On Feb. 10, 2012, right after the legendary game against the Lakers in the bright lights of New York City, my future became wide open. Ever since that day, no one has referred to me as “Jeffrey Lin.” I became “Jeremy Lin.”
More than a year after the birth of Linsanity, friends, teachers, and people still frequently refer to me as that electrifying point guard who took the NBA by storm when he became the first player in NBA history to score 136 points in five starts.
Although I am still annoyed when people call me by the wrong name, I can’t help but feel flattered that people subconsciously associate me with a Harvard graduate and NBA superstar, especially because of what he means to me and the Asian-American community.
Before Linsanity, people saw Asian-Americans as only “book-smart,” not as a possible physical threat. Action movie stars such as Bruce Lee and Jet Li attempted to escape the mold of the bookworm Asian, but they never held a national spotlight that could help shatter the Asian stereotype.
Some people may believe that this typecast of the smart Asian is a good thing. They believe we should be happy that we apparently have an inherent proclivity for academics and we don’t have to work those endless hours for excellence. This belief isn’t true, however. We don’t all have that inherent genius, and ascribing our achievements to anything but our hard work is insulting.
The “model minority” stereotype of Asian-Americans still pervades American culture, in part because of the lack of Asian-American role models who disprove the standardization. Even Asian-American athletes such as Hines Ward, a Super Bowl Champion and former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is not often recognized as an Asian-American.
Jeremy Lin helps solve that problem. Not only is he unmistakably Asian-American, but he also embodies all of the “positive” stereotypes of Asian-Americans without being constrained by them. Lin is a Harvard graduate, but his incredible work ethic shows that he did not succeed because of natural talent alone. He worked hard to become the player who caught the eye of anyone who even remotely follows basketball and showed the world that Asian-Americans can attend the best schools in the world, while scoring 38 points on Kobe Bryant.
His new documentary, Linsanity, scheduled to open in Washington on Oct. 4, details every minute of Lin’s truly inspiring story from his time dominating the court in Palo Alto High to his ascension during Linsanity. He overcame a variety of hardships including going undrafted in 2010 and being on the bench for the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks before his big break against the Lakers.
More importantly, he has inspired a whole generation of Asian-American boys and girls to follow their dreams instead of pursuing the careers that have been preordained for them: doctor, engineer, or researcher. Asian-Americans can now drop their SAT prep books and pick up a basketball to fulfill their dreams.
Now that the days of Lin regularly posting superstar statistics has ended, some people have said that he can’t play on an NBA level. Others even accuse me of supporting Lin only because he’s Asian. True, Lin is not averaging the 20 points and 7 assists he did during the peak of Linsanity, but averaging 13 points and 6.5 assists on a Houston Rockets team that frequently lets James Harden dominate the ball is not a minimal achievement.
I will be the first to admit that one major reason I support Lin is because he is an Asian-American. As an Asian-American, Jeremy Lin has helped shatter preconceptions about Asian-Americans. We are no longer a bunch of meek, book-smart, “model-minority” people. We are a diverse group who have worked hard to achieve every bit of our success.
For some, Linsanity may only live on as an anomaly in the career of an “average, marginal NBA player,” but for the Asian-American community Linsanity continues to exist as a symbol of change. Lin is our Dr. J, Michael Jordan, and Bill Russell. Jeremy Lin has helped pave the way for other Asian-Americans to follow him, and he has made sure that we must respect his game.