In popular culture, Asians and Asian Americans are not known for athletic abilities. The model minority of Asians are typically stereotyped as nerdy, academically gifted, reserved, and physically small, among many other attributes. In more physical sports such as football, basketball, and hockey, Asians and Asian Americans have extremely little representation, compared to non-physical sports such as badminton and ping-pong. Jeremy Lin defied stereotypes by joining the NBA in 2010 with the Golden State Warriors, and took it a step further by carrying the New York Knicks on a winning spree in 2012. He became a phenomenon and started being recognized by the nickname “Linsanity”. Linsanity, a 2013 documentary film directed by Evan Jackson Leong, explores the life of Jeremy Lin from his childhood to his rise in fame. It explores the struggles, hardship, and the model minority stereotypes that he had to deal with.
Going into professional basketball as an Asian or an Asian American is no easy task. Black players make up just under three quarters of the NBA, and white players consist of just under a quarter of the NBA. Basketball, at least at the professional level, is evidently a very black and white sport, with little room for “outsiders”. Because of this, there exists, to some degree, racial profiling and stereotyping when it comes to recruiting new players. Black players are stereotyped as ‘athletically superior’, while white players are stereotyped as lacking in physicality, but are ‘skilled and fundamentally sound’. Although these stereotypes create very false generalizations, it has made basketball a game divided by race. It has created a strong basis that only black and white players can have success in professional basketball, while others are likely to be doomed.
Being Asian as a Disadvantage
As a kid, Jeremy Lin loved playing basketball and had a dream of playing in the NBA. Being Asian-American in the basketball world, he has always been considered the underdog, despite his success during his basketball career during high school. During his senior year of high school, he was named Northern California Player of the Year and led his team to their first ever state championship. Despite this, he received no Division I scholarships to play basketball. His race was one major barrier. Although he was successful in high school, recruiters believed that Asians weren’t capable of taking it to the next level, as very few play in college and even less play in the NBA. In Linsanity, Jeremy says “I have always said if I was black, I would have got a D-I Scholarship, but that’s just my personal opinion.” He isn’t exactly wrong, as being Asian American was thought of having less potential. He ended up attending Harvard University and playing basketball there. Throughout his career, he always had to deal with racist taunts and insults.
Being Asian as an Advantage
Jeremy Lin was never drafted into the NBA after college. Though his ethnicity may or may not have played a role in that, one can’t deny the facts that he played at a middle-tier college and he was in a vast, competitive pool of players from powerhouse colleges and may have been overlooked because of that. In sports, you can easily judge someone’s skill through statistics, such as goals, assists, rebounds, and many other things to measure a person. Although racism does exist to a certain degree in the NBA, saying Jeremy Lin didn’t get drafted because of his ethnicity is not a valid excuse.
However, he ended up being invited to join the Golden State Warriors. He didn’t have much of an opportunity to play and show his capabilities as a player. Rumors started going around that Jeremy Lin was only invited to join because of his ethnicity, which is something that he started to believe himself. The Golden State Warriors played in a city with a large Asian population, and it is undeniable that adding an Asian American player would boost popularity and revenue to the team by appealing to the large Asian population. When he ended up having great performance when he joined the Knicks in 2012, he faced lots of criticism.
Jeremy Lin has been a very influential in the sports world, breaking model minority stereotypes. Although a lot of his fame and hype has died down over the past few years since his peak in 2012-13, his impact still remains the same. He has not only motivated younger Asians and Asian Americans to play basketball, but also inspired them to try things where they may seem inferior. Although there is some truth that Jeremy Lin became as popular as he is today because of his ethnicity, it is important to remember the hardships and oppression that he had to face on his journey to success.