Jeremy Lin on the Loneliness of Asian-American NBA Trailblazing

By Julianne Hing Mar 27, 2015

A tip for the next time you run in to Jeremy Lin: don’t mention Linsanity. This week ESPN catches up with Lin, the short-lived NBA phenom, two years after his rocket to international stardom. 

He’s since struggled, been bounced around to different teams, and had to swallow the scoldings of professional grouch and Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant. His post-Linsanity journey has been a wearying one. Lin, writer Pablo Torre points out, ends up having a lot keeping him up on sleepless nights. Lin doesn’t shy away from discussing how his Asianness has affected his career:

"There’s this whole thing where it’s OK to make fun of certain guys more than it is other guys," Lin tells me. "And Asians are very easy to make fun of. We’re the model minority. So everyone can joke about Asians: They’re nice people, respectful people; they won’t do anything." He thinks about this dynamic often. "People look at me, and they’ve always jumped to conclusions. They don’t see toughness. But how do you define that?"

Lin knows that his story has so many different threads that, at this point, it’s an imprecise experiment for isolating the effect of race upon perceptions of manhood. Still, he’s been gathering evidence his whole life: on the kids who invariably demanded to guard "the Asian" on the playground; on the fans who yelled "sweet and sour pork" and "wonton soup" at Georgetown and UConn; on the Ivy League opponent who called him "Chink" on the court; on the basketball observers who argued that Golden State only wanted him as marketing stunt; on the racist comments at the bottom of any video or article about him. Lin doesn’t hear everything. But he can’t ignore everything. And to him, any imprecision in such an experiment fails to mask an even more troubling reality: In 2015, he remains the only such experiment.

That last line isn’t entirely true, depending on how you parse Asianness. The Lakers hailed their history-making move when Jeremy Lin and Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson (who’s half-Filipino), formed the NBA’s first all-Asian backcourt this week, Yahoo’s The Post-Game reported.

Read ESPN’s profile of Lin for more.