Jeremy Lin: Basketball Player Extraordinaire, Pioneer

December 11, 2009

11111.jpg Yesterday Dana O'Neil wrote an excellent ESPN piece about basketball extraordinaire Jeremy Lin, the star and captain of Harvard's basketball team. One of the most amusing parts of his life story are that his basketball-fanatic immigrant father, who never played basketball himself, taught his son how to play by modeling moves after Hall of Fame NBA legends. Not only is Lin now one of the best players in the Ivy League, but he is one of the best basketball players in all of NCAA Division-I basketball, and has put up all-star performances against some of the best March Madness tournament teams in the country. Here is a compilation of Jeremy Lin putting up 30 points against NCAA powerhouse UConn last week.  A few days later, Lin scored 25 points in Harvard's upset win over Boston College.

Some experts have written that Jeremy has a decent chance to get drafted by the NBA. That is, unless discrimination based on his race/ethnicity gets in the way, as O'Neil's piece also mentions, about the obstacles (and slurs) Lin has had to and continues to overcome from fans, other players, and basketball recruiters and scouts.

Judging from an older SF Chronicle article, Jeremy seems to take a Jackie Robinson-like stance on things. Based on his high school performance, I believe Lin would have been recruited by other Division-I schools if he had a different last name. Instead, Harvard was the only D-I school to offer him a chance to play (no scholarship). I can't think of any other former California state High School Player of the Year, in any major sport, who didn't get offered a D-I athletic scholarship. While Black Americans have made advancements and overcome obstacles as pro athletes, coaches, and executives in American athletics, it's Asian Americans who now face challenges due to their race/ethnicity. Lin's current coach, who has four NCAA D-I championships as a player or coach, says Lin has the talent to play professionally.

Other Hyphen-related articles about Jeremy Lin:
Jeremy Lin Story Gaining Nationwide Interest
Jeremy Lin a Finalist for Bob Cousy and John Wooden Awards
Jeremy Lin on Verge of NBA Contract

Jeremy Lin's resilience and story remind me of other Asian Americans involved in athletics, like coach Norm Chow, whose opportunities for NFL coaching jobs, in my opinion, have been disappointing given exemplary and record-setting achievements in the Division-I college game. Like Lin, I think Chow would have had much a more successful sports career, and certainly more opportunities, if the race markers had been different.

Finally, the struggles of these Asian American athletes for relevance and opportunities in American culture, remind me very much of the struggles Asian American actors face in the entertainment industry. Out of marketing considerations, Asian actors like Jackie Chan and Jet Li are given more attention and resources, while incredibly talented Asian American actors may wait by the wayside. Similarly, in professional sports, far more attention and opportunity are reserved for Asian athletes like Ichiro Suzuki and Yao Ming, than are for deserving Asian Americans involved in athletics. On a related note, here's a fairly recent Hyphen piece about an Asian actor cast for a role that appeared to be perfect for an Asian American actor.


Alvin Lin


Alvin Lin was born in Taipei, Taiwan and hails from New England. He blogs about Asian American pop culture, film, music, literature and politics, as well as relevant news around the world. He also writes for Imprint Talk. Alvin has degrees from Cornell and MIT.



Jonathan: Dat Nguyen
i saw jeremy lin play against columbia the other night and he is definitely skilled and exciting. NBA...that is highly speculative and if he gets any looks, i don't think he would stick. he is good enough to possibly prove me wrong but i doubt it. europe makes sense but not the NBA. many guys much better than him get no looks in the NBA.he is overhyped because he is asian (unusual for b-ball), goes to harvard, and chooses ball instead of the piano or is a great human interest story and gets amaker and harvard's program good advertising but it all ctually works both ways...he might not get into the NBA because he is asian or he might get into the NBA because he is asian.i say let him play and enjoy himself. if he was african american and had the same game, there would be nowhere near the press and hype. he needs to work on his game....turning the ball over 6 (or 8) times against cornell (not kansas)doesn't help his cause.
There are *so* many facets to this, you have no idea! For example, there may have been a little "bamboo ceiling" (do a search on SJmercury for that) and cultural kind of stuff that contributed to his not getting any D-1 scholarships. As Professor Harry Edwards said, "Sports is a reflection of society," and Asian-American issues are very complex.
By "bamboo ceiling", you mean this? 1/3 of Silicon Valley's professionals are Asian, yet only 6% of them are in upper management. It's easy to blame this on "culture", as you say, than deal with more uncomfortable dynamics that may be at play.
thanks for sharing that espn story -- it was indeed excellent. it's interesting to trace different trajectories of racialization for different racial groups. for example, whereas the racialization of asian americans in competitive sports includes a "bamboo ceiling," a racialization of african americans would all but pigeonhole them as virile basketball players. but if the context were PhD programs in computer engineering (the chosen profession of jeremey's dad), the racialized ceilings would be very differently construed. in any case, it's nice to see jeremy get some press attention, which, i think, should help his case in terms of legitimization, draft prospects, etc.
I'm in China right now and after reading the article on Jay Chou as Kato in the new Green Hornet film, I just have to throw this out here: Do you really think Asians and Asian Americans are the same? Come to China and we'll talk after your visit to see if you have a new perspective, if you currently think that all Asians are the same. Believe me we're not the same and it's not so much the accents, the fob attributes or even language, it's the mentality and the understanding of human decency and just how to behave like regular common sensed folks. There many different types of Asian Americans and I believe the same case for Asians too. But com'n when all's said and done human beings are all different and we each have our own unique characteristics. At least I know I'm not a freakin chicken, cow, or pig. WTF? Where did that come from?
He had a good game, but I think this article is over hyping him a little. UCONN is ok at best, in my opinion, but if Harvard can make it through March madness and match up well against the Dukes, Kentuckys, UNCs of the world and Lin retains this type of play against, then Ill give him credit, A pioneer! Do you all reaaly think so?
regarding chang and chow... Timmy Chang put up such record setting numbers because of the system he played in. The spread offense at Hawaii enables QBs to gain crazy numbers, but the NFL doesnt run any spread offenses, and he lacked the ability to run a real NFL offense. Last year, Graham Harrell (a white guy) broke a couple of Chang's records, but like Chang played in a spread offense at Texas Tech and wasn't drafted by any NFL team. Norm Chow had a very impressive career at USC as offensive coordinator. He was then offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans for three years. In his last year, the offense ranked near the bottom of the league and had only 9 TD passes. He was then fired. He had his chance in the NFL, but couldn't succeed.
Jonathan, Norm Chow did a lot more before even going to USC. He coached up Steve Young, Philip Rivers, Ty Detmer, and Jim McMahon, before coaching Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. No other college coach has ever coached up so many different Heisman-winners, Hall of Fame or Pro Bowl QB's like Chow has done. 1984's BYU team remains the last non-BCS team to ever win a DI Championship. He has 3 national titles as a coach. 8 of the 14 all-time best college offenses were from Chow-coached offenses. Despite his success prior to USC and after, Chow has never been offered a D-I college head coaching job, and other coaches with far fewer accomplishments have been offered NFL coordinator jobs much earlier, or have been given college head coaching positions. The Titans offense improved dramatically with a newly signed QB, running back, and receivers after Chow left the team, suggesting it was bad talent and not his fault. Even while Chow was the coordinator, the Titans made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, in spite of a starting QB who couldn't make any reads. What is interesting is that many always said Chow only had success due to BYU's system, which sounds similar to what you are saying about Timmy Chang. There have been white QB's drafted in the NFL's 1st round who played under pass-happy, spread college offenses. Your claim about the NFL not running any spread offenses is off the mark as well, as several teams run vertical spread offenses.