Jeremy’s marketability to China is being played up greatly by the media and league to fill the void of the recently retired Yao Ming, but his real appeal has always been towards the Asian-American community. While not everybody follows basketball, the trials that Jeremy and his family have gone through despite his now undeniable talent is common place amongst educated Asian immigrants in the US and their children. Jeremy’s sudden jump in popularity is more of a correction rather than hype, as Kobe Bryant would testify in an interview after Jeremy scored a career high 38 points over the Lakers, “Players don’t come out of nowhere…If you go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning but no one ever noticed.” Although blatant racist remarks towards Jeremy were part of his Palo Alto High and Harvard experiences, it would be the subtle doubt that would shape the direction of his career away from Stanford and other D1 universities, away from the NBA court when the game was still in contention, and off the Warriors and Rockets rosters despite a low salary and an already developed skillset.
The themes of Jeremy’s journey are of passion, persistence, and risk. His top picks for colleges all denied him an athletic scholarship despite being one of the best high school players in California. While Harvard is hardly a consolation prize in most eyes, he joined for the athletics and not for academics, as his graduating GPA, while respectable, was well below the university average. The backup plan if no team picked him up after graduation was to become a pastor, as his Christian faith has played a huge part of his life. No graduate school or fancy job offers would be waiting for him if he didn’t sign with a team by the end of the summer. When he did get signed and joined the NBA, the majority of his time would be filled with impending doom, as he bounced from the end of the bench to time in the development league, leading to getting cut by two teams during the off season. Even his chances with the Knicks seemed slim, as the roster was filled with guards and all-star Baron Davis was just about ready to rejoin the roster after his injury. What propelled Jeremy to even get a chance during primetime minutes of a game were the disappointing performances of all three guards running point ahead of him on the roster, a losing Knicks record, and a delay in Baron Davis’ return. If even one of these factors outside of Jeremy’s control had changed, then he would have been cut and possibly have seen his NBA career ended before getting his big chance. Yet after all these brushes with career death, he kept on practicing and getting ready for his time to shine.
What is different about the Lin family is their dedication and non-conformist ideals. Even though Jeremy’s father, Gie-Ming, holds a doctorate in computer engineering and his mother, Shirley, has a degree in computer science, Jeremy did not consider, nor was he pressured to, following any of the stereotypical Asian career paths of being a doctor, lawyer, an engineer, etc. Gie-Ming himself spent countless hours and taught his sons to play basketball at their local YMCA. Gie-Ming was quoted in saying that “Many Asian families focus so much on academics… but it felt so good to play with my kids. I enjoyed it so much.” Basketball for the Lin family was not about padding a high school application to be subsequently dropped upon college acceptance, but a much loved activity that they would enjoy for the rest of their days at any level.
This passion for basketball would be what propelled Jeremy into uncharted and hostile territory, and his continued pursuit of an NBA career despite traditional paths being blocked and the outlet of a Harvard education presenting itself. For many players that eventually enter the NBA, fanfare and the perks of fame would be a part of their life long before they are drafted. Whether they were a heavily scouted high school hero, a starter on a high profile D1 university team, or the best a foreign country has to offer, by the time they reached the NBA, they already had a strong national following. In comparison, Jeremy’s early fans were mostly within the Asian-American community spread across the US, which made its presence known during his senior year at Harvard when they played at Santa Clara University and the majority of the 4,700 seats were there to celebrate “The Jeremy Lin Show” and that his teammates commented that the crowd “looks like Hong Kong”. Aside from other flashes of appreciation on NBA “Asian heritage nights”, Jeremy had a relatively quiet career where perks were at a minimum; how many other NBA players spent the last month crashing on the couches of his brother and teammate? Again, Jeremy persevered to success, with minimal intermediary rewards and recognition, and the doubts that weighed heavily throughout his career.
So why does Jeremy Lin matter? Not everybody plays basketball and even if they did, not everybody has his natural talents, so how can any of us succeed like him in our own respective fields? He matters because even with his extraordinary talent, he took arguably the most difficult career path for an Asian-American and barely broke through every racial handicap weighed upon him. With his success, we know what he was always capable of, but we also know that all of his supposed failures along the way did not happen because he “wasn’t good enough”. We realize that there are undoubtedly others like Jeremy Lin, but never got their chance to crack the rotation and instead got cut the next week. Through his story, the negative perceptions of Asians in the US become a genuine burden rather than an excuse downplayed by tiger moms for their children’s “laziness”. Through his story, we realize that even with flawless English, the best of the best All-American pedigrees, standing at 6’3” and weighing 200 lbs, and possessing elite level skills, we as Asian-Americans are still judged by the shape of our eyes. And now that we know it’s there beyond a doubt, we can take the first of many steps to get past it.
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