judging his worth

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ dew: We aren’t denying that there is a huge, largely untapped fanbase of Chinese/Asian-Americans in the Bay Area, which, by signing Lin, boosts the Warriors’ marketability. But they wouldn’t have signed him if he couldn’t play–and this ONLY works if Lin plays WELL. So yes, he IS obviously good enough to make the NBA. Otherwise, a rebuilding franchise wouldn’t have signed him for 2 years if they didn’t think he could help them.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ total scrotal implosion: Completely different I’m guessing, but okay…?

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Nah Teddy, it’s not completely different, but there are some differences.
    Any league that prohibits people based on race is problematic.
    Black only, white only, latino only, asian only. That is a problem no matter who you slice it.
    Now, in international ball there are regularly quotas about how many foreigners, can play on teams, which protects a certain number of slots for homegrown talent.
    I personally find that distasteful, but I understand that these foreign teams don’t believe they can convince fans to come watch second tier Americans play instead of their own countrymen.
    Any American league that is restricted by race is racist. Period.

  • lowblow

    asian americans (and canadians) stand up!

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    I’m pretty sure you can still play in an Asian American league if you’re not asian…

  • Drew

    Lin can ball. I can’t wait to see him play this year for GSW.

  • dabaldchino

    Before Yao, Yi, Wang Zhi Zhi, Sun Yue and even Yuta Tabuse, there was several guards/small forwards that had tryouts and legit shots to make the nba. There was Ma Jian, there was Hui Weidong, there was Chen Hsin-an or Sean Chen and there was Liu Wei.
    Ma Jian was the pioneer, he defied the Chinese govt to play here and then trying out for the Clips. I saw him play at the yearly Chinese Nationals in Toronto. Legit 6’6″ strong, good shooter, really nice guy. But just wasnt quick enough to guard and go by nba level players. He could have went to Europe but choose to go back to China. Hui Weidong actually was offered a by Dallas, Donn Nelson (Nellie’s son) was coaching the Chinese National team at the time while working for Dallas. Hu was probably the best Chinese guard, smart, athletic, quick, good defender, good shooter. He’s a legend in China. He got injured and could play for the Mavs, then in 2000 he want tried out in Orlando and Doc Rivers was impressed and offered him a ten day contract but he got hurt again. Chen Hsin-An is arguably the best Taiwanese player, 6’5″ quick,athletic, got hops, decent shooter he was in the Kings camp but got cut. He wasnt a good enough shooter. I encourage all of you to look these names up online and you will see the history of Chinese ballers in the NBA. But what makes Jeremy special in my eyes is, he’s Asian-American, he grew up here in the US. He was schooled and played on the playgrounds here just like me and a lot of us.
    He’s 6’2″ – 6’3″ and is a guard. When you are that size and you play on asian teams here in the US you become a post player b/c most of us like me are 5’9″.

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    allenp,
    most asian leagues allow anyone to play regardless of ethnicity. they just dub it “asian” cause the majority of people that participate are asian. as for quotas, every league has different criteria for joining. for example, most will cap the maximum height at 6 feet because asians in general aren’t that tall. asian leagues that have no height limit are actually pretty diverse, but the majority of the players are still asian (like 60% or so).
    this is all from what i’ve experienced and heard (i’m filipino and live in the bay area)

  • http://thephotoriot.com davidR

    ben, it’s interesting you bring up arenas and randolph as unknown players who show flashes of skill and become overated quickly. the warriors have a knack for finding unknown talent. i think we’re all very curious to see how lin pans out. his game looks pretty fundamental, and like some people here mentioned he’s going up against curry and monta everyday in practice. i think he’ll do fine.

  • zxcvb

    If Lin was just a PR move, why didn’t Golden State draft him? Why didn’t they invite him to Summer League? Why were they only one of the several teams interested in signing him? Lin had to earn it and then some. Will GS promote the hell out of his background (part of which is his Harvard and hometown pedigree, not just his race)? Of course. But that PR stuff is only possible because he can play. Listen to Lacob’s take on him — he’s watched Lin since high school and wondered how Stanford didn’t offer.

    As for this Vuong guy — the fact that he cites Sherron Collins as an alternative makes his opinion laughable. I wish Collins the best of luck, but he is undersized, overweight, and less skilled than Lin. In fact, there’s a YouTube vid of Lin and Collins working out for Memphis — first Lin blows past Collins for a dunk, and then Lin lays a bucket up and over Collins. As for being a “winner” — I guess that was someone else’s Kansas losing to NORTHERN IOWA in the 2nd round.

  • http://www.shawnkemp.com Masr

    And this is why I love being mixed race.

  • T-Money

    Allenp: just a nuance, euro teams discriminate on nationality and not ethnicity. people of all colours can be euro citizens working in the schengen zone. that’s a HUGE difference.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    very written article accompanied by intelligent comments. thanks.
    definitely excited to watch him play. hopefully he’ll get some quality PT (if Nellie doesn’t play Ellis 48 minutes again…)

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ Allenp: –> Referring you to niQ’s and davidR’s comments. That was exactly what I was thinking–I wasn’t 100% sure but I definitely knew of Asian leagues that allowed non-Asians to join.

  • DHW

    Great article, Benny. Although I don’t agree with Vuong completely, He does have a good point. It is difficult not to overlook the fact that the Lin signing is based purely on his potential to succeed in the NBA. Under the circumstances, you can’t blame one for speculating the true motive in signing Lin (new ownership in GS eager to bring in large revenue and the location of team where there’s a large Asian population). No one is certain on how Lin will turn out as a pro, so Vuong’s opinion is not completely baseless. However, I think GS made a smart move in signing Lin because it does seem like there’s a “dual intention” motive – boosting their tix/merchandise sales and at the same time giving the team a shot at stealing an undrafted talent. Well done, GS.

  • Young C

    Jeremy Lin will be a good nba player.

  • tavoris

    can’t help but root got Jeremy Lin. He seems like a good dude. I could root for him more if they hurry up and fire Don Nelsoon

  • magic32

    Lin will sell jersey’s in the Bay,and China no doubt. He is a good PR signing on the surface on a blatant level. However, He was signed too because he can ball. New Owner Joe Lacob, recently said in an interview that Lin played against his son in high school bay area B ball and has been watching Lin for years now. He is a Stanford Alumn with Pull and even lobbied for Stanford to draft Lin to play PG.

    He said Stanford was stupid for not signing the local kid who was blowing up the spot, and essentially unguardable. He said this on print.
    Mentioning that He is aware that although Lin possesses some very good ball control and quickness and a High BBall IQ, he needs to work on his jump shot to earn minutes.
    He knows his game well. Besides, and don’t two of the best point guards to play the game hail from the streets of San Fran and Oakland respectively?
    hmm, could they be Jason Kidd and Gary Payton?
    There is no reason with some hard work and playing time, Lin can be a quality NBA player and carve his own place in B ball history as well.

  • jcoo

    lace up William Vuong.. im coming at YOU too! how dare he throw blows at sucha humble kid who DOES have the talent..

  • DL

    It’s fine to tell both sides of the story. I find it frustrating that fellow Asian-Americans don’t support Jeremy Lin though. I’ve watch Jeremy Lin in high school and followed his career throughout college.

    Even though I WANT him to succeed, I’m realistic that he may not last in the league. Yet, I don’t understand Asian-Americans who doubt Jeremy Lin before he’s even gotten onto the court!

    Fortunately though, Jeremy Lin doesn’t care. He knows he’s an underdog and it doesn’t matter if everyone hated on him. That is the one reason I think he will succeed. He works hard and will make the best of his abilities.

  • Ronald

    Hmm…aren’t people here taking the concept of racism a bit too far? Do people here boycott clubs in College that are based upon where you are from? (Filipino Society, Chinese Society?)

  • Quantumphysix

    Lets jusy say i hope the NBA loves you long time….

  • Ronald

    I love it’s written that most Asians made it to the NBA mainly due to their height. Yeah, sure, let’s ignore the fact that Yao is one of the best shooting big men to ever play. The fact that Yi has all-world athleticism and is able to shoot/handle better than most. Big Stiffs is used to describe players like Shawn Bradly, Calvin Booth, Chris Dudley, Olowakandi and the other players who had no business being on an NBA court except for their size.

  • JD

    I can probably name a few current (sub) players on NBA roster spots who are not better than this kid right now. Can’t wait to see this kid play – it’s gonna be awesome! and please the Media, don’t go bombarding on this kid to make him lose his focus now – jeeez

  • http://gregoden.com roybot

    Lin deserved to get a chance at the NBA regardless of his race because hes athletic and does it all. Lin is in a class of his own, and most non-Asian-Americans dont understand why hes not the same as Yao and Yi Jianlian. Its because hes Asian-AMERICAN and NOT just an Asian import player. Hes bringing hope to all us Asian-Americans who dont try to breed giants like they did over in China. This is a great thing not only for the NBA, but its a step towards American sports eliminating its stereotype that “either your black or your white if your in a professional league. If not your probably from Europe or from China. You cant be an American-born Asian and be that good at sports.”

  • todddd

    @allenp 4:21 asian leagues aren’t strictly asian, they do allow other races, but generally most of the rosters is asian otherwise you won’t get invited to some tournaments. they basically started cause some asians weren’t getting pt in high school

    & cosign roybot

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    thanks for the info on the Asian leagues. That’s what I assumed initially, but I just wanted to be sure.
    T-MOney, thanks for clarifying that for me.
    To be clear, I have NO problem with groups forming their own leagues or clubs based on race, or height or whatever. I DO have a problem when you restrict admission to those groups based on those same characteristics.
    So, I fully support Asians getting together and forming leagues to play against each other. I don’t support them preventing other races from participating. I think that’s an important line not to cross.

  • arjae828

    uhhm…didn’t the lakers just sign an asian american guard last season or 2 seasons ago? and am i wrong or is there waaay too much pressure being put on dude? seems like he’s gettin Yao type press. almost feel sorry for him.

  • http://dsfjklf.com Jukai

    arjae828: Sun Yue was straight from China, bro. Wasn’t American at all.
    I didn’t really care at all for Lin when he was in college, but now I want him to succeed so bad. Show the world yer worth, kid.

  • DL

    I write a few personal blogs. I need to blog about this Asian-American basketball league thing because most non-Asian folks don’t understand the history. The folks that posted are correct. The majority of Asian-American leagues that I am aware of (in the SF Bay Area) are essentially open leagues with majority Asians playing but a good number of other ethnic groups playing.

    I’m not 100% sure if what todddd said is correct. I do know for sure that one of the OLDEST Asian-American leagues (Japanese) dates back to the 1930′s. If you think about those times, Asians were not the most welcome people in the USA. Why did Chinatown and other ethnic enclaves formed? It was because people wanted to have a support structure with more familiar people around them. The same could be said for athletics.

    As the years have gone on, these leagues have persisted into tradition. There are leagues and tournaments that have gone on for 30+ years and in the Bay Area are just cultural norms, though they HAVE evolved to having non-Asians play as well.

    The other factor is something people don’t discuss much. The fact is, before Yao or Yi, Asians are not typically known for being big and tall. Asians felt they were at a competitive disadvantage against other players who were bigger and taller. Thus, Asian leagues were great for you competed against players who were closer to your own size.

    Things have changed though and Asians are bigger these days. I can’t play anywhere in leagues or pick up games without seeing tall guys somewhere.

  • eDogg

    what in the world is Mr. Will Vuong smoking? Must be some good stuff that he is inhaling. Jeremy Lin is legit. Not too many ballers can drop 30 pts, 9 rbs, 3 dimes, 3 stls and 2 blks against the huskies (which was ranked 13th at the time when they played). Jeremy Lin was even on the honorable mention in the summer league. I really hope Jeremy Lin does well in Nellie’s wacky offense style of playing. He represents hope for the asian american ballers.

  • http://NBA.com Akara

    Mr.Vuong is wrong …

    I have watched NBA games for about 16 years now, I also saw Jeremy Lin plays in summer league. I say Jeremy can play in the NBA.. He got skills..

    Many GM gonna regret it for not darfting Lin..

    Golden State did a great job signing Lin…

  • Taiwanese vs Chinese

    Whether Mr.Vuong is right or wrong, it doesn’t matter because Jeremy Lin will get to prove himself. The NBA is also a business, so if the owner wants to sign a player just to sell tickets that’s his prerogative. It all comes down to if Jeremy can play or not. The hype is already here, Jeremy Lin was not getting this much attention prior to playing in the summer league.

    He made a few headlines here and there, but the majority of Asian-Americans hopped on the bandwagon after watching his John Wall video. He wasn’t even guarding him until the 4th quarter either.

    Let’s be real here, Jeremy Lin is a great story but obviously being Asian-American hurt him being recruited in college but at the NBA level where it’s also a business…it has helped him. Nothing wrong with that.

    Also of course, with Jeremy Lin getting into the spotlight of course the proud “Taiwanese” are going to claim him and say “He’s not CHinese”. Funny how things work when someone becomes famous and people start trying to claim him.

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