Evan Jackson Leong, the director of the entertaining and inspiring documentary “Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story,” tells interviewers that Lin’s story “transcends sports, race and culture.” That’s true enough, because Jeremy Lin‘s story — a determined young man loves basketball above all else but is ignored by colleges and the NBA despite his talent, and perseveres in the end by sheer determination and religious faith — is universal.
But as an Asian American, Lin’s story is inspirational for me precisely because he’s Asian American. His ethnicity was the main reason he was dismissed by colleges and the NBA, even though he was an all-star leader in high school.
I hope everyone watches “Linsanity,” which went on sales on DVD this week, and is inspired by his universal story, or his incredible accomplishment as an Asian American.
I know many Asian Americans watched it at film festivals, or during one of many special fundraising screenings for Asian and Asian American nonprofit organizations across the country. In Colorado it was screened by an Asian American fraternity at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a Japanese American history group in Denver. If Asians didn’t watch the documentary in a theater, they probably watched it on cable TV — Comcast featured it in its Asian American channel for months.
But it’s great to revisit “Linsanity” on DVD (wish there were some extras added, though). Continue reading →
I’m about Lin-ed out — hopefully when the Knicks get back on the court after the All-Star break they’ll win some, they’ll lose some and Lin will settle into being a team leader without all the crazy hype swirling around him.
But one of the coolest side-effects of his sudden rise to fame — let’s call it the Jeremy Lin effect — has been a very public discussion of complex racial issues, the type of conversations in the media and in bars and livingrooms and offices and classrooms across the country that haven’t been uttered since… Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Only this time, there’s the added element of racial issues involving Asians and Asian Americans.
It’s been fantastic, although at times it’s been frustrating too, because when seemingly benign slights are pointed out, the anti-P.C. police strike out and tell us to stop being so sensitive and get a sense of humor. Yes, it’s true that one reason these stupid missteps are made is because of the novelty of having an Asian American in the NBA spotlight. But seriously, would Ben & Jerry’s come out with a custom-flavored ice cream based on an ethnic stereotype for a sudden star who’s African American, or Latino? Watermelon? Taco-flavor?
I hope one message that has been made clear in the past few weeks is that it’s not OK to treat Asians with different standards.
Racism is racism. And there’s no such thing as a “good” stereotype, either — stereotypes limit people, even if they’re what would be considered commendable values such as hard-working, or smart. One sports anchor on an Asian American media email list pointed out that unconsciously or not, a majority of reports he tracked just happened to point out Lin’s “smart” basketball skills.
So when I was asked at the last minute to give a tribute to Gordon Hirabayashi, a pioneering Japanese American civil rights leader who passed away recently, I used it as an opportunity to extend the dialogue about race and opened my tribute with Lin.
The occasion was Day of Remembrance, when Japanese Americans commemorate the Feb. 19, 1942 signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which led to the incarceration of over 110,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps during World War II.
The Mile Hi chapter of the JACL holds an annual event to mark the date, with speakers and a presentation about the history of Japanese American internment. This year’s like the last several, was held at the University of Denver’s law school.
Hirabayashi was one of four Japanese Americans who fought the order to the Supreme Court (and lost, although they were cleared decades later). He died on Jan. 2 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.
I knew about Gordon but not his full biography. So when I learned I had to pull together a speech in a few minutes, I pulled out my smartphone and did some quick research online and jotted down notes. While I was at it, I checked the NBA scores to see how the Knicks were doing against the Dallas Mavericks. Continue reading →
Sigh. I knew it couldn’t last. Not only did the Knicks finally lose one, but ESPN managed to end its love affair with Lin with a helluva Dear Jeremy kissoff. ESPN last night posted a game story on some mobile editions with the headline “Chink In The Armor” (really) at 2:30 am ET, which was changed after 3 am to “All Good Things…”
Last night, ESPN.comâ€™s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.
There’s no defense for the indefensible. All we can offer are our apologies, sincere though incalculably inadequate.
I don’t think this is over yet. There’s no way any producer — even the most inexperienced, underpaid, ignorant, young overnight employee — could not know about the racist meaning of the word “chink.” The headline, placed beneath an image of Lin, was a deliberate use of a racial — and racist — epithet. I hope some serious actions are taken by the network to both punish the person who used the word in this context, and to prevent it from happening again.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time the word “chink” was used on ESPN … to describe Jeremy Lin. Here’s an ESPN anchor (no, it’s not Walt Frazier; ignore the title beneath him) saying “chink in the armor” in a reference to how Lin can improve his game:
I’ve been adding updates to the bottom of my previous post on Jeremy Lin, but there’s simply too much still flying across the Internet radar, and that post is already too long. So I thought I’d comment separately about the issue of Asian American identity and our embrace of the Jeremy Lin phenomenon.
As I write this, the New York Knicks have won seven straight games since putting Lin in the game as the starting point guard. For the first six, he shot for more than 20 points per game (38 against the Lakers!). Last night against Sacramento, he had only 10 points, but that’s because he was allowed to rest and only played 26 minutes. He still racked up a career-high 13 assists, and Linsanity continues in New York. He’s goosed the spirits of basketball fans in Gotham — and around the world — and taken over headlines on the news pages.
Let’s face it, he’s a great story: The American-born son of immigrants from Taiwan who led his high school team in Palo Alto to the state title but didn’t get even a sniff of a b-ball scholarship from the Cali schools he wanted to play for. So he attended Harvard, the stereotypical jackpot destination for children of Asian parents, and got good grades and earned a degree in Econ … while playing great basketball.
Cambridge isn’t exactly known as a breeding ground for NBA stars, but the guy left a trail of tattered records and dominated the Ivy League and earned some national attention, all to no avail. No NBA franchise noticed him. So he signed with Golden State Warriors but spent an uneventful year, and was cut in December right after the end of the NBA’s lockout. He was picked up by the Houston Rockets, but let go within a couple of weeks to make room for more famous players with higher price tags. He was then signed by New York but put on the bench as the fourth-string point guard, and even sent down to the development leagues. He was put into the game out of desperation.
That was two weeks and a whole lot of Linsanity ago.
The kicker for this made-for-a-movie Linderella story (yeah, I had to use it) is that until his contract with the Knicks was signed just a few days ago, Lin slept on the couches of his brother (an NYU dental student) and a teammate, even as his fame exploded like fireworks over the NBA. I could imagine the kid taking the F-train to Madison Square Garden to play.
He got his papers signed, and moved into a White Plains condo this week. His team’s doing pretty good financially too. The Knicks’ online shop jumped 3,000% in sales for Lin’s #17 jersey, which has been the best-selling jersey in the NBA since Feb. 4, when Lin first played more than 30 minutes in a game. The jersey at one point sold out. Lin has taken over social media, with more than 2.5 million mentions him in the week after his NBA debut, more than anyone else in the NBA and more than President Obama. Continue reading →
UPDATES BELOW, INCLUDING OTHER REACTIONS, MORE LINSANITY, FUNNY STUFF, JIN RAPPING ON LIN, AND JASON WHITLOCK AND FLOYD MAYWEATHER’S TWEETS
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, JapaneseBallPlayers.com, 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).
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. Continue reading →