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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 victory parade.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(Photo/Instagram @jlin7)

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 award.

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 Trae Young.

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 Atlanta.

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 championship series.

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 issues."

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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