My Dad sent me this email a few days ago:
You must have heard of this kid, Jeremy Lin, a Knick basketball player. His rise to stardom just a week ago really drives all my friends here crazy. I’m excited too, though not as crazy. I guess it’s because he is a California kid with parents from Taiwan like me and all our friends. When I see and/or hear about him I’m always thinking about you and I feel like I was looking at my son. In my mind you’re my Jeremy Lin.
I knew that shit had just gotten real. Jeremy Lin wasn’t just teetering on the cusp of pop iconography. If he had reached my parents, isolated from anything relevant in a house buried in the farmlands of New Jersey, then he was a full-fledge rip roaring pop God.
By now, all of you have heard of Jeremy Lin. Even if you’ve never seen a basketball game in your life. I’ll still give a quick summary. Jeremy Lin is an American-born Taiwanese basketball player who was undrafted after playing for Harvard (did you expect anything less from a Chinese basketball player?). He was cut from two teams and played in the NBA D-League (D stands for “developmental,” it’s not a grade… as if Lin was capable of getting anything lower than an A-). He was picked up by the Knicks with an unguaranteed contract which meant he could be cut at any time and not receive any more money.
He was inserted into a game against the Nets and had a break out game. Since then the team has won 7 in a row, climbed out of the basement of the standings and Lin is now a global superstar.
But what is it about Lin that fascinates us Chinese so much?
There’s the obvious fact that Lin is Chinese. You can count on one hand how many Chinese players there have been in the NBA. Yao Ming is the most famous. But Yao wasn’t born in America. Lin was. That makes him so much more relatable to the Chinese living in the US.
Speaking of Yao, it’s not a stretch of the imagination by any means that he was a star in the NBA. The guy is seven and half feet tall! How could he not play in the NBA? Sure he has the skill to back it up but his height was such a huge factor. It’s hard to think he’s even the same species as us.
Lin at six feet three inches is barely an adequate height for the NBA. While he would be considered tall for regular people, he’s not unrelatable tall. Most people will never know someone who is seven and half feet tall let alone a Chinese someone. But you might know a Chinese guy close to Lin’s height. In fact, I do. Me.
I’m six foot three inches also. I’m Chinese. I was born in America. If I had the talent, ambition, drive, physical skills and work ethic, I could’ve been Jeremy Lin. Right?
Maybe not, but that’s how he hits us American Born Chinese. Perhaps a small part of us believes that we could be him. Or at least we could know somebody like him. He could be a friend’s brother, a cousin, a classmate from school.
Or in my Dad’s case, someone’s son.
I know what my Dad meant in the email and it was very sweet. But it makes me laugh in the way that it came out. That is so often the case with 2nd generation kids and their 1st generation parents. The language barrier creates more often than not, unpredictably hilarious comments. But I’ve learned to look past that and see what they really mean.
But my Dad’s backhanded compliment does bring up a sobering fact. Scores of Chinese parents will be comparing their kids to Jeremy Lin. Whereas before we simply had to worry about being compared to our successful doctor and lawyer friends, now add NBA superstar to that list.
“Why can’t you run the pick and roll like Jeremy Lin??” coming to a Chinese dinner table near you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gregory Tung is a writer living in Los Angeles. He is the creator of the blog, Scare Yourself Every Day, a year-long project in which he tries to do one thing a day that scares himself.