Jeremy Lin, the NBA playmaker of Taiwan and Chinese heritage whose rise last season sparked “Linsanity” worldwide, told GQ Magazine in a cover story that he still feels the sting of racist attitudes.
“I’m going to have to play well for a longer period of time for certain people to believe it because I’m Asian. And that’s just the reality of it,” Lin told GQ in a story from next month’s issue posted on the magazine’s Web site.
Lin is featured on the cover wearing a suit and basketball shoes and holding a basketball in his left hand with a headline: “Jeremy Lin will not be denied.”
“I don’t always pass with my left, but when I do, its for GQ ... thanks,” Lin posted on Tuesday on his Twitter page.
Lin, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate, was pulled off the bench for the New York Knicks last season, when the club had two starters felled by injury. He shocked everyone with a star turn that sparked a win streak and “Linsanity.”
The starters returned and so did reality, but the Knicks reached the playoffs and Lin was expected to play a role for new York in the upcoming season.
However, when the Houston Rockets made an offer of US$25 million for three years and the Knicks refused to match it, Lin departed for the Texas club, where retired Chinese star center Yao Ming played his entire NBA career.
“When we had Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, those were our centerpieces,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told GQ. “Right now, we’re really sort of figuring out who those foundational players will be, but if you had to ask me who’s most likely to be that guy, I think Jeremy Lin’s No. 1.”
However, Lin says that he still feels a sense of bigotry toward him, that people see his skills as more limited because of his unique status as the NBA’s first Asian-American player.
“If I can be honest, yes. It’s not even close to the only reason, but it was definitely part of the reason,” Lin said. “There’s a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of Asian-Americans that are out there today and the fact that I’m Asian-American makes it harder to believe, even crazier, more unexpected.”
Lin cited remarks by NBA TV commentator Charles Barkley about Yao when the Chinese superstar was made the top pick of the 2002 NBA Draft by Houston.
“When Yao came out his rookie year as the first pick of the draft, you have Charles Barkley saying: ‘If he scores 17 points in a game, I’m going to kiss a donkey’s butt,’” Lin said. “If you [play well] for long enough, I think you would get the respect.”
Lin felt racism slaps last season, such as an ESPN Web site headline “Chink in the armor” after he had a poor showing on the court.
“In my younger days, it would make me really angry,” Lin said. “I think the comments in college were pure racism. Stuff that was said by opposing players, opposing fans, opposing coaches. So none of this was even close to that.”
Lin became a star in Taiwan, his parents’ homeland, and China, where one of his grandparents is from. He recalled being so mobbed during an Asian visit in the off-season that he rarely escaped his hotel room.
“It’s a unique thing that I have this platform and I can grow the game there, but honestly, I find it a bit scary,” he said.
Lin also told GQ that he knows he has much more to learn and must do more to put himself among the upper level of NBA playmakers.
“People are always saying, ‘He has only started 25 games. There are so many uncertainties.’ And I agree,” Lin said. “Things that I struggled with before last year, I’m going to struggle with next year. There’s that learning process. I have to get better.”