NBA’s Jeremy Lin -- “The Asian American Tim Tebow”

Posted: Feb 08, 2012

Editor’s Note: Just months after the Golden State Warriors waived Jeremy Lin, and he was signed by the NY Knicks, Lin scores big in the past two games, and unleashes “Linsanity” in New York. NAM commentator Ky Phong Paul Tran has been tracking the first Chinese-American in the NBA and wonders why he was overlooked so often.

After scoring 53 points, dishing out 15 assists, and resuscitating the carcass of the New York Knicks in his last two games (both wins), the Jeremy Lin bandwagon is looking more like a cargo ship.

But rooting for him now is about as timely as just telling someone about these amazing Korean tacos (Koji Truck) or Japanese-inspired burgers (Umami). You’re so 2000-and-late.

In 2006, Lin single-handedly wills his Palo Alto High team to a state championship over Santa Ana Mater Dei, a high school that doubles as a professional farm team (and has an $18 million gym!). This is like David beating Goliath, except there’s five Goliaths and they’re all Division I recruits.

That same year, Lin is named “State Player of the Year,” which is a big deal since California produces basketball players as prolifically as it does oranges and porn stars.

In his senior year at Harvard in 2010, he lit up the University of Connecticut and star guard Kemba Walker for 30 points and two dunks in a near upset of the nationally-ranked Huskies.

And then the cherry on top. In a summer league matchup with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Lin “gets his name” balling up Kentucky star John Wall. In these highlights, like in the University of Connecticut ones, it’s not just his size, speed, and handle that impress, but his fearlessness. When challenged by world-class athletes and defenders, Lin does not veer to the sideline or pick up his dribble. Instead, he rushes into the teeth of the defense to cause havoc, dropping dimes or making tricky layups at the rim.

The Wall Street Journal is calling him the Asian American Tim Tebow for his forthright Christian faith.

But for my money, Lin reminds me of two other Asian/Asian-American professional athletes.

In a league that has seen a number of Chinese forwards and centers, it was difficult for the basketball powers-that-be to imagine an Asian guy could play guard (an irony given most Asian ball players are guard height).

In that regard, Lin is akin to Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners outfielder who was the first baseball player from Japan to star in Major League Baseball as a position player and not pitcher. Lin is the first Chinese-American player in the NBA.

On the home front, Lin is also reminiscent of former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dat Nguyen, the last full-blooded Asian American to make a dent in the big three sports. However, their big difference is that the coaches at Texas A&M took a chance on the Vietnamese American Nguyen out of high school, while no major college basketball programs did so for Lin. (Imagine that: Harvard as your “back-up school.” Play the sound of Asian parents crying in joy here). Instead, it took Lin another five and a half years and a desperate Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni to get his chance. (“What have I got to lose? Asian kid, get in there!”)

Perhaps if all the “experts” along the way had simply looked at the evidence and not locked in to their vision of what an NBA point guard “looked like” (a racially loaded topic if there ever was one), we’d all have been on the Lin parade float a lot sooner.

Ky Phong Paul Tran is a writer and journalist based in Long Beach, Calif. He received an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside.



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