-A personal view on Linsanity
Linsanity’s 2nd act is about to begin as his Houston Rockets prepare to face the Detroit Pistons on October 31 to open the NBA season. Jeremy Lin’s presence on the new GQ cover (he is the first Asian-American to do so in the magazine’s existence) is evidence that all the hoopla surrounding Lin clearly hasn’t dissipated from New York with his departure. After reading the article I began to consider my own relationship to basketball as a Chinese American.
It might be surprising for you to read that I have mixed-feelings about Lin. As a Chinese-American basketball player and coach, it was exciting to see another Asian American succeed at the highest level. On the other hand, as an objective basketball observer his weaknesses stood out: the inability to dribble hard left, over-handling the ball, and jumping before he passes. He struggled to minimize his turnovers and was careless the ball– cardinal sins for a point guard whose primary job is to control the tempo of the game and be an extension of the coach. However, one quote from Lin in the article struck me, and in it I found a way to relate to him as a basketball player. In response to the idea that race played a significant role in his being overlooked by NBA teams:
“If I can be honest, yes. It’s not even close to the only reason, but it was definitely part of the reason…There’s a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of Asian-Americans that are out there today, and the fact that I’m Asian-American makes it harder to believe, even crazier, more unexpected,” he says. “I’m going to have to play well for a longer period of time for certain people to believe it, because I’m Asian. And that’s just the reality of it.”
I can relate to Jeremy Lin feeling pressure to play better for longer in order to break the perceptions and stereotypes he faces in the NBA. I competed on Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams (NY Gauchos, NY Pride) that traveled and competed nationally. One year during try-outs with Gauchos, when teams were formed by the coaches, my new teammates looked at me with exasperation—to them I was dead weight because I was Chinese. They didn’t pass me the ball and I became frustrated. On one possession, determined to show my abilities, I hustled and grabbed a long rebound, ignored my teammates frantic instructions and passed it forward to a teammate who scored an easy lay-up. My coach blew the whistle, and yelled at my squad: “He is the point guard, give him the ball! Why did it take you idiots so long to notice that?!” That it took my coach’s intervention for them to consider passing me the ball is telling.
Another time, during my first practice with the Gauchos a teammate very seriously asked me, “Do you really eat egg-rolls for dinner every day?” I was taken aback and confused that he believed all Chinese people owned restaurants and ate egg-rolls every day. With Lin’s successes, would my former teammate–now playing in the NBA– have the same attitudes towards Lin as he did towards me when we were younger?
In 2005 I was recruited to play in Bill Chan’s Queens-based USAB Warriors team which began my association with the network of Chinese and Asian American basketball tournaments and teams. Over the years, we won three national titles together. I recently won two national titles as a coach with USAB. Throughout my time with USAB, every team doubted us, took us lightly, and looked down on us.
The GQ article prompted a reflection of what has Lin achieved. I am proud and excited, but also skeptical that he can match last season’s production. I also understand that the larger unanswered questions about Lin’s emergence are about perceptions of Asian-Americans. In essence, what is Jeremy Lin’s broad impact on society? I’m looking forward to November 9, 2012 when The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) hosts a panel discussion called ROCKET MAN: The Future of Jeremy Lin with Devin Gordon (GQ) and Will Leitch (New York Magazine), the editor and writer behind the history-making Jeremy Lin feature in November’s GQ.
Daniel Ng is currently the Curatorial Intern at MOCA and is a Master’s student at New York University in the program in Museum Studies. He is one of the coaches for the USAB Warriors in Queens, NY, continues to compete in basketball leagues, and is a die-hard NY Knicks fan.