The headline for the article in Time Magazine is “Harvard’s Hoops Star is Asian. Got a Problem With That?” Why, no. No, I don’t.
It’s been 64 years since the Crimson appeared in the NCAA tournament. But thanks to senior guard Jeremy Lin, that streak could end this year. Lin, who tops Harvard in points (18.1 per game), rebounds (5.3), assists (4.5) and steals (2.7), has led the team to a 9-3 record, its best start in a quarter century. Lin, a 6 ‘3″ slasher whose speed, leaping ability, and passing skills would allow him to suit up for any team in the country, has saved his best performances for the toughest opponents: over his last four games against teams from the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference, two of the country’s most powerful basketball leagues, Lin is averaging 24.3 points and shooting nearly 65% from the field. “He’s as good an all-around guard as I’ve seen,” says Tony Shaver, the head coach of William & Mary, which in November lost a triple overtime game to Harvard, 87-85, after Lin hit a running three-pointer at the buzzer. “He’s a special player who seems to have a special passion for the game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the NBA one day.”
A Harvard hoopster with pro-level talent? Yes, that’s one reason Lin is a novelty. But let’s face it: Lin’s ethnicity might be a bigger surprise. Less than 0.5% of men’s Division 1 basketball players are Asian-American. Sure, the occasional giant from China, like Yao Ming, has played in the NBA. But in the U.S., basketball stars are African-Americans first, Caucasians second, and Asians . . .somewhere far down the line. (One historical footnote: Wat Misaka, who is Japanese American, became the first non-white person to play in the NBA in 1947.)
But, while Lin scores one against the stereotype of nerdy (and short) Asian American men, it looks like we’re still not in that dream of a post-racial America (surprise, surprise).
Jeremy won a state championship as a senior in high school, but he received no Division I scholarship offers (Ivy League schools cannot give athletic scholarships). Yes, he was scrawny, but don’t doubt that a little racial profiling, intentionally or otherwise, contributed to his under-recruitment.
Some people still can’t look past his ethnicity. Everywhere he plays, Lin is the target of cruel taunts. “It’s everything you can imagine,” he says. “Racial slurs, racial jokes, all having to do with being Asian.” Even at the Ivy League gyms? “I’ve heard it at most of the Ivies, if not all of them,” he says. Lin is reluctant to mention the specific nature of such insults, but according to Harvard teammate Oliver McNally, another Ivy League player called him a c-word that rhymes with “ink” during a game last season. Just last week, during Harvard’s 86-70 loss to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., McNally says one spectator yelled “sweet and sour pork” from the stands.
“Sweet and sour pork”? Really?
So, last night, Arizona got creamed by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. But, as pissed as Arizona fans were at University of Nebraska players, yesterday, who finds themselves yelling food items at players? “Screw you, Nebraska!! Corn and beef, muthafuckas!!” as they exit the field? Really, has it all come down to this?
Okay, so maybe the racists are hampered by their general lack of knowledge of all things Asian. But tha doesn’t take away from the coolness of athelets like Lin, Manny Pacquiao, and Michelle Wie who rise to the top of their sports while simultaneously dismantling the stereotype of the Asian American as nothin’ but nerd.