Asian-Americans rejoice as Lin smashes stereotypes

They know what it feels like to be overlooked. People assume

they are weak, servile, out of place. So when these Asian-Americans

watch Jeremy Lin slash and shoot his way through the NBA’s finest,

it’s almost as if they are on the basketball court with the

California-born point guard who has set the zeitgeist on fire.

Asian-Americans have rallied around other athletes – Michael

Chang, Hideo Nomo, Yao Ming, Michelle Wie, Ichiro Suzuki. Tiger

Woods was embraced for his Thai side. But Lin has a new and

different appeal.

As the child of Taiwanese immigrants, Lin is quintessentially

Asian-American. He was ignored instead of hyped. He emerged from

the end of the bench to hoist the sinking New York Knicks to win

after improbable win. A few hints of racism have scratched the

edges of his growing fame, but Lin continues to put up

unprecedented numbers and capture the imagination of mainstream

America.

In a mere half-dozen games, Lin became that rarest of

Asian-Americans: a widely regarded hero.

”There’s a certain validation to this,” said Phil Yu, founder

of the influential blog Angry Asian Man, which tracks and discusses

Asian issues.

”Asian-Americans are still seen as foreigners in this

country,” Yu said. ”Seeing Jeremy Lin accepted and celebrated in

this American sport, it makes us more American, and it makes other

people see us as more American.”

The moment that resonates most with Yu is not Lin’s game-winning

3-pointer against the Raptors with less than a second to play. It’s

not Lin’s 38 points to beat the Lakers after Kobe Bryant said he

didn’t know who Lin was. It’s not Lin’s crossover leading to a

soaring dunk against the Wizards, even though the play victimized

John Wall, the top draft pick the year Lin went unselected.

Instead, Yu cherishes seeing a picture of two white fans wearing

Lin’s No. 17 Knicks jersey.

”There is no comparison to anything else I’ve ever seen,” Yu

said. ”I can’t describe how I’m feeling.” Watching Lin’s

highlights, ”I got a little bit choked up, honestly.”

Ren Hsieh had a different reaction as Lin was torching the

Lakers: He shouted loud enough to wake the baby in the other room.

”It was the improbability of it all,” he said.

”I’ve never seen it happen …” NBA analyst Tim Legler said on

ESPN. ”A guy that had three different teams look at him and not

see what we’re seeing now?”

The reason is obvious to Hsieh, who played high school

basketball in Houston and now runs a league and foundation

promoting Asian-American athletics.

”No one would outwardly say (Lin was passed over) because he’s

Asian, but every Asian-American athlete knows that feeling of being

overlooked,” he said. ”I certainly felt it when I was

playing.”

”You get a look in people’s eyes, they just don’t get excited

to see you. They don’t say, `Oh man, I gotta have this kid on my

team.’ Every Asian-American athlete has always had to really bust

their butt to get a chance to play at a high level.”

Hsieh remembers the skepticism when the China-born Yao entered

the NBA. One commentator, retired NBA legend Charles Barkley,

promised to kiss his co-host’s posterior if Yao scored 19 points in

a game.

Yao went on to score 19 or more points 268 times in his

eight-year All-Star career, and Barkley kissed a donkey on national

television.

Lin was similarly underestimated. He led his high school team to

a state championship, but was ignored by every Division I college

team except Harvard. He was cut by two NBA teams and could barely

get on the floor in practice, until the injury-riddled Knicks

handed him the ball almost in desperation. Now Lin owns an NBA

record for most points in the first five games as a starter.

So when someone labels Lin ”deceptively athletic” even though

he has a typical point-guard build, or when his teammate Tyson

Chandler says, perhaps jokingly, that he didn’t know the 6-foot-3

Lin could dunk, some see stereotypes afoot.

That was a point made by Knicks superfan Spike Lee.

Brainstorming a slew of Lin nicknames, he gleefully tweeted,

”Jeremy `Stop Asian Profile’ Lin.”

”The word athlete is really not associated with people of Asian

descent,” said Helen Xia, author of ”Asian American Dreams: The

Emergence of an American People.”

Xia said Asians were first viewed in America as ”coolies,”

laboring on railroads, laundry or in restaurants. Then they were a

stealthy and diabolical wartime enemy, then rivals stealing

American jobs with cheap labor. Today the labor stereotype has

transferred to another arena, with Asians viewed as

math-and-science robots toiling over books and computer

screens.

Xia calls Lin’s rise in a game as athletic as basketball

”stunning” and ”a real turning point.”

Nobody deliberately excluded Lin because of his ethnicity, Xia

said: ”That’s not the point. . The pervasive and insidious nature

of racism keeps us from seeing what’s right in front of us.”

Lin has declined to dwell on racial issues, but he did tweet

that when he first joined the Knicks, ”Every time I try to get

into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I’m a

trainer.”

There have been countless Asian-based puns, like the New York

Post’s ”Amasian” headline. The Knicks’ own TV network showed a

graphic with Lin’s head popping out of a fortune cookie. Boxing

champ Floyd Mayweather tweeted that Lin was getting attention just

because he’s Asian. And Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted

a cruelly racist remark about Lin’s manhood. (Whitlock later

apologized.)

Whitlock’s tweet drew the most outrage. ”Asian-American men in

particular have faced a direct, in-your-face emasculation,” said

Helen Gym of Asian Americans United in Philadelphia. Whitlock’s

remark ”has been said a million times. It’s a typical saying when

you want to take somebody down.”

It didn’t work with Lin. Women were in the stands this week with

”Be My Va-LIN-tine” signs. Websites were matchmaking Lin with

women of all ethnicities. A YouTube video shows an Asian girl

dumping her white boyfriend for an Asian man after watching Lin on

the court.

”He’s giving Asian men some swag,” said Jeffrey Ng, founder

and creative director of the Staple Design clothing and creative

agency in New York City.

When Ng started selling hip-hop apparel 15 years ago, there were

no Asian-Americans in his business. Meeting with clients, ”I

always felt this, like, why are you here? No matter how good my

clothing was, I had to first answer the question of, why are you in

this room?”

”Lin had to work twice as hard to overcome that first question

of, `Why are you on this court?”’

Peter Kim, an actor in Los Angeles, said Lin’s success could

open up more opportunities in his business, which puts few Asians

in leading or romantic roles.

He recalled that when Lin beat the buzzer to give the Knicks the

win against the Raptors, the crowd exploded – and the game was in

Toronto, not New York.

”That alone should show how significant Jeremy Lin is to the

Asian people,” Kim said. ”He’s not just an athlete playing for a

team. He’s playing for a whole culture and our representation to

the rest of the world.”

Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated

Press. He is reachable at http://www.twitter.com/jessewashington or

jwashington(at)ap.org.

Online:

Ren Hsieh’s foundation for Asian athletics:

http://www.dynastyproject.org

Jason Whitlock’s apology: http://on-msn.com/waJonC

Charles Barkley loses the Yao Ming bet: http://bit.ly/wqKsMt