Growing up as a Chinese American and as an avid Eagles Fan, I’ve always seen sports as a two-sided mirror. On one hand, they bring out the best in people – watching backup QB Nick Foles lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2017 would be considered one of the greatest moments of my life, easily. However, sports can be a reflection on our society’s values and the deep, ugly truth that lies within the people.
Eight years ago, an un-drafted Chinese American point guard shined as New York City’s brightest light and became an inspiration in the sports world for many Asians like myself. However, his journey has been twisted and shaped by scouts, coaches, and teammates, which have prevented him from truly thriving in the NBA.
Jeremy Shu-How Lin was born in Torrance, California to two Taiwanese immigrants. As a teenager, Lin thrived at Palo Alto High School, as he led his team to a 32-1 record and was named to first-team All-State. Yet despite his accomplishments, both colleges and NBA teams failed to recognize his talent as he went undrafted in 2010. After bouncing around teams like the Warriors and the Rockets, Lin signed with the New York Knicks for the 2011 season.
The Knicks, armed with weapons like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, struggled as 2012 came around, going 8-13 in their first 21 games. After injuries to multiple players on the team, the Knicks hesitantly gave Lin a chance to start. Quickly, the undrafted point guard rose in the NBA world.
25 points, 7 assists against the Nets. 28 points, 9 assists against the Jazz. 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. A game-winning three pointer against Toronto. By mid-February, the Knicks had gone on a seven-game win streak, and the “Linsanity” was in full force. Lin’s play attracted many Asian Americans to tune into NBA games. Much of the community began to be inspired by how a Chinese American was dominating the headlines. However, Lin’s successes were met with criticism. After a poor game against Lebron James and the Heat, ESPN published an article called “A Chink In The Armor”, a direct use of an offensive racial slur. While playing in away games, Lin heard derogatory phrases like “Open your eyes!” and “Go back to China” from opposing fans. Though such discrimination lessened during his time with the Knicks, much of Lin’s life had already been plagued with racist acts.
In high school and college, many scouts emphasized that Lin was an un-athletic player. However, Rockets GM Daryl Morey admitted in The Undoing Project that Lin performed very well at his pre-draft workout, and despite these results, scouts continued to believe that he was un-athletic. Morey notes that he “can’t think of any reason for it other than he was Asian.” After his season with the Knicks, Lin has since bounced around the league primarily as a backup. Though he eventually won a championship with the Raptors in 2019, Lin eventually moved to the CBA due to a lack of opportunity in the NBA for him, where he plays as of now.
Like many other Asian American activists, Lin’s life has been shaped by harmful discrimination from critics. Yet, despite these clear disadvantages, Jeremy Lin overcame his critics and shattered all expectations. As an undrafted player, he brought the Knicks back into the playoffs and broke stereotypes on his athletic ability. As an international icon, he continues to use his position to promote Asians in the basketball world. Though Linsanity may have been short lived, Jeremy Lin’s impact on the NBA has paved the way for Asian Americans to be represented in the sport and entertainment world.
Author: Devin Wu
In Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
We are bringing you the stories of inspirational Asian Americans from history.
5/30/20 - The Exceptional Example Ronald Takaki Set
5/27/20 - The Incredible Legacy of Kalpana Chawla
5/26/20 - When Marrying a Non-American Meant Losing Your Citizenship
5/25/20 - Honoring the 442nd Infantry Regiment
5/24/20- A Glimpse at Asian-Americans in Hollywood -- Miyoshi Umeki
5/22/20 - The Oriental Schools of San Fransisco
5/21/20 - Equality For All Colors - Yick Wo v. Hopkins
5/20/20 - An End To Police Brutality: Peter Yew's Stand
5/19/20 - Finding His Form: Linsanity in 2012
5/18/20 - Internment and Injustice: Fred T. Korematsu
5/17/20 - The Courageous Stand of Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo
5/16/20 - The Unbreakable Spirit of Wong Kim Ark
5/15/20- The Admirable Perseverance of Patsy Takemoto Mink
5/13/20 - The Lasting Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs
5/12/20-Remembering "The Forgotten" -- The Chinese migrants who built America's first Transcontinental railroad
5/11/20 - The Singing Neurosurgeon: Dr. Ayub Ommaya