“I just try to play as hard as I can every possession. If you’re aware and you’re high-energy, the ball will eventually bounce your way and you’ll be able to make plays.” -Jeremy Lin
Origins and Adversities
Born to Taiwanese-Chinese Christian parents in Los Angeles, California, Jeremy Lin grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Right up until the moment he lit up the NBA in the 2011-2012 season, Lin never seemed to get enough credit for his explosive energy and great talent on the court, and always faced some kind of resistance as he pursued his career in basketball.
Despite earning the honor of Northern California Player of the Year as a senior in high school, he received no athletic scholarship offers.
He attended Harvard University, where his playing made him a three-time All-Conference player in the Ivy League. Yet he went undrafted out of college, but managed to reach a partially guaranteed contract with his hometown Golden State Warriors in 2010.
His rookie season he was rarely let off the bench and was assigned to the NBA Development League three times. He was waived by the Warriors and the Houston Rockets the following preseason and joined the New York Knicks early in the 2011–12 season.
Facing Down Racial Stereotypes
Lin is one of few Asian Americans to play professional basketball, and the first American of Chinese descent to play in the league.
Lin has said: “I do think [my ethnicity] did affect the way coaches recruited me. I think if I were a different race, I would’ve been treated differently.”
He said that at games in most if not all Ivy League gyms he would hear racial taunts such as “Go back to China!” “Wonton soup!” “Sweet and sour pork!” “Open your eyes!” and mocking impressions of spoken Chinese.
One of Lin’s Harvard teammates, Oliver McNally, says he once heard another Ivy League player call Lin a “chink.” Lin defines himself not according to his race, “Asian American,” but as a basket player.
“Maybe I can help break the stereotype, I feel like Asians in general don’t get the respect that we may deserve whether it comes to sports, basketball, or whatever it might be.”
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey admitted to racism affecting his team’s decision to pass on Lin, citing Lin’s performance in pre-draft testing:
“He lit up our [statistical] model. Our model said take him with, like, the 15th pick in the draft.” A year later, the Rockets began using the speed of a player’s first two steps as a critical performance metric.
Lin was the fastest of any player measured and his agility was far above average in the NBA. “He’s incredibly athletic,” said Morey, “But the reality is that every f***ing person, including me, thought he was unathletic. And I can’t think of any reason for it other than he was Asian.”
The 2012 Season of Linsanity
During the 2011-2012 NBA season, while playing for the Knicks against the New Jersey Nets and their All-Star guard Deron Williams, Lin scored 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists— all career bests, leading a 99–92 win for the Knicks.
Following this performance Lin was given his first NBA career start in a game against the Utah Jazz. The team was missing two of its all-star players because one had to leave the game with an injury and the other hand a death in the family.
Lin repeated his stellar performance, scoring 28 points and 8 assists, leading the Knicks’ 99–88 victory. The amount of fan attention and good will was nothing short of a marvel. Amid the swell of enthusiasm, Time Magazine ran an article entitled, “It’s Official: Linsanity Is for Real.”
Sports Illustrated put Lin on its cover with the headline “Against All Odds,” which the New York Times called “the greatest tribute.” Lin also graced the cover of Time in Asia prompting Forbes Magazine to write, “Congratulations Jeremy. You have now made the cover of Time the same number of times as Michael Jordan. Linsanity reigns on.”
NBA commissioner David Stern said,” I haven’t done a computation, but it’s fair to say that no player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time, in any sport, that I’m aware of like Jeremy Lin has.”