While Robb Lim’s swift, catlike moves have for months attracted the attention of recruiters from colleges such as Hood and St. Mary’s, in recent weeks his name and his race have brought him minor celebrity status at school. Friends call him a “Lim-spiration,” and compare him to Jeremy Lin, the 6-3 Taiwanese American point guard for the New York Knicks, who blazed into the national spotlight this month.
Lin’s athletic prowess has surprised many in the United States who believed the stereotype of Asian Americans as violin-playing bookworms who think sports are a time-waster.
But Lin, Lim and other talented Asian athletes have not burst forth out of nowhere. They tend to be children of Asian Americans who have been in the United States long enough to move past the Tiger Mom mind-set and embrace a more well-rounded childhood.
These parents have not let academics slip. Lin is a Harvard man, and Lim has a weighted 4.0 grade-point average. But both had fathers who encouraged their interest in basketball.
“It’s part of his achievement,” said Lim’s father, who has lived in the United States for 23 years. “You’ve got to let them explore what they like to do.”
Over the years, icons such as martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and Asian American figure skaters Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan have chipped away the stereotype of Asians. But Lin has smashed a wrecking ball into it.
Asian Americans who never watched basketball now gather to cheer for the Knicks — on Sunday Lin will appear in his first nationally broadcast game. And for those who didn’t see much value in sports, Lin’s success may be changing the conversation about what is acceptable for their children.
Before, “if an Asian kid came to the dinner table and said, ‘Mom, Dad, I want to join the NBA,’ the mom would whack him upside the head and say, ‘What are you talking about? You’re Asian,’ ” said David Kung, who coaches an all-Asian national basketball team based in Montgomery County as well as Montgomery Blair High School’s varsity team. “Now, not only is it okay, but the parents are into it, too.”
For many, the notion of team sports as an integral part of childhood has taken root slowly, over a generation or two.
“Part of it depends on how recently the parents have immigrated,” said Jim Hahn, 50, a Takoma Park economist whose family moved to the United States from Taiwan when he was 4.
His father, a mathematician, and his mother, a doctor, had iron rules about how he could spend his time. When he was 5, he had to recite his multiplication tables up to 13 before he was allowed to ride his bicycle. He got good grades and played the violin as his parents required, but “they actually forbade me to play sports in high school.”