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NBA star Jeremy Lin grapples with academic pressure, teen suicides in personal Facebook post

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin. (Brandon Dill/AP)

Charlotte Hornets point guard Jeremy Lin opened up to his fans in a long and heartfelt Facebook post last week that addressed his experiences dealing with professional and academic pressure, as well as suicides in his high school.

Lin wrote that his reflections were prompted by the cover of this month’s Atlantic magazine, “The Silicon Valley Suicides,” a report of how expectations on high school students in the tech mecca could drive them to the brink of a dangerous — and sometimes fatal — depression.

“The pressure to succeed in high school is all too familiar to me,” wrote Lin, a graduate of Palo Alto High School on the edge of Silicon Valley.

He went on:

My daily thought process was that every homework assignment, every project, every test could be the difference. The difference between a great college and a mediocre college. The difference between success and failure. The difference between happiness and misery.

Although startling in its honesty, this meditation is apt coming from an NBA player whose career has seen its share of extreme highs and lows.

As a shooting guard playing for the basketball team at Palo Alto High School, he wasn’t offered any athletic scholarships by Division I schools. Bill Holden, an assistant coach at Harvard University, which doesn’t have athletic scholarships, initially regarded him as “like any other average high school player” and told him to consider Division III.

It was only after Holden happened upon Lin at an Amateur Athletic Union tournament that he saw Lin’s potential. Lin was wildly exceeding expectations, besting top Division I recruits on the court.

Then, despite a successful college basketball career at Harvard, where he broke Ivy League records, Lin wasn’t drafted after his graduation in 2010. The NBA had not drafted an Ivy League player since 1995; the last Harvard graduate in the NBA played in 1954.

Again, Lin exceeded expectations.

After outplaying Washington Wizards’ John Wall in the 2010 NBA Summer League, Lin received offers from several teams. He signed on with the Golden State Warriors, his hometown team, and became the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA.

The rest of his story is a well-told one, reaching peak public attention after a game-winning basket for the New York Knicks in 2012 that gave birth to “Linsanity.”

To his fervent fans, and the Asian American community, Lin has been the lanky son of Taiwanese immigrants who became an NBA star against all odds. As Edward Hsu, a Taiwanese American Knicks fan told The Washington Post at the height of the excitement surrounding Lin, “He’s something we thought was impossible.”

Lin’s role in breaking Asian American stereotypes was lost on no one. Asian Americans, it has long been said, excel academically, but they can’t play sports. Then came Jeremy Lin, an NBA player and Harvard graduate who showed the country that they could do both. What’s more, Lin was charismatic in a way that shattered the notion held by many that Asian American men were no more than quiet, socially awkward nerds. If Lin could build an entire movement around his success on the basketball court, then what couldn’t Asian Americans do?

With this lore surrounding Lin in mind, his Facebook post reveals a side of him that could have fed into stereotypes in a previous era. Now, they simply add to the public’s understanding of his past.

Speaking about the pressure to succeed academically in high school, Lin recounted nights when he woke up covered in sweat, shaken by nightmares that he had just failed a test. He considered his grade-point average, SAT score and college applications as “the only barometers” of success, and he said the only outlet from academics he found was on the basketball court during weekend tournaments.

But then something changed. “As each year of high school passed by,” he wrote, “I realized that even though there was pressure to be great, I had to make a personal choice not to define myself by my success and accomplishments. I learned through my brother, my pastor and my friends that my identity and my worth were in more than my grades.” Lin has often spoken about his Christian faith as helping him through tough times.

According to Lin, this is a lesson that he’s had to relearn in every stage of his life:

The world will always need you to accomplish more, do more, succeed more. After I got into Harvard there was the pressure to get good grades and stand out at Harvard. After Linsanity there was the pressure to have great performances every night, to become an All-Star, to win championships. I still dream big and give my all in everything I do, but I know that success and failure are both fleeting.

While attending Palo Alto High, Lin said, a classmate who sat next to him and a friend committed suicide within a year of each other. The suffering that theses deaths caused in his community inspired him to be more compassionate and to listen to those who might be struggling.

As of early Tuesday, Lin’s post had been shared nearly 1,500 times and received 341 comments, many from fans thanking him for writing it. A majority of these comments come from Asian Americans, who comprise a significant part of the population at competitive California high schools and for whom discussions of mental health have become increasingly resonant.

Although data on mental health concerns in the Asian American community is limited, a National College Health Assessment Survey found that Asian American college students were more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. Contrary to popular belief propelled by the archetype of the “Tiger Mom,” though, Asian Americans do not have a higher suicide rate than other racial and ethnic groups.

Many commenters praised Lin for opening up a space for dialogue about suicides resulting from academic pressure.

“As an Asian American bicultural and bilingual psychologist I’ve had the privilege to work with so many over-pressured youth and loving but misguided parents who believe that their child’s exhaustion, anxiety, depression can be overcome by just not talking about it,” wrote user Neleh Chimera. “Thank you for writing this — it will touch many young lives.”

Others, on the other hand, pointed out that it was easier for Lin to espouse these values from the vantage point of someone who has achieved considerable success.

Youm Euge, who called Lin “naive and irresponsible” for sending the message that doing one’s best is all that’s needed, wrote: “Thing is Jeremy, your best got you to Harvard. You also are a professional NBA player. Doing your best and trusting God worked for you just fine. That’s not enough for everyone else.”

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