Posted on: February 28, 2012 | By FelixFromNYC
Let me start off by saying this to my fellow Asian men, particularly those of you that have spent a good part of your life here in the U.S. If you do not remotely feel any sort of pride or joy in the success story of Jeremy Lin, I don’t think you can really be considered an Asian man. Sorry. I can pretty much sum it up like this: for all the William Hungs and countless other Asians that have reinforced the negative Asian male stereotypes, Lin is helping people forget all that negativity. One pass, slam dunk and game-winning 3 pointer at a time.
First let me tell you a bit about my own personal experiences, which I’m sure is not uncommon among other Asian American men that were raised here in the U.S. Ever since grade school I had to deal with racism. Whether it was people calling me silly names, or making up taunts that they thought sounded like Chinese (e.g. – ching chong, ding dong, etc.). Or the time when I was a skinny little freshman in high school when a group of thugs came up to me and one of them slapped me and said “Hey China-man….why don’t you show me some Bruce Lee now??”. Even as an adult, I’ve had a number of altercations which were caused by a non-Asian person shouting some derogatory racist slur at me for no reason other than my ethnicity, or even physically confronting me because of the color of my skin. You would think that grown adults would learn to get past these unmerited childish preconceived notions. Ignorance still exists in our society, there is no doubt about that.
Which is what makes Mr. Lin’s success so “Lincredible”, if you will. He is helping to diminish the anti-Asian ignorance that exists in our society to some extent. His #17 basketball jersey is the best selling NBA jersey in the world right now, with people of all races and colors snatching it up. Spike Lee changed his Landry Fields jersey that he’s been wearing to every Knicks game since last season to Jeremy Lin’s #4 Harvard jersey. Yes, there are many haters out there – people who are jealous or feel very negatively towards the ascent of Lin in the sports world. Sometimes people tend to question or criticize that which they are not accustomed to, or simply do not comprehend. One of the most notable is champion boxer Floyd Mayweather, who tweeted the following: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Let me put this in perspective. At the time of Mayweather’s tweet, Jeremy Lin scored 136 pts in 5 career starts. More than ANYONE in the history of the NBA. And that transcends race. Sorry Floyd, Black players do NOT do what Lin has done on a nightly basis. The vast majority of tweets and responses to Mayweather’s claim were overwhelmingly in support of Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments, and critical of Mayweather’s insulting comment. Even if the current Jeremy Lin phenomenon doesn’t change a person’s negative perception or assumptions of Asian people, at least it is raising educational discussions on the topic and shedding some positive light in our direction. And that is definitely a good thing.
No one has ever broken the Asian color barrier like JLin is doing right now. Lin has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine two weeks in a row. You can’t watch ESPN for 5 minutes without seeing a story about Jeremy Lin. Yes, Michael Chang did make a name for himself in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He won the 1989 French Open at 17 and remains the youngest man to win a Grand Slam tennis title. A pretty impressive feat.
Tennis, however, is not as mainstream a sport as basketball. Also, tennis is a solo sport. Basketball is a sport that stresses teamwork, working well with others, as well as individual performance. Jeremy Lin is competing in a sport that is dominated by big Black athletes, and he is thriving. Not even Yao Ming (who was brought over from China and already a star before he got here) made the impact that Lin is making right now. JLin was born and raised here, speaks perfect English, and he graduated from Harvard. He was not drafted by a single NBA team. When he finally got into the NBA, he played minuscule minutes and was cut from every team, the last guy on the bench. Yada yada yada, we’ve all heard about his underdog story a million times by now. He was treated as the typical Asian guy, pushed to the side and forgotten about. The typical invisible Asian man. That is until he was finally given a chance by coach Mike D’Antoni and an injury-ridden NY Knicks. And boy are the Knicks, the NBA, the USA, and the world glad that he was given the opportunity and absolutely maximizing it. Even beyond any of our wildest dreams. The NY Knicks are suddenly relevant again with the biggest star in the NBA at the moment as captain of the ship. And it will be interesting, to say the least, to see where the journey leads while the world is watching. What also makes Lin such a likeable sports figure is his humility. Even with all his success thus far and all the media attention, praise, etc., he is not arrogant at all or accepting of all the credit like some athletes (ahem…Lebron). At every press conference, he attempts to divert the attention away from himself individually and insists that everything is a team effort. That is the result of a very good family and devoted Christian upbringing.
I recently came across a “Facebook” altercation, if you will. An acquaintance, who is Caucasian (we’ll call him Jonathan), was extremely angered by “yet another Jeremy Lin post” after a friend of mine commented “Asian Pride!!” on a friend’s page after he exulted in another fine performance by JLin on his Facebook status. Jonathan basically said that we are all wrong for cheering and celebrating the success of Jeremy Lin, that it is actually Jackie Robinson that broke the color barriers back in the 1940’s…and that we should be giving him all the credit. A very heated argument ensued with multiple people going back and forth, cursing at Jonathan…who basically challenged someone to “say it to his face”. This is when I chimed in, and basically said the following.
Yes we are Asian men, and yes he makes us proud. What is wrong with that? For us to have someone that looks like many of us, representing us as nobody has done in the history of sports. As long as he is on the Knicks, I will watch every game with popcorn in hand…rooting for every single play that he makes. I’ve been a Knicks fan for decades…but never with more pride and more reason to root for them. This is something that you cannot fully understand or be able to empathize with unless you are an Asian man. And something even Asian women cannot understand. Right now for us Asian men, he is, on some level, our Jackie Robinson. I hope that next time I see that person at a happy hour, we can shake hands and we can have a nice laugh over it.
The late, great Whitney Houston sang in her hit “The Greatest Love of All” : ‘Everybody’s searching for a hero…people need someone to look up to…’. Well, Jeremy Lin is someone that we can all look up to right now. And for the kids that are looking for a hero/ role model, right now JLin definitely fits the bill.