As the longest NBA season in history comes to a close with the Lakers winning the 2020 championship title, I’ve decided to reflect upon last year’s championship winner. More specifically, to put the spotlight on one particular person on that team. The Toronto Raptors won their first championship in franchise history in the summer of 2019, and although not having a significant role on that team–Jeremy Lin’s first championship has such a greater meaning for Asian-Americans. I am here to explain the impacts on what it meant for Jeremy Lin to be the first Asian-American to win a championship on the greatest basketball stage ever.
Foremost, I’d like to acknowledge the obvious. Yes, Jeremy Lin did not have a significant role in this team’s title run. He played only 27 minutes throughout the entire playoffs, while his team’s superstar, Kawhi Leonard, played a whopping 937 minutes. Only one of these 27 minutes was amidst the crucial final six games against Golden State. However, I am not here to explain Jeremy Lin’s physical contribution to the game of basketball, but his contribution towards the culture of Asian-Americans and how he overcame all stereotypes and setbacks to become a certified NBA champion.
Lin did not have an easy road into the league. He was only a 2-star recruit coming out of Palo Alto High School, and many colleges passed up on offering him an athletic scholarship. It is widely speculated that Lin did not receive closer inspection by scouts due to his ethnicity, since basketball is a sport dominated by Africans, African Americans, Europeans, and Caucasians. In short, there was very little Asian representation in the world of basketball.
Jeremy Lin eventually received an offer to play at Harvard University, after recruits stumbled upon an A.A.U. tournament and noticed that he was getting the best of some of the top players at his age in the country. After a standard freshman year off the bench, Jeremy Lin kept improving throughout his years in college, becoming one of the top point guards in the nation in his senior year. However, he would eventually fall short in the 2010 NBA draft, as no team drafted him. On the brighter side, his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors, would pick him up for a year. Lin became the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA and the Asian-American community celebrated his arrival. Although receiving much attention, Lin wanted to focus on his game and desired to gain praise through his physical set of skills, not his race.
Jeremy Lin didn’t become much of a headline during the 2010-2011 year, however the next year would be his breakout. After getting waived by the Warriors, he was picked up by the New York Knicks, in which he led his team to a 7-game win streak during the middle of the season. This began “Linsanity”, and an epic moment for Asian Americans. As a chinese kid from New York, I was ecstatic about this moment since Lin began to gain notoriety for his basketball skill and dedication to the game. rThis was where Lin truly began to shine as an icon for Asian Americans who follow the game of basketball. Unfortunately, Lin did not resign with the Knicks due to financial and “basketball reasons”, however he bounced around many teams in the league and proved to be a great addition as a role player.
The greatest heartbreak of Lin’s career was during his prime, where he was given the opportunity to lead a fairly decent Brooklyn Nets team, but suffered a knee injury in his first game of the season that would sideline him for the entire year. He was then traded to the Atlanta Hawks, clearly struggling from the previous injury and putting up below average numbers. Of course many people started to doubt him, even the Asian American community themselves. Lin then reminded everyone of who he was. “I’m not here to live up to anyone else’s expectations, I’m here to live up to mine”.
Lin was ultimately traded to the Toronto Raptors, where he came off the bench and played only ordinarily through the season. The Raptors fought to become the 2019 NBA Champions, and Jeremy Lin was now a champion. Many people scrutinized Jeremy Lin and made stereotypical nods at his victory, such as “Isn’t it fitting that as an Asian, Jeremy Lin got an A on a group project without doing anything”. Although Jeremy Lin had such a small role on this team, most people believed it was right for basketball to give Jeremy Lin something back, after all he has given to the fans and to the Asian American culture.
After Lin’s championship victory, he became a free agent in the summer, as no NBA team wanted to sign him. Instead of calling it quits, Jeremy Lin joined the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), and continues to play out his passion. Although many consider him “washed up”, he eventually received his first All-Star title in his professional career at the CBA. Jeremy Lin continues to speak out for Asian Americans, telling outsiders to “Just accept us as humans” and helps refute stereotypes that seem to limit us of our capabilities. Jeremy Lin may just be seen as a standard basketball player to most people, but he is so much more in the eyes of the Asian American community. As an Asian American who loves the game of basketball, Jeremy Lin has truly inspired me to ignore those who put you down, and to put your heart into everything you do. This is the case for many others as well, regardless of their ethnicity. Jeremy Lin has helped prove to the world that Asians are capable of basketball greatness just as well as any other race.