Sports Column by: Anhhai Peter Bui, Asian Avenue magazine
It’s game seven of the NBA finals and it’s tied with six seconds left on the game clock. With no timeouts and the ball in your hands you’re going to have to make a decision that will change your life forever—a moment that will define your basketball career.
You have the ball at the top of the key staring into the determined eyes of your defender you start your dribble with a right to left crossover. The time is ticking: 5-4-3. You fake a drive to your right with the defender on his heels you step back and put up a shot as the clock hits zero. The ball is in the air seemingly for eternity and then… swish! You start running around screaming, “and the crowd goes wild! The crowd goes wild!”
This is a scenario every kid that has ever put his hands on a basketball has either dreamt about or acted out on his driveway with a hoop hanging above the garage, a scenario I’m sure Jeremy Lin has imagined for as long as he could remember and now he has the opportunity to fulfill this childhood dream.
I’m a huge basketball fan and a huge sports fan period. Like most guys I have ESPN permanently stuck on my TV, so when Asian Avenue magazine gave me an opportunity to write about one of the current hottest sports stories, I felt like I was fulfilling one of my own dreams.
But what can I say that hasn’t already been said? You must be living under a rock
if you haven’t heard about one of the best underdog stories of all time. So what angle should I take? The race angle? The underdog? The role model? How about all of the above?
Linsanity began when Jeremy Lin first touched a basketball years before all of the puns started rolling in. Lin being an American born of Chinese-Taiwanese descent is not the stereotypical basketball player, and by stereotypical, I mean he’s Asian. When I was a kid all of my favorite NBA basketball players were black: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Penny Hardaway, Allen Iverson, to name a few. When I dreamt about being a basketball player, I never considered race. It was only as I grew older I realized that there were no Asians in the NBA until Yao Ming. I had no idea who was Wataru Misaka, the actual first Asian-American to play in the NBA in 1947.
I never considered how hard it would be for an Asian-American to make it into the NBA. The thought never crossed my mind, and that’s one of the reasons that make Lin’s story so great.
Ever since he was young he had to prove he could play. College coaches will tell you when they look at players and see he’s black, he probably has raw athletic talent and if he’s white, he’s probably fundamentally sound and a good shooter. To say they even looked at Lin is an understatement. At that point, it seemed like if you were Asian and you wanted to play in the NBA, you had to be abnormally tall like Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian (not to discredit either of them because they were and are great players). Unfortunately Yao was cut down at his prime having to retire due to injury and perhaps missing his opportunity to cement his place as an NBA great but that’s a whole other story.
A common knock on both of those players is that they are “soft,” insinuating that they were not aggressive enough and couldn’t handle strong physical contact despite being seven feet plus in height. So when coaches looked at Lin who is every bit of 6’3” and a solid 200 pounds, they likely presumed “he’s only 6’3”, doesn’t look very athletic and is probably soft,” but anyone who has seen him play knows that that is far from the truth.
So what did Lin have to do? Lead his Palo Alto High School basketball team as its captain to a California Division II state championship with a 32-1 record his senior year? Or be named first team All-State and the Northern California Division II player of the Year? Nope. None of that made a difference and not even nearby colleges gave him a look. If Jeremy was black, maybe he would have had a full-ride athletic scholarship to a college basketball powerhouse like the University of North Carolina or UCLA. It’s impossible to say but none of that deterred him; he decided to play basketball at an academic powerhouse, Harvard.
Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships and if they don’t care that much to give athletic scholarships, they probably won’t show any leniency to student athletes who have the double duty of sports responsibilities and that of academic work. At Harvard he helped the team set several records and during his senior year he was nominated for the Bob Cousy award and the John R. Wooden award, all the while graduating with a degree in economics.
Lin’s college numbers rival those of top NBA draft prospects and with a huge game against the University of Connecticut, Lin gains national attention. As usual Lin’s achievement goes overlooked and in spring of 2010, The New York Times described Lin as “a smart passer with a flawed jump shot and a thin frame, who might not have the strength and athleticism to defend, create his own shot or finish at the rim in the NBA.” These are of course the stereotypes that are usually appointed to Asian athletes.
Lin’s achievements draw the attention of the Dallas Mavericks, and he receives an invitation to play in the 2010 NBA summer D-League. He plays exceptionally well, earning him a free agent contract with the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, nearby his hometown of Palo Alto. There he doesn’t play well, possibly due to the added pressure of having so many of his fans at home games, but he watches his opportunity fade and is waived to make cap space. He plays in the D-League and then gets picked up by the Houston Rockets in December 2011 only to be waived again.
The New York Knicks were probably the last team Lin could imagine playing for and with all of his recent disappointments it’s a wonder why he didn’t quit, but with the Knicks’ struggles and injuries at the point guard position they claim him off the waiver. Once he received his opportunity to play, he played incredibly on one of the world’s biggest stages in New York, which many consider to be the basketball mecca—and the rest they say is recent history.
I don’t think Lin ever viewed himself as an underdog, which is evident in the way he plays with confidence and with a chip on his shoulder. I believe he wouldn’t have been as great of a player without going through all of these obstacles. If he wasn’t Asian and given all the opportunities that should’ve been afforded to him perhaps he might have squandered them.
His God given talents and the fact that he is Asian are the driving factors to motivate him to prove himself every game and hopefully he continues to do so.
Being Asian has actually been a huge advantage for Lin, and he has put Asian Americans on the map. He went from being completely overlooked to now being compared to the best players who have ever played the game, which may be a little premature, but I hope it happens—and he lives out the dream of every kid who has ever dribbled a basketball.