What Jeremy Lin Means

![](http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news_features/yearinphotos2006/images/12.jpg "Appearances Matter in Basketball")
Appearances Matter in Basketball
Jay Caspian Kang over at FreeDarko has [an interesting post](http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2010/01/lives-of-others.html) on Jeremy Lin. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Jeremy Lin is a Palo Alto High School alum and senior over at Harvard, where he plays basketball, and is [a potential draft pick](http://insider.espn.go.com/nbadraft/draft/tracker/player?playerId=19342&draftyear=2009&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnbadraft%2fdraft%2ftracker%2fplayer%3fplayerId%3d19342%26draftyear%3d2009) in this year’s upcoming NBA Draft, which would make him the first Ivy Leaguer selected in the draft [since Jerome Allen in 1995](http://bleacherreport.com/articles/227046-when-will-the-ivy-league-produce-another-nba-talent). But what has people all abuzz about Jeremy Lin is the fact that he is Asian-American, and if he were drafted, would become one of very few Asian-Americans to play in the NBA since Wat Misaka became the first in 1947. There are currently no Asian-Americans in the NBA. Kang sums up the confusion and search for meaning in Lin’s rise:

What, then, do you do with Jeremy Lin? Through no fault of his own, Lin stands at a bombed-out intersection of expected narratives, bodies, perceived genes, the Church, the vocabulary of destinations and YouTube. The Son-at-Harvard of a computer programmer from Palo Alto by way of Taiwan, Jeremy Lin is the metanarrative, and yet, without having done anything but dunk a basketball, his unwitting doppelganger waves a flag on the other side

This break, I met up with a few of my old high school basketball friends who came home for break (I live in the area) and watched the ’90s classic movie, White Men Can’t Jump. A large portion of the plot turns on the fact that Woody Harrelson’s character Billy Hoyle is able to hustle black players because he is white and dorky looking. When the conversation turned to who you would have if you wanted to hustle someone in basketball, i.e. someone with the highest possible ratio of playing ability to expected playing ability based on appearance, a consensus quickly formed around Jeremy Lin. We had all played against him in high school. He was good then, leading an underdog Palo Alto team to a state title, and he’s only gotten better. It’s not secret that Asian-Americans don’t have the stereotype “good at basketball.”

![Race Relations and Basketball, 90s Style](http://acclaimmag.com/assets/media/blog/alex%20weiland/2009/07/white%20men%20can%27t%20jump/woodysnipes_468x619.jpg.jpeg "Race Relations and Basketball, 90s Style")
Race Relations and Basketball, 90's Style
While it might be useful to be slightly more adept at hustling pickup games–probably not Lin’s thing, as [he has professed interest in becoming a pastor-](http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1951044,00.html)-these stereotypes, no matter how seemingly meaningless can me be harmful. Lin, for his part has [said](http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-12-16/sports/17130986_1_asian-americans-jeremy-lin-division-ii), “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,” and has been the subject of (sometimes inaccurate) ethnic slurs such as those telling the Taiwanese Lin to go back to China. For what it’s worth, there’s no question Stanford could have had Lin, but [they decided not to give him a scholarship offer](http://www.gocrimson.com/sports/mbkb/2009-10/releases/091114_Lin_SlamOnline), a decision they now surely regret. Connecticut’s coach Jim Calhoun called Lin, “one of the better kids, including Big East guards, who have come in here in quite some time.”

The central observation of Kang’s argument, that “Lin’s story has already been taken over by writers, bloggers and fans who feel the need to distort, tweak and primp him up into a perfect metaphor.” He is the great Asian-American hope, the one that can, if he succeeds can do a big part in unburdening Asians of the “unathletic” stereotype in a frontier (the NBA) where they have yet to succed–there are Asian-Americans in every other major sports league.

All in all, that’s an uneasy position. While it would be nice to wish that Lin didn’t have to carry this burden for Asian-Americans, he does have an opportunity to do something that Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian, the former literally bred by the Chinese government, and the latter the son of professional handball players and product of Chinese athletic academies could not. Nor did the vigorous Mengke Bateer‘s brief stints capture the imagination of anyone. Jeremy Lin has the burden of potentially being the first Asian-American born and bred in the United States to break into the NBA, proving to Asian-American kids everywhere that it can be done. Hopefully he can pull it off.

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