Friday, February 5, 2010

T.G.I.F.: Jeremy Lin, potential future NBA draft pick

This really should NOT be a T.G.I.F. (The Great Impossible Feat). An Asian American playing Division I basketball. And yet, the number of Asian American sports figures who don't lace up skates is pretty small. [Aside: bonus points if you can actually name an Asian American skater aside from Michelle Kwan or Kristi Yamaguchi] Miniscule, in fact. And I do mean Asian AMERICAN--so you don't get to count Yao Ming or Hideo Nomo.

So let me introduce you to Jeremy Lin.

He is a senior Economics major at Harvard University, who grew up in Palo Alto, CA, the son of two Taiwanese immigrants who studied computer engineering (dad, Gie-Ming) and computer science (mom, Shirley) and is the co-leader of a campus bible study group. He also happens to be a point guard for the Crimson and is their best chance at a berth in the Big Dance (the NCAA Basketball championship), which the Harvard Crimson have not attended in 64 years. Most remarkably, according to Sports Illustrated, last season "Lin was the only player in the nation last season ranked in the top 10 of every major statistical category in his conference."

Why haven't we heard of this stellar athlete? I'd blame it on a combination of his league (the Ivy League is not known for producing teams that play in the Sweet Sixteen, let alone the Final Four) and, most significantly, his race.

What I also find remarkable about Lin's story is that two major magazines, Sports Illustrated and Time have described the rampant racism that Lin faces each time he plays. As this SI article reports, Lin

"encounters racism at virtually every game on the road, whether it's fans yelling "Chinese" gibberish (Lin is not fluent in Mandarin, for the record) or opponents using the most vile epithets that can be directed at Asians."

And this Time piece reports that

"[e]verywhere he plays, Lin is the target of cruel taunts. "It's everything you can imagine," he says. "Racial slurs, racial jokes, all having to do with being Asian." Even at the Ivy League gyms? "I've heard it at most of the Ivies if not all of them," he says. Lin is reluctant to mention the specific nature of such insults, but according to Harvard teammate Oliver McNally, another Ivy League player called him a C word that rhymes with ink during a game last season."

Let me be clear. I don't find the racism that Lin encounters remarkable. Sadly, it doesn't surprise me. What I find remarkable is that both mainstream magazines actually invoke the big "R"-- racism. OK, Time doesn't say racism but they do describe Lin as being the target of racial profiling and racial harassment, still a remarkable accounting since we KNOW mainstream magazines don't like to talk about racial discrimination--and it's even more shocking that they are discussing it within the context of Asian Americans, because we KNOW that racism against Asian Americans doesn't get a lot of press nationally.

For more on Lin, see this article in Hyphen magazine and this essay by ESPN.

But to get back to Lin and his accomplishment, the fact that he is a strong student AND a strong athlete, and poised to be the first Asian American to be a draft pick in the NBA is certainly worthy of a T.G.I.F. award. Good luck Jeremy Lin! I hope to be seeing the Crimson participate in March Madness this year.


david said...

I think that a lot of the racism Lin encounters is that he's playing Ivy League basketball on the east coast. Which, racial diversity pales in comparison to the west coast.

As far as other Asian-American skaters, there a few up and coming ones in the Winter Olympics. As far as exposure goes, ice skating doesn't get a whole lot of attention anyway since it's not as big as baseball, football or basketball.

Ivy said...

thanks for posting this! as a Yalie, we have our rivalry with Harvard but I am so happy about this. will you keep us posted if you hear about him being drafted? that would be awesome!

Jennifer said...


I agree that ice skating, on the whole, doesn't get the same attention as the big "3"--and, of course, there's the gender component to consider (the fact that ice skating is seen as a "feminine" sport, Anton Apolo Ono not withstanding).

As for the racism being worse on the east coast than west coast, the Californian in me is inclined to agree...except I'm not sure. I don't think there is a huge Asian American basketball playing contingent on the West Coast that would normalize and hence mitigate against the kind of racist comments that Lin is hearing--and we know that it can't be the "ignorant" masses--or at least not ignorant in the "not smart" way since we're assuming folks at ivy league games are former and current ivy leaguers.

Which just proves that racism knows no boundaries--the stupid and the smart alike are prone to stooping that low.

Glad you can see beyond the Yale-Harvard rivalry and support Lin. I will most definitely keep you posted on his career and future prospects--I hope they're bright!

Thanks to both of you for leaving comments.

adriano said...

After glimpsing and noticing your rule of leaving a comment, I stopped from leaving and doubt my writing be of any use to anyone.

As an Asian and a basketball lover is what draws me to the story.

My experience is that learning to play basketball is very hard and much extra effort is needed to even get to an average performance, and i learnt this on the day when i quitted the representative basketball team.

Therefore in Jeremy's case, I can't help but to find it inspiring particulaly when he said "basketball has taught me a lot about perseverance and determination".

It has also educated me in standing up to the bitterness from basketball and many other things.

Jennifer said...

Hi Adriano,

Thanks for leaving a comment--I'm not sure what daunted you in my RULES OF COMMENTING section, but I certainly appreciate your thoughts about Jeremy Lin and your personal connection as an Asian basketball player. Hope you stop by again!

Don said...

Thanks for posting. Today is the first time that I had heard of Jeremy Lin (so I Googled) and your post and followed links gave me a great idea of Lin's exceptional basketball ability).

Jennifer said...

Thanks for stopping by--hope you feel free to read other posts and leave more messages!

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