Jeremy Lin

Top league

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2012, 12:00am


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There's a new kid on the court, the basketball court that is. In case anyone has been stuck under a rock over the past month, the kid is Jeremy Lin, the new point guard for the New York Knicks. 'Linsanity' has hit homes and headlines, and beyond his basketball savvy, Lin's ethnicity certainly plays a big role in his new-found celebrity.

Lin is the first American player in the NBA to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, and one of very few Asian Americans in professional basketball. Fellow American-born Chinese (ABCs) such as myself are thrilled. Finally, an Asian jock and a high-profile Chinese American to add to the ABC Hall of Fame. It's about time.

Of course, being a pioneer typically comes with some flak. American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jnr tweeted the following about Lin: 'Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise.' This was followed by the ESPN fiasco where a writer responded to Lin's poor performance after a game with the headline 'Chink in the armour' (ESPN swiftly fired the insensitive writer). But, no matter, Lin's celebrity remains a slam dunk for Chinese Americans like me.

Lin's high profile is a big deal. Here's why. Let's start with US-China relations. At a time when ties remain prickly, Lin and basketball are a common denominator. The mainland press has embraced Lin as one of their own, with bloggers touting him as the 'pride of Zhejiang', the province of his mother's roots. Then there are his fans. Lin can have a profound impact on a generation of young Asian-American athletes. Why should basketball dreams be limited to non-Asian ethnicities? Lin loyalists reside in both the East and West.

Let's talk about the globalised world. Lin is as bicultural as a Benetton ad. When was the last time we American-born Chinese had a jock to show for? We've had a TV anchor (Connie Chung), an author (Amy Tan) and businesswoman (Andrea Jung) but, mostly, ABCs have been living in the shadow of the 'doctor/engineer/maths-genius' stereotypes.

And somehow Lin's success seems much more attainable than, say, Yao Ming's - he of the extraordinary height and talent - and much easier to relate to than, say, Yao's Chinese basketball roots.

Lin was born in the US but his parents immigrated there from Taiwan in the 1970s. He grew up in the middle-class suburb of Palo Alto. He was smart, a hard worker and a go-getter. In high school, he sent his basketball tapes to universities that offer basketball scholarships but they turned him down. Harvard and Brown were the only ones to offer him a spot on their teams, but they don't offer athletic scholarships. Like many ABCs, his identity is a tapestry of languages (he speaks Putonghua but doesn't read much Chinese), cultural habits and beliefs. Lin is bilingual, bicultural and perhaps, down the road, 'bi-continental'.

Simply put, Lin is the best thing that has happened to Chinese Americans in recent years, and his success adds to the profile of American-born Chinese like myself. So let's take a moment to pause and enjoy Linsanity. Besides, his success story remains universal in every way: opportunity indeed comes to those who are prepared.

Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator now living in Hong Kong