Everyone is talking about Jeremy Lin, the NBA basketball player who came out of nowhere and launched himself into a career just last week. His story is inspiring. Born in the Bay Area, he grew up in Palo Alto and led his Palo Alto High School team to the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state title.
Despite the victory, Lin didn’t win any athletic scholarships for college. Harvard University and Brown University were the only schools to guarantee him a spot on the basketball team. Lin chose Harvard, and during his senior year averaged 16.4 points a game and was selected for the All-Ivy League First Team. He was not selected by any team during the 2010 NBA draft. His hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, signed him for the 2010-2011 year but placed him on the inactive list, then waived him because they were freeing up salary cap space.
Lin later wound up with the New York Knicks as a point guard and could have easily been waived by the Knicks as well. But Lin proved himself in a crazy series of games, achieving an all-time career high of 38 points in an inspiring matchup where the Knicks beat the Lakers 92 to 85.
Jeremy Lin’s emergence is a watershed moment for me and other Asian Americans. Asian American athletes in professional sports are relatively few and far in between. Asian Americans are craving to see more American-born Asian athletes in their prime. There aren't that many still out there playing sports professionally.
It’s not that Asian athletes haven’t made a name for themselves. I can name a few. Don’t get me wrong, Yao Ming is cool. But Yao Ming was born and raised in China. From a young age, he was identified as a basketball player, channeled into youth sports camps and molded so that he could have the potential of representing China. Yao is also retired so I don’t see him playing anymore.
As an Asian American, I want to see an athlete who is someone born in America, of Asian descent who identifies as Asian American. I want to see someone who has struggled to balance being American with their Asian cultural identity and their parents' high standards.
I remember very clearly how much it meant to me to see Michelle Kwan’s career develop. Kwan is my age and I could totally relate to her background. Like my parents, one of her parents was born in Hong Kong, and they both seemed to have the high standards that are typical of many Asian parents. I admire and respect Kwan for everything she has accomplished and for representing Asian Americans. I believe she is an excellent athlete and human being, even though she never won an Olympic Gold Medal. However, I rarely see her on television now. If an athlete is not in the prime of their career, then you don’t get to see them doing well in professional sports when you turn on the TV. You lose that connection to the present moment, to the here and now.
When I watch sports, I cheer for my favorite teams, namely the closest home teams to the geographic area where I live. With Jeremy Lin, it's different. I have never been a Knicks fan before. But I can tell you that even when the New York Knicks play the Sacramento Kings, a part of me will be cheering for Jeremy Lin, even if the Kings lose. I think Asian Americans will root for Jeremy Lin because it validates who we are. His struggle is ours and his rise is ours. He is one of us, still attempting to move past racial stereotypes in a jaded world. It is easy to like Jeremy Lin because if you watch his interviews after games, he is a humble man. He gives credit to God, his team and everybody who has been supporting him.
It's inspiring and refreshing to see an Asian American make it because of their athletic skill. It breaks through stereotypes. Here is an Asian American guy in the NBA defying impossible odds. Asian American kids are expected to study hard. We’re expected to go to college. We’re expected to become doctors or engineers. But we’re not expected to excel in sports, or make a career out of playing sports. With the rise of Jeremy Lin, many Asian American kids all over the United States will dream of playing in the NBA. Jeremy Lin, on behalf of Asian Americans who have ever been doubted because of the color of our skin, I thank you.
Jacqueline Cheung is an Elk Grove resident and executive director of Go Jade Solutions.