I’m gonna have a hard time explaining Jeremy Lin to my grandchildren.
If they ask why he was such a big deal, I’ll tell them he was the first Asian-American in the NBA. And if they ask why that’s a big deal, I’ll tell he became an international star in one day.
But if they ask why a person became so famous — and so important — for being a different color and being really good at throwing an inflated piece of leather into a steel ring, I’ll have to think.
I might tell them about my freshman year of high school, when I was taunted during a baseball game. I was the pitcher, and every ball I threw was smashed into the outfield. So when the opposing team said, “Bring me some fried rice, pitcher,” I wanted so badly to strike the next guy out. Except the next pitch was smashed so far over the outfield wall that even my teammate were in awe — and then my coach took me out of the game.
Or I might tell them about how, when I was growing up, every Asian-American kid playing basketball was nicknamed “Yao Ming.” But then my grandkids might ask me, “Isn’t that the guy who said, ‘Can I write cheque?’ “
Or I might tell them how, back in the day, pro sports in America were mostly out of reach for Asian-Americans. But then they’ll probably name a 20 Asian-American NBA and NFL players. And I’ll just have to say, “No, no, kids. They came 20 years after Jeremy Lin.”
Or maybe I’ll tell them the Asian players in the NBA were named “Wang Zhizhi” and “Yi Jianlian” and “Yuta Tabuse” — people I didn’t relate to. And my grandkids will say, “Yeah, those names definitely don’t sound like ‘Grandpa.’ “
Or I might have to tell them how, as a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be an NBA star. In second grade, I tried to pursue that goal by practicing. But I had no basketball hoop, so I stacked up boxes from my garage and threw a deflated ball at the structure, only to miss and have the boxes tumble over. Maybe that’s when the dream started to die — not just for basketball, but for architecture, too.
Or I could tell them a handful of other things, like how Asian men were often portrayed negatively in the media. Or how, even when Jeremy Lin came along, American headline writers were still not entirely aware of what was racist and what wasn’t. Or how virtually every writer in America analyzed the social impact of what we’re annoyingly calling “Linsanity.”
I could tell them all these things, and they would say, “That makes sense, Grandpa. Maybe Jeremy Lin was important.” But, really, they wouldn’t get it. And I know that, because when I learned about Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, I didn’t get it either. And I’m still not sure I can fully relate.
But what I do understand is why Jeremy Lin is important. Because it doesn’t take any deep personal insight to feel what I feel when people talk about Jeremy Lin as a talented, respected and desirable human being. It doesn’t take a scarring past to feel what I feel when hundreds of people come to defend him when we see tweets like this. And it doesn’t take any intellectual thought to feel what I feel when a person who looks like me and grew up like me is doing something I was culturally discouraged from even thinking about.
And that feeling I feel so viscerally can simply be described as “good.”
February 15, 2012