Where EAST meets the Northwest
RAPTOR RAPTURE. At the start of the National Basketball Association (NBA)
season, Taiwanese- American athlete Jeremy Lin (#17) didnít expect to be
anywhere near the NBA Finals. In February, however, he negotiated a deal that
allowed him to sign with the Toronto Raptors, a legitimate, top-notch contender.
The Raptors surprised everyone by beating the Golden State Warriors, winners of
three of the last four championships. And Toronto became the first team outside
the United States to win an NBA championship. In the photo on the right, Lin
wore a throwback-style Raptors jersey with Chinese lettering during Torontoís
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #13 (July 1, 2019), page 8.
Role model Lin becomes first Asian-American NBA champion
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
This yearís National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals produced a lot of
great stories. The Toronto Raptors surprised everyone by beating the Golden
State Warriors, winners of three of the last four championships. Toronto became
the first team outside the United States to win an NBA championship, and Raptors
superstar Kawhi Leonard won his second championship ring and second Finals MVP
And Asian-American sports fans rejoiced because Jeremy Lin became the first
Asian American to win an NBA championship. Though he didnít log many game
minutes for Toronto, Lin played an important supporting role and never failed to
remind fans of his Asian ancestry.
At the start of this season, Taiwanese-American athlete Lin didnít expect to
be anywhere near the NBA Finals. Heíd already played for six different teams,
the latest being the Atlanta Hawks, who were in full rebuilding mode after
finishing last in the Eastern Conference in 2017-2018. Atlanta traded for Lin in
July 2018, in part to serve as a mentor to their top draft pick, point guard
Prior to Atlanta, Lin had bounced around plenty since his 2011 "Linsanity"
breakthrough, when he sparked the New York Knicks to the playoffs. Signed by the
Houston Rockets the following season, Lin was ultimately blocked by Patrick
Beverley and James Harden, so Houston traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers,
where he spent one season as a backup.
Then Lin signed a two-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets, but found himself
on the bench yet again. So he opted out of the final year of his deal and signed
with the Brooklyn Nets, where a hamstring injury kept him out of the lineup for
half of his first season. When a patellar injury sustained in the 2017 season
opener knocked him out for all of his second season, Brooklyn traded him to
It took a little while for Lin to shake off the rust with the Hawks this
season since he hadnít played a full game in more than a year. After a few
months, he seemed to find a good rhythm, retooling his jump shot and improving
his transition game. Unfortunately, though, Atlanta hadnít improved, and a
veteran point guard wasnít in their long-term rebuilding plans.
So Atlanta negotiated a buyout with Lin in February, allowing him to sign
with Toronto for the remainder of the season. Once again, Lin found himself with
a new team ó but now the team was a legitimate, top-notch contender. When he
signed with them, the Raptors were in first place in the Atlantic Conference and
had the second-best record in the NBA.
Lin became Torontoís primary backcourt bench player, picking up three starts
down the stretch. He served as a solid locker room presence, supporting the team
in practice and from the sidelines.
"I play against these guys all the time, whether itís in workouts or
whatever," Lin said of his contributions. "Even watching the game, talking to
guys, giving my opinion, or being a voice ó I think thatís very, very valuable."
Lin appeared in 23 regular-season games but didnít get much court time in the
playoffs. Leading up to the NBA Finals, he played a total of 26 minutes in seven
games, and played less than a minute in Game 3 against Golden State. While itís
disappointing for Lin, this kind of bench-shortening is typical in the
Regardless of playing time, Lin made his presence known throughout the
playoffs. During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, Lin wore clothes
to celebrate the month during every playoff game. He wore a shirt that read
"Phenomenally Asian" and another with the Sandra Oh quote, "Itís an honor just
to be Asian." He wore clothing created by Asian-American designers such as
Phillip Lim, Ryan Higa, and Public School NYC. He filled his Instagram feed with
expressions of his Asian pride.
And after the Finals victory, he posted a photo with his family and the NBA
trophy, saying, "Promise Ill [sic] never stop reppin Asians with everything I
have!" Sure enough, he kept representing. During the Raptors victory parade, he
wore a throwback-style Raptors jersey with Chinese lettering. When he saw a fan
wearing a Jeremy Lin jersey in the crowd, he called for the fan to throw it to
him, then he signed it and threw it back.
Lin hasnít always dealt so easily with his heritage. Of his early career
success, he explained, "After I went through Linsanity, I learned the world
wasnít quite ready or didnít know how to handle Asian Americans, Asian Americans
in sports, Asian-American masculinity, and a lot of different Asian-American
He also explained how he struggled with the way people viewed him. After
Toronto signed him, he said of his heritage, "Everything was about being Asian
in the NBA. At a point, I was like, ĎMan, just stop talking to me about being
Asian.í Ö It became a huge burden, because I felt like I had to be this
phenomenon for everybody else."
But then he learned to embrace it. Now, he says, "I take pride in it. It is
not a burden to me anymore. I am not scared anymore. I appreciate it and want to
help and challenge the world, stereotypes and everything."
Lin has done that and more, offering a role model to younger Asian players, a
new paradigm for sportswriters, and a fantastic focus for Asian-American sports
fans. Heís smart, humble, and adaptable, and heís kept his head up despite
racist chants in college and the NBA. Wherever he lands next year, Lin will keep
shattering stereotypes, confounding expectations, and making his fans proud.
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