Jeremy Lin’s NBA winning streak sparks “Linsanity” among Asian Americans


Asian Americans have slowly become visible in American professional sports — player by player, sport by sport. Some sports were conquered early. Most people know stars from the ice skating world such as Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Ohno or Michelle Kwan — even though a Seattle newspaper headline about Sarah Hughes winning the Gold over Kwan in the 2002 Winter Olympics read, “American outshines Kwan, Slutskaya in skating surprise” (for the record, Kwan is U.S.-born in Torrance, Calif and is as American as… er, Sarah Hughes).

Japanese-born baseball players have become more and more prominent in Major League Baseball since Hideo Nomo arrived in LA back in 1995, and then Ichiro Suzuki fired up Seattle fans when he was signed by the Mariners in 2001. But it took until just a couple of years ago before Seattle signed Don Wakamatsu, the first-ever Japanese American to hire on as an MLB team manager (he didn’t last long, unfortnately). (Read my friend Daigo Fujiwara’s excellent blog,, to follow the careers of Japanese playing in the Bigs.)

The NFL now boasts some prominent Pacific Islanders playing professional football, and a coupe of Asian Americans (some are hapa, or mixed-race) — Dat Tan Guyen, Hines Ward, Will Demps Jr., Kailee Wong, Yon Eugene Chung among them. (Here’s a good list from the blog Chinese Or Japanese.)

Golf has the ultimate superstar, albeit somewhat tarnished: Tiger Woods. The pro circuit now sports high-profile Asians such as Vijay Singh, Grace Park and a whole bunch of Korean women including Shin Eui-hang. Tennis has Chinese American Michael Chang.

But basketball…. Wow. The NBA has had few Asian stars, and even fewer Asian Americans. Few fans even know that the first player to break the NBA’s color barrier was Wat Misaka, a 5’7″ college star at the University of Utah who was a first-round draft pick in 1947 — 1947! — for New York and played a too-brief career with the Knicks. He was the first Asian, and the first player of color, to play for a pro team (back then the NBA was called the Basketball Association of America).

Yao Ming opened the door to other Asian import players when he was drafted in 2002. You can read a terrific 2009 blog post about Asians in basketball from 8Asians.

But there haven’t been many Asian American NBA stars. Certainly no role models. Nobody like us to look up to, even though Asian Americans are crazy about basketball. There’s a long-established history of intensely competitive basketball leagues within the Japanese American community in California, and even here in far-off Denver. Sure, here in Denver the JAs have thinned out a bit so non-JAs are welcome to play in the pickup games. But the point is Asians are crazy about b-ball, with no pro role models to follow.

So that’s why the emergence of Jeremy Lin as an NBA star (hopefully on his way to superstar status) has electrified Asian Americans. The AAPI blogosphere has lit up in the past week, since Lin has won three games in a row for the Knicks — yes, the Knicks; how’s THAT for karma? — as the team’s new point guard.

Lin’s parents were immigrants from Taiwan, and he was born in LA and raised in northern Caifornia. He’s an Asian American, which is different from being an Asian player. He’s one of us.

He was a high school hoops star, who led the Palo Alto team to the California state title. He was snubbed by his home state schools Cal, Stanford and UCLA, so he went to Harvard to play basketball, and was the first player in the history of the Ivy League to record more than 1,450 points (1,483), 450 rebounds (487), 400 assists (406) and 200 steals (225). But no NBA team drafted him in 2010 when he graduated with an Econ degree with a 3.1 GPA.

He was eventually signed by his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, but let go after a lackluster rookie outing in December 2011, after the first day of training camp following a league lockout. He was picked up by the Houston Rockets shortly after but waived before the start of the shortened season and finally picked up by the Knicks as a fourth-string point guard. He was sent to the development league but called back to the Knicks at the end of January.

The video above tells the story of Lin’s dominant play in the past week. He obviously amazed his teammates — you can see it on their faces — and probably even surprised himself. I don’t know if he can keep up this level of play — when he played most of that second game, he ended up giving away the ball out of fatigue. IN the first ywo games he set career records for points scored, and he’s been a joy to watch because he’s a great team player and shares the ball with teammates.

It’s been a blast to follow his career, and he really has electrified Asian Americans. I hope he keeps on showing his talent and establishing himself as one of the A players in the league.

Here’s just a sample of the Asian American chatter about Lin:

Jamilah King on Colorlines has a great essay about Lin and the subtle bigotry that keeps Asian Americans from the NBA spotlight.

“Captain Meatball” on Chicago Now has a funny fantasy post about Asian parents freaking out about how their kids all want to be basketball stars now because of Lin.

Journalist and sports blogger Gautham Nagesh writes about the “Linsanity” that has erupted over the player in the wake of his third straight win with the Knicks.

8Asians extol Lin’s virtues.

New York City’s claims Lin as one of their own even though he’s a West Coast kid.

Phil Yu, of Angry Asian Man wrote “Welcome to the Jeremy Lin show” and admitted he got choked up watching Lin on video. I have to agree that watching the reel above gets me emotional too.

I don’t even play basketball — never grew up playing hoops with pals, Asian or otherwise. But I’m profoundly moved watching this young Asian American receive such acclaim for his incredible talent and determination. Plus he’s a nice guy.

What more could we ask for?


Holy cow, Lin led the Knocks to their fourth victory in a row, over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Holy cow. Byron Wong of bigWOWO has a great blog post stating flat-out that Lin is our generation’s Joe Louis. Word.

Here’s an awesome play from the Knicks-Lakers game:

And a 10-minute reel of Lin’s greatest hits:

who says asians cant drive

Great graphic making the viral rounds.

The New York Times visited a SoHo bar crowded with Asian Americans cheering the Knicks’ win over the Lakers.

It figures that some idiot would rain on Lin’s record-setting night with a racist swipe. It’s too bad the idiot happens to be a nationally-read sports writer:

racist tweet abt jeremy lin

Bill Hanstock in the Bay Bridge Banter blog takes FOX Sports writer Jason Whitlock to task for Whitlock’s disgusting racist tweet (above) posted right after the Knicks-Lakers game last night. The tweet’s making the viral rounds, but Hanstock’s response is the most eloquent and spot-on so far that I’ve seen.

Jeff Yang has a definitive Lin piece post-gamer in the Wall Street Journal.

Terrific column by Kevin Ding in the Orange County Register, about how Lin is inspiring young Asian Americans (like his cousin’s 13-year-old son).

Nice: Wat Misaka, the Japanese American who broke the NBA’s color barrier in 1947 when he was drafted by the Knicks, has sent a note of encouragement this week to Jeremy Lin.

Tim Baffoe of CBS Chicago wrote how he’s rooting against Linsanity because Lin hasn’t proven himself yet and the hype is driving the adoration. He’s waiting. I can’t fault that logic, even though he also pooh-poohs the fact that Asian Americans are pumped up over Lin. He thinks being a shallow fan is pointless. He doesn’t realize the depth of emotional power the mere fact of Lin’s emergence has brought to the AAPI community….

David J. Leonard on SlamOnline, looking at the phenomenon of Linsanity strikung Asian Americans so deeply.

The Fung Bros.’ comedic short video, “The Jeremy Lin Effect”:

Feb. 10 – On’s Inside the NBA, Phil Taylor writes about how he missed Lin’s talents like Lin’s previous teams did, and how he first saw Lin play at Palo Alto High School.

Feb 11 – Great Quora conversation answering the question, “Why are Asian Americans so incredibly enamored with Jeremy Lin?

Feb. 11 – The Asian American Journalists Association today asked Jason Whitlock of FOX Sports to apologize for his racist and offensive tweet, and he has published one online:

I get Linsanity. I’ve cried watching Tiger Woods win a major golf championship. Jeremy Lin, for now, is the Tiger Woods of the NBA. I suspect Lin makes Asian Americans feel the way I feel when I watch Tiger play golf.

I should’ve realized that Friday night when I watched Lin torch the Lakers. For Asian Americans and a lot of sports fans, his nationally televised 38-point outburst was the equivalent of Tiger’s first victory in The Masters. I got caught up in the excitement. I tweeted about what a great story Lin is and how he could rival Tim Tebow.

I then gave in to another part of my personality — my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature. It’s been with me since birth, a gift from my mother and honed as a child listening to my godmother’s Richard Pryor albums. I still want to be a standup comedian.

The couple-inches-of-pain tweet overshadowed my sincere celebration of Lin’s performance and the irony that the stereotype applies to pot-bellied, overweight male sports writers, too. As the Asian American Journalist Association pointed out, I debased a feel-good sports moment. For that, I’m truly sorry.

This is a true apology, not one of those “I apologize if you were offended” apologies, and I appreciate Whitlock for making it. I also appreciate how he sees Lin’s importance to the Asian American community.

But it’s disturbing, as racist statements always are, that such ugliness can lie just beneath a supposedly civil society’s usually placid surface. And I wonder if Fox should (or will) do something more to show that racism is not tolerated on the network, like fire Whitlock.

Feb. 12 – NYT reporter Michael Luo’s commentary focuses on his identification with Lin as an Asian America, but also his identification with Lin as a Harvard alum and a Asian American Christian.

Feb. 12 – Pioneering Asian American rapper Jin recorded a tribute to Lin last week:

Feb. 12 – Mashable, a popular tech blog that covers social media (and a daily must-read for me), posted “Knicks’ Jeremy Lin Continues Domination of Social Media and NBA

Feb. 13 – Thoughtful and hopefully thought provoking piece by columnist Gregg Doyle “Lin’s explosion onto NBA makes you wonder what others didn’t see in him.” The college recruiters, the pro scouts, the coaches. So what did they all see? An Asian American? An Ivy League student? What did UConn coach Jim Calhoun mean when he said of Lin’s Harvard play, “He’s athletic — more than you think so?”

Doyle ends his column noting how profound his question is, at its core:

Those are questions I could ask. But for now, I’ll just return to the question I can’t stop wondering. The question is simple, but loaded. Harmless, but dangerous.

Before he became a revelation, Jeremy Lin had played lots of basketball for lots of basketball experts, and almost all of them decided they were unimpressed. So when they watched Jeremy Lin, what were they seeing?

Feb 13 – Seriously? Now here comes the ugliness: Boxer Floyd Mayweather tweeted today that Lin’s only getting the attention because he’s Asian, and that black players do what he does and don’t get the spotlight. Come on, like Kobe, Michael Jordan, and dozens of terrific African American athletes — and plenty of white players too — haven’t also received the props they’re due? Because Lin’s Asian the attention he’s getting isn’t deserved?

Floyd Mayweather's tweet about Jeremy Lin

Feb. 13 – Ling Woo Liu of the Korematsu Institute wrote this thoughtful commentary on, “Why Jeremy Lin’s race matters.”

Feb 15 – I guess I’ll keep posting game updates until Lin’s streak stops (it can’t last, can it?). Last night Lin hit a 3-pointer to lead the Knicks to a victory over the Toronto Raptors … with half a second left in the game. He made it appear effortless, calmly approaching the basket as the final seconds ticked down, and then poof — dropping the ball through the hoop. It was another 20+ night for Lin, with 27 points and a career-high 11 assists. He continues to amaze.

Lin’s sudden rise to superstar status has sparked a battle between Taiwan or the Republic of China, where his parents were raised (he was born in LA and raised in Palo Alto), and mainland China or the People’s Republic of China, where his grandmother grew up. The NYT ran this article today, about how Linsanity has gripped the Chinese: “In China, an Instant Star and an Emerging Symbol.”

James Fallows on The Atlantic website weighs Lin (har har) with a commentary that being Asian is not why Lin is so good, although it’s one reason he’s getting so much attention. He doesn’t quite get around to saying it, but the point is that Lin is winning because, well, because he’s a talented, hard-working athlete.

Oh, and by the way, the Knicks’ winning streak now stands at seven games. Lin led the team to a lopsided 100-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings, and the headline wasn’t his scoring — Lin only had 10 points, and sat out the fourth quarter — but his ability as a leader and distributing the ball to his teammates — he chalked up a career-record 13 assists.

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One Response to Jeremy Lin’s NBA winning streak sparks “Linsanity” among Asian Americans

  1. Pingback: I witnessed “Lin”sanity. | #jkrisiloff

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