Thoughts on Jeremy Lin
Like a lot of people in my generation, Michael Jordan drew me in to basketball. Watching MJ marked the first time in my life that I was truly inspired by the obvious brilliance of an individual at his chosen craft. That experience triggered my love for basketball. It drove me to practice hard at the game and try out for my junior high school team. It compelled me to get better and make my high school squad. And it motivated me to spend years coaching basketball, trying to teach kids to play the game correctly.
But ultimately for me, as a Taiwanese-American kid living a few miles from Stanford, the lesson from Michael Jordan was always that (1) a human being could select a craft based on sufficient talent and (2) become the best in the world at it given unreal dedication. It was never, ultimately, about basketball.
That’s at some level because Mike just wasn’t like me (physically, culturally, etc.), but also because I never saw anyone like me playing with him. Sure Rex Walters was a Japanese-American NBA player from that era who grew up in San Jose, but I didn’t even know that until years later. And, as Walters said himself, “I consider myself Japanese-American. I just don’t look it.” At some level, it wasn’t really until Yao Ming was playing in the NBA that I actually believed people of Asian descent were even allowed in The League. And while Yao may have broken some kind of barrier, that was always explained by his absurd height, paired with freakish coordination for his size. In other words, he wasn’t *really* like me.
I think that’s why so many Asian-Americans are so taken by Jeremy Lin’s sudden emergence on the NBA scene. I mean, he’s like me! We grew up a few miles away from each other, living in supportive and strict Asian households. We’re both close to six-feet tall and look physically like, well… Asians. We both did well in local public schools and dreamed of attending Stanford down the street. We both loved and immersed ourselves in basketball. We even played in the same high school league, just a few years apart. Many Asian-Americans share at least some portion of those same similarities. At some level, I think they’re then thinking, “Dude is just like me and he’s breaking down Steve Blake, drilling corner threes against the fucking Lakers? What world are we living in where a guy ‘like me’ is actually doing that? See, that could be me!”
Of course that embarrassingly undersells Mr. Lin’s talent and dedication. We really aren’t very alike at all. He’s a 6’2” man who can dunk easily, read a ball-screen effectively, play 45 of 48 minutes in a game against the best athletes in the world, and drill corner NBA-distance threes against the fucking Lakers. All of that is incredibly special. It’s all the result of talents that I wasn’t born with or hard work that I didn’t commit. It would be a shame to demean all of that by saying that he’s “just like us”.
That being said, I hope my future Asian-American children will not just observe from watching the NBA that they can work hard at a craft and become the best in the world at it, but also that that craft could be basketball, no matter how unlikely. And if the best way for that to happen is a 6’2” Asian Jeremy Lin being on TV slinging the ball to Carmelo Anthony at an electric MSG, then so be it.
Ordering my #17 Knicks jersey right now.
p.s. If anyone wants to go halfsies on starting a new series of basketball camps in Cupertino capitalizing on the impending rush of Tiger Moms thinking their children are the next Jeremy Lins, let me know.