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.
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