Undrafted To Talk of The League
Jeremy Lin has, at the moment, revived New York basketball.
by Ben Sin
Last Saturday, for the first time in perhaps several months, the Garden came alive. And the Knick who was largely responsible was not Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler—each of whom arrived in New York with much fanfare. Instead, the man who mesmerized the Garden and, for a night, injected much buzz and excitement to what has, so far, been a disappointing season, was Taiwanese-American Jeremy Lin.
Lin came off the bench to drop 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds, outplaying Deron Williams along the way to lead his Knicks to a much-needed victory.
Shortly after the final buzzer, as Madison Square Garden blasted Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and the 23-year-old Harvard graduate was hugged by teammates, Lin’s name started trending on Twitter. For a good 24 hours. By Monday morning—around the same time Mike D’Antoni announced his decision to start Lin—his mug was plastered on the front page of the Knick’s website.
Then, on Monday night, in his first career start, Lin gave an encore: 28 points, 8 assists; another victory—this time with an MVP chant.
Lin has, at the moment, revived vigor in New York basketball.
Despite the fanfare, knowledgeable basketball minds know Lin is still a defensive liability, and the Knicks are still a deeply flawed team without a real shot at the 2012 title.
But for the Asian-American demographic, Lin’s explosion meant more than an uptick in the Knick’s win column. It resonated with Asian-Americans on a macro scope.
I know because I’m part of the demographic.
I’m a Chinese-American with a deep love—no, more like obsession—with basketball. I grew up in an Asian-dominated suburb in Los Angeles playing pickup games four to five nights a week and I spent my very first paycheck, from a part-time job after school, on Jumpsoles (it didn’t work).
For my fellow Asian basketball-loving friends and I, we always knew there was a ceiling for what we could do, and where we could go, with the game. When our high school team—consisting almost exclusively of Asians and Hispanics—won the league championship in 2000—we celebrated knowing that was the end, that we had no shot to go anywhere in the CIF playoffs, where teams from Los Angeles, with black guys, played.
That last sentence may come off a bit blunt. But that was the unspoken notion, a tacit agreement among us. That we have our own recreational leagues (Asian leagues) across the country is further avowal of that fact.
Yao Ming, as good as he was, was never one of us. He’s 7-5 and something of a product of the communist Chinese government.
Again, this goes beyond basketball. Asian-American males, for the most part, face unflattering characterizations in America. The traits usually ascribed to Asians—studious, timid, quiet, soft facial features, slender physique—are not considered desirable or attractive in men.
I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining too much here. After all, there are far worse stereotypes than being compliant, hardworking and highly adept at mathematics, and we’re a generally respected demographic. But still, we’ve never been associated with cool.
So for Lin to be the best (offensive) player and hero in two straight games, at the highest level of basketball, in the world’s most famous arena, is a breakthrough for the Asian-American male in American society.
On Saturday and Monday night, 20,000 people at the Garden chanted his name. Had the Giants lost the Superbowl, Jeremy Lin would be, hands down, the most popular athlete in New York City right now. Imagine that?
Ben Sin is a New York based freelance writer with regular contributions to the Wall Street Journal and South China Morning Post.