The $25 million point guard of the Houston Rockets tells the magazine that he holds no grudges against the New York Knicks for letting him go. He also talked race and racism. An excerpt from GQ’s profile of Lin titled “Rocket Man:”
But one thing Lin agrees his race did cost him might be best described as, in the words of George W. Bush, the soft bigotry of low expectations. The key part of Lin’s story, the reason the world was so inspired by him, was that he was never really given a chance. He was undrafted out of college and spent a year-plus in the Development League or at the very end of an NBA bench. “I’m going to be honest, playing in D-League games is tough,” he says. “We got way more fans at Harvard games. It feels like a demotion, and it feels like if you have one bad game then the thought gets in your brain: I might get cut.”
Lin felt this acutely. He tells me, to my shock, that when he graduated from Harvard in 2010 and wasn’t selected in the NBA Draft, he decided that if it turned out that he needed to play overseas (as is commonplace for those who don’t make the NBA), he was going to give himself one more year, and then he would quit and get a real job. “I absolutely would not have liked playing in Spain or somewhere like that, so I was just gonna do it a year,” he says. “Then I was gonna be done.” As a Harvard graduate, I ask him, what would you have done instead? He laughs. “I have no idea, man.” Lin really was that close to hanging up his sneakers at 23.
You might think his race has something to do with those perceived limitations after turning pro; Lin certainly does: “If I can be honest, yes. It’s not even close to the only reason, but it was definitely part of the reason.” And it didn’t end with Linsanity. “There’s a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of Asian-Americans that are out there today, and the fact that I’m Asian-American makes it harder to believe, even crazier, more unexpected,” he says. “I’m going to have to play well for a longer period of time for certain people to believe it, because I’m Asian. And that’s just the reality of it.” It’s not all that dissimilar from what Yao Ming went through. “When Yao came out his rookie year as the first pick of the Draft, you have Charles Barkley saying, ‘If he scores seventeen points in a game, I’m going to kiss a donkey’s butt,’ ” Lin says. “If you do it for long enough, I think you would get the respect.”