As an Asian American point guard who played at Harvard before finding sustained success in the NBA, Jeremy Lin has enjoyed a fairly unique basketball journey. Less enjoyable were the preconceived notions he had to overcome in the pros, but, he said recently, his most upsetting treatment came while playing in college.
“The worst was at Cornell, when I was being called a c—k,” Lin told Nets teammate Randy Foye on the latter’s podcast (via ESPN). “That’s when it happened. I don’t know … that game, I ended up playing terrible and getting a couple of charges and doing real out-of-character stuff.”
Lin, 28, played at Harvard from 2006 to 2010, twice earning all-Ivy League first team honors, before entering the NBA as an undrafted free agent. He said on Foye’s podcast that during the Cornell game, a Crimson teammate told coaches that “they were calling Jeremy a c—k the whole first half.”
“I didn’t say anything, because when that stuff happens, I kind of just, I go and bottle up — where I go into turtle mode and don’t say anything and just internalize everything,” Lin added. A Southern California native and son of Taiwanese immigrants, he went on to cite other incidents of racist treatment, such as at a game at the University of Vermont.
“I remember, because I had my hands up while the Vermont player was shooting free throws — their coach was like, ‘Hey ref! You can’t let that Oriental do that!’ I was like, what is going on here?” Lin said.
“I have been called a c—k by players in front of the refs; the refs heard it, because they were yelling it [like,] ‘Yeah, get that out, c—k!’ And the ref heard it, looked at both of us and didn’t do anything.”
“It’s crazy,” Lin continued. “My teammate started yelling at the ref, ‘You just heard it, it was impossible for you not to hear that. How could you not do something?’ And the ref just pretended like nothing happened. That was when I was like, yo, this [kind of racism and prejudice] is a beast.”
Lin also recalled playing at Georgetown when a fan there heckled him with phrases such as “chicken fried rice,” “beef lo mein” and “beef and broccoli.” He said a fan at Yale told him, “Hey! Can you even see the scoreboard with those eyes?”
However, while Lin thought his treatment in the NBA would be “way worse,” it has been “way better.” He told Foye, “Everybody is way more under control.”
Lin said that the biggest issue for him at the outset of his pro career were assumptions, based on his “natural appearance,” that he wasn’t an above-average athlete. “If you look at the combine stuff, me and John Wall were tied for first in the fastest sprint,” he said. “So my speed and the stats were there, but every time they would write about me, they would say he is not going to be fast enough, he is not going to be strong enough, he is not athletic enough.
“And then when I finally started to play and they would watch me, they would be like, ‘Oh man, he is deceptively athletic. He is deceptively quick.’ So I was fighting that narrative the whole time.”
Lin noted wryly that those sorts of assumptions occasionally worked to his advantage, such as in his rookie year, when he was a poor three-point shooter. Misguided opponents, however, would guard him closely at the arc, only to watch him drive past them to the hoop, displaying the real strength of his game.
“Linsanity,” of course, changed everything, as the remarkable string of dominant games he put together after being pressed into starting duties for the Knicks in February 2012 transformed him into a national sensation. At first, though, that sudden fame was hard for Lin to deal with, particularly the endless questions about “being Asian in the NBA.”
“At a point, I was like, ‘Man, just stop talking to me about being Asian,'” Lin said. “And everyone would refer to me like, ‘Linsanity!’ ‘Linsanity!’ I was like, ‘Dude, just stop calling me that name.’ It became a huge burden, because I felt like I had to be this phenomenon for everybody else.”
But now, Lin finds it “cool” and a “badge of honor” to not only “rep for all the Asians” but also “rep for all the Harvard dudes” and “underdogs.” He said being an icon to so many people is finally “not a burden.”
“I am not scared anymore,” said Lin, who completed his first season with the Nets and has also played for the Warriors, Rockets, Lakers and Hornets. “I appreciate it and want to help and challenge the world, stereotypes and everything.”