Harvard’s Basketball Superstar: Jeremy Lin

Harvard Crimson's basketball superstar, Jeremy Lin

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.

Asian Pop’s 2009 Year in Review

2009 — what a crappy year for Asian Americans.

Every year, Jeff Yang contacts high-profile Asian American bloggers (and, inexplicably, me…) to act as muses for his popular (and often hilarious) end-of-the-year wrap-ups. This year was no different, and after compiling my email to him, I toyed with the idea of writing my own end-of-the-year “Best Of/Worst Of” list.

But then, Jeff published his — a far more exhaustive and witty piece than I could hope to come up with. What’s more, he had to put his to verse! I give up, dude, and I bow down to the master!

Here are some choice excerpts:

‘Tis the day before New Year’s, a date that reminds us
Of all that we saw in the year that’s behind us
So to give an assessment that just can’t be ducked
Two-thousand-and-nine? Well, mostly, it sucked

Recession, rescission, Iran and Iraq
Swine flu, banker bailouts, and plummeting stock
Ponzi fraud, acts of God, sky-high unemployment
Not a lot to look back on with too much enjoyment

In fact, all in all, we’d much rather forget
This horrific year; is it January yet?
Oh well, it’s our duty, so let’s start at the top
And review ’09’s “Best and Worst” in Asian Pop

Galactica“‘s end put Grace Park fans in shock
(But “Stargate” has Ming-Na’s new lesbian doc)
John Cho lent “Flash Forward” his eyebrows and glare
While in “Star Trek” he sat in George Takei‘s old chair

Pixar’s “Up” made us all want to think, laugh and cry
While making a star out of Jordan Nagai
Ong Bak 2” proved that Tony Jaa rules modern action
No one else so creatively puts guys in traction

But the far-from-good “Goods” chose to laugh at hate crime
Hey, at least Ken Jeong works almost all of the time
A half-dozen films in ’09, plus he’s featured
On the new hit “Community,” as a weird Spanish teacher

Whatever you might think of Reality
At least in those programs, an Asian can be
More or less normal, and still a scene-stealer
Okay, I’m not talking ’bout Tila Tequila

Or the guy for whom Kate plus eight wasn’t enough.
Thanks a lot, Jon Gosselin! Asian dads had it tough
Before you gave tabloids a bailout by cheatin’
And choosing to act like an aging frat cretin

And how about Tiger, golf’s King Cablinasian?
By proving he too has tail-chasing persuasions
He traded his family and billions in green
For fore! play and strokes and, um, holes in 14

(To be fair, Asian mothers aren’t looking much better
What Balloon Mom put Falcon through really should get her
Not just jail time — three weeks in the pen plus probation —
But psych help and a permanent husband vacation.)

This is all just the tip of the iceberg of shame
That we saw in a year for the Lame Hall of Fame
A year in which Texas state Rep. Betty Brown
Made a modest suggestion for our proper nouns

“You Asians have monikers we can’t repeat
Why not change ’em to something sweet, simple and neat?”
(The person she said this to, named “Ramey Ko
Must have thought, “Even shorter? How low can you go?”)

A year in which immigrant kids in South Philly
Were battered — and told that their fears were quite silly
A year where teen idols chose to honor us Asians
By teaching the “slant-eye” to new generations

Still, we hate to close out the year toasting with whine
So here are a few things we loved in ’09
Gojira’s the World Series MVP now!
The world’s greatest boxer is Manny Pacquiao!

But, definitely, check out the full article to get a complete dose of Jeff Yang’s awesome.

Also, don’t forget to read the email quotes that went into the making of the article. I especially love how mine are like fourteen-sentences long — God, if that isn’t me, I don’t know what is!

Pacquiao vs Mayweather: take it to the ring, guys!

As my boss loves to tell me, everything about me makes sense except for one: my love of boxing. I’m smart (highly educated, at least), passionate (no kidding?), level-headed (erhm, sure), and rational (now I’m blushing) — so how is it that I can delight in watching a sport where two guys strip to their skivvies and beat each other to a bloody pulp with giant, plastic oven mitts?

The answer is simple, really. It’s not that boxing is a violent sport (although it clearly can be), it’s that there’s more to boxing than the pummelling. Boxing is actually a thinking man’s sport, as strategic as chess but far more exciting. In boxing, each boxer is armed with nothing more than his (or her) fists and his wits, and he is charged with disarming his opponents defense’s. The boxer must stick to a pre-determined strategy that minimizes his opponent’s strengths while taking advantage of his opponent’s weaknesses (Stay out of  reach? Move in tight to pin him down?) while adapting to minute-by-minute information (for example, determining that the right uppercut has connected most times, so altering the strategy to use that shot as much as possible). Moreover, the fight is more than street brawl; fights go for a pre-determined number of rounds and, in the event that neither boxer is knocked out, the winner is determined by the average score of three judges. These judges award points in each round based on how well each boxer does: this can include how many shots he has landed (vs. how many thrown), how active has he been (how many shots thrown vs. just standing there) and whether or not he looks winded. That means that on top of sticking to a strategy, a boxer must strategically increase activity or conserve energy to ensure that he wins on the score cards but still has the endurance to make it through the entire fight if he needs to.

And on top of having to do all that thinking, you’re getting punched repeatedly on the side of the head by a guy who can probably curl a Backstreet Boy with his biceps. Which means you have to have some serious presence-of-mind to maintain a coherent thought under boxing circumstances, let alone enough intellectual acuity to win a fight. Or let’s put it another way: as smart as I might be, I definitely couldn’t focus on my research if my lab-mates kept running up and hitting me in the jaw between aliquoting.

Another reason to love boxing? Well, it just so happens that this year’s current #1 pound-for-pound best professional boxer in the world (as judged by the sports premier magazine, Ring Magazine) is a Filipino boxer by the name of Manny Pacquiao (pictured above). In what other sport (short of something stereotypical like karate) can you see an Asian guy be unanimously praised to be the most testosterone-fueled, most athletically-built, most hardcore guy there is? Asian Men: 1, Emasculated Asian Man Stereotype: 0.

But, boxing also comes with it’s own kind of drama. Pacquiao, as it turns out, took Ring Magazine‘s pound-for-pound honour from one Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who is probably the best American boxer currently fighting. Mayweather is a flashy fighter, but beneath his over-abundance of personality, he’s amongst the fastest and most skilled boxers the sport has to offer. He boasts an undefeated record, and even wiped the floor with boxing favourite Oscar De La Hoya. Boxing fans and critics have long clamoured for a fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao, and recently they (we?) were gratified with word of a verbal agreement that the fighters would clash on March 13th, 2010.

With any scheduled fight, there comes an expected amount of hype. Fights generate more revenue when the fighters appear to be settling some sort of interpersonal gripe, and it’s not uncommon for boxers to jab verbally (via the press, who eats this stuff up) in the weeks leading up to a fight. This manufactured “beef” can range from one opponent calling the other weak or diminishing his recent victories… although, unlike in WWE, it’s usually not over a beautiful woman dressed in a blue and red sequinned cat-suit. But, in some cases, the pre-fight back-and-forth can cross a line that makes fans question whether there really are interpersonal issues involved, or if it’s all show business.

In the case of Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, the arguments stem from (what I would call) a rather racist charge against Pacquiao by the Mayweather camp. Basically, Mayweather’s father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., accused Manny Pacquiao of taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)  in order to achieve the level of athleticism that has allowed him to be the first boxer to earn seven championship titles in seven different weight classes (no easy feat because you essentially have to re-learn how to box, and chang eyour strategy, every time you change your weight).

The basis for this claim? Well, the Phillipines (apparently) make some of the best PEDs around, and Manny Pacquiao is Filipino.

As if the Phillipines are so swamped in PEDs that Pacquiao was walking down the streets of Manila one day, when he tripped and fell into a vat of human growth hormone.

Let’s be clear: that shit is racist. The accusations being lobbed against Pacquiao have nothing to do with any actual evidence that he’s taking steroids (except that he’s a buff Asian dude — ‘cuz like, what, Asian dudes can’t be buff?). Instead, it is equating the actions of criminals in the Phillipines with Manny Pacquiao’s morality and ethics. If Pacquiao were from Southern California, would Mayweather be accusing Pacquiao of having an addiction to frappucinos and surfer shorts? And by the same logic, my parents are from China, ergo my family must make our money manufacturing mercury-laden toys, right?

The really frustrating part of it all is that Pacquiao is willing to prove he’s not a druggie, but he’s not willing to jeopardize his performance to satisfy what he insists is a bogus charge. Mayweather’s camp has insisted that both fighters submit themselves to random blood and urine testing before and after the scheduled March 13th fight. Pacquiao agreed to random testing, but drew the line at random blood testing leading all the way up to the fight. He was concerned (and rightly so) that he could be woken up in the middle of the night a day or two before the scheduled fight in order to have blood drawn. Instead, Pacquiao wanted Mayweather to agree that testing be stopped a week before the fight to give both boxers a chance to rest and prepare for the big day.

And, that’s where we’re at. The biggest fight that boxing has ever seen — one that could generate obscene amounts of money — is being derailed over a racist accusation and a butt-load of drama.

Personally, I’m normally not one to spend money on HBO pay-per-view boxing (each fight costs something in the ballpark of $50 to watch!) but I would shell out for Pacquiao vs. Mayweather. Why? Mainly because I’m really not sure who would win that fight. Mayweather has a reach advantage (which he always uses to supreme advantage), lots of power behind his punches, an undefeated record, and lightning fast speed. Yet, Pacquiao is also an agile, active, and adaptible fighter who fights southpaw, which can often throw boxers in a conventional stance for a loop.

Which is my long, round-about way of saying that Mayweather and Pacquiao need to quit with the threats, the ultimatums, and the interpersonal drama. Stop with the posturing, and yes, even the racism — and take the fight to the ring, guys!

Frank Wu to become dean of UC Hastings College of Law

Frank Wu, author of “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White“, will assume the position of dean at the UC Hastings College of Law. Here’s an excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle article on the story: