Jeremy Lin

A while back, I blogged about Asian American stereotypes being perpetuated in advertising.  This issue reared its ugly head again just this past Sunday, when Pete Hoekstra’s racist Senate campaign ad aired in Michigan during the Super Bowl.

Wide Lantern reported on the return of the Yellow Peril in the offensive commercial, which featured a young Asian woman speaking in broken English about China taking American jobs, complete with gongs, rice paddies, and a coolie hat.  The ad has continued to draw criticism, as well as spurring Senate hopeful William Tong to release his own campaign ad in defense of Asian Americans and inspiring an awesome parody of Hoekstra’s ad over at Funny or Die by the hilarious Ali Wong.

Hoekstra’s ad has rightly put a spotlight on the continued use and exploitation of Asian American stereotypes in the media.  But there’s one guy out there right now who’s defying these stereotypes on a national stage, i.e., the world of professional basketball.  And that’s Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, currently taking the NBA by storm.

I first blogged about Lin, Harvard graduate and the first Chinese/Taiwanese American to play for the NBA, when he was featured in a great Nike commercial back when he was still with the Golden State Warriors.  Till this past week, few could’ve predicted that Lin, fourth on the Knicks’ depth chart at point guard, would become a bona-fide phenomenon and that “Linsanity” would be sweeping NYC and the country.

As the title of a recent New York Times article aptly puts it, “Lin’s Success Surprising to Everyone”:

No one could see what was coming next: three straight games of at least 20 points and 7 assists, a winning streak, a dunk, a national phenomenon. And no one can blame the Knicks for a lack of foresight. If you gathered everyone who overlooked or underestimated Lin over the last several years, you could fill Times Square.

Hundreds of Division I coaches declined to offer Lin a scholarship. All 30 N.B.A. teams passed on him in the draft — some of them twice. And two teams cut him, albeit reluctantly, in December.

The Golden State Warriors waived Lin because they were clearing payroll room to chase DeAndre Jordan, a budding center. The Rockets waived Lin because they were clearing payroll room to sign Samuel Dalembert.

Both teams liked Lin, for his skills, his smarts and his work ethic. Both hoped to re-sign Lin, if he cleared waivers. Neither one realized what it was giving up.

“We always felt there would be some chance he’d be a backup point guard,” said Larry Riley, the Warriors’ general manager. “I have egg on my face in telling you that I did not think he was going to become a starting point guard with a good team. He’s doing that right now.”

The Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, was even more blunt, declaring on Twitter: “We should have kept @JLin7. Did not know he was this good. Anyone who says they knew misleading U.”

Jeremy Lin has indeed taken everyone by surprise, from coaches and fellow ballers to sports analysts and even retailers.   Linsanity is contagious, and fans can’t get enough of Lin.  He is an especially important trailblazer and role model for young Asian Americans, and I totally agree with restaurateur David Chang that Lin’s breakout week may be “the most important event for Asian-Americans in sports history.” For a number of reasons, some have even dubbed Lin “the new Tim Tebow.”

But Lin hasn’t completely escaped those Asian American stereotypes. Some have argued that being Asian has played a big role in his underrecruitment.  He continues to be underestimated by a lot of folks who think he’ll fade away once Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire return.  There are still a lot of doubters out there who think Lin’s recent success is a fluke, or that he may be smart and hardworking but he’s not a star.

Here’s hoping that Lin proves them wrong, and that the “Linning” streak continues!

 

— CKH

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