“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.
In September, I wrote about how Lin’s NBA departure sparked the end of Asian American identity in the U.S. league. Though Asians are finally gaining more representation in popularized global entertainment, there is still much to change. Jeremy Lin and the Chinese Basketball Association have the power to do that.
After receiving no offers following his first NBA World Championship title, Lin signed a $3 million contract with the Beijing Ducks in August, hoping for an opportunity to showcase his unappreciated NBA skillset. And boy, he hasn’t let any of his Linsane fans down.
With the Beijing Ducks losing only one game this season so far, Jeremy Lin has proved once again that he has what it takes to lead a team. In his inaugural CBA season, Lin has averaged 26 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists.
Lin hasn’t put numbers like this in his box score since the Carmelo-absent Linsanity era. Fans are not only excited to see the 31-year-old and nearly 10-year professional basketball veteran rekindle his skills on the court, but are also thrilled to see the Asian American icon finally have the opportunity to lead a talent-heavy team.
But the core of that interview was his openness about American prejudices against the CBA, noting that people thought that the NBA star would easily post 40 or 50 points in an incompetent Chinese league. He refutes that allegation: the CBA is just as tough as the NBA.
First off, the average height in the CBA is an alarming 198.26 centimeters, or 6-foot-6 for us Americans. Even Lin admits in the interview that there are several CBA players who have the ability to play in the NBA. Additionally, China has been a popular destination among ex-NBA players because of its competitiveness, higher pay and more passionate fans, all while playing a shorter regular season.
And yet, the unathletic, physically small and weak Asian stereotype still prevails, in not just the U.S. but most Western countries.
I would be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every time someone directed derogatory Asian slurs towards me while studying abroad in Europe. Instead of reveling in Europe’s cultural abundance, the thought that I was a foreigner everywhere I went — not to mention, even in the country I was born and raised in — lingered in the back of my mind. I belonged nowhere.
But when Lin was recognized by some of the NBA’s finest, the notion that Asians have no place other than in their “motherland” changed. He created a sense of unity for Asians and Asian Americans internationally.
One of the most rewarding experiences I had was during Lin’s time in LA. I was fortunate enough to attend one of his games and watched a once Asian American nobody play alongside NBA legend Kobe Bryant. Their chemistry and skill were astonishing, but what really amazed me were the Asians in the stands. On my left sat a Korean couple from Italy, on my right a Chinese family from Luxembourg and other fellow Asian Americans from Wisconsin behind. Despite our varying hometowns and ethnicities, we were drawn together to support the only iconic Asian face in basketball, and we were proud.
It may be overdramatic, but in that moment, I learned what it meant to be Chinese by ethnicity, American by nationality and Chinese American by identity.
After his two-month stint in New York, we watched him take threes in Clutch City, practice the Mamba Mentality manuscript, buzz through the Hornets, miss the Nets, fly over the Hawks and win with “We The North” from the bench. And with each passing year and career low after low, fans were in the blues seeing his failure to continue his Linsanity reign.
In layman’s terms, he’s our Derrick Rose. Like Rose, Asian basketball fanatics empathized with Lin’s physical and mental pain following his career-threatening injuries. But it wasn’t his physical inability that disheartened fans. The hope — that Asian could be more than the weak passive stereotype — was damaged.
However, Asian pride still somehow managed to survive in professional basketball, despite Lin’s NBA absence. Nearly 200 million people watched the 2015 CBA Finals and that number has risen with Lin’s popularity. In addition, Chinese internet and technology conglomerate Tencent signed a $700 million dollar contract to stream the NBA. It’s obvious that the attention, money and technological means are there. Yet, there is only one streaming platform available for American viewers, and nearly no way to watch the CBA in other countries.
If the CBA were to capitalize on Lin’s global influence and recent stellar performance and utilize all of China’s distribution networks and economic power, precieved Asian discrimination could be debunked on a global scale.
Lin will take the stage with the Beijing Ducks to battle the Jiangsu Dragons in the Wutaishan Gymnasium on Friday, and hopefully, Linsanity is here to stay.
“Off the Rim” runs every Thursday.