On June 17, around 2 million people gathered in Toronto to greet the reigning NBA champion team, the Toronto Raptors. It was a historic win, not just for Toronto, but for all of Canada. While the National Basketball Association includes teams from across North America, only one of the 30 teams in the league is Canadian. This year, the Raptors made it to their first-ever NBA finals, and subsequently beat the San Francisco-based team, the Golden State Warriors, to win their first championship.
During the 2018-19 season, there have been moments that have caught the attention of even non-basketball fans like myself. For many Asians, perhaps the most significant of these was Asian-American player Jeremy Lin’s move to the Raptors.
Some may remember the craze surrounding Lin back in 2012, when he led the New York Knicks on a winning streak and inspired a new buzzword: “Linsanity”. A devoted Christian and a Harvard graduate, his story had fans hooked. However, soon after, the hype died down.
In 2015, speaking at an event at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lin talked about being benched (not an active player in a game) and having a terrible season with the Los Angeles Lakers. His time in the NBA must have been tough, as there aren’t that many Asians in the league. In fact, he made a YouTube video, titled How to Fit in the NBA, about his struggle to keep up with the slang, fashion, and culture within the league. While the video is just a sketch, it is likely a reflection of all he has gone through.
When he was traded to the Toronto Raptors this season, many fans welcomed him with open arms and a standing ovation. However, he was still “doubted and underappreciated”, according to his brother. He was even stopped by security while on his way back to the Raptors’ team bus, which must have been humiliating and heartbreaking.
While he didn’t want people to focus on his Asian identity at first, Lin seems to be embracing it now. To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, he was spotted wearing shirts that paid tribute to his background. And during the victory parade last week, he wore a Raptors jersey with the team name written on it in Chinese characters.
Lin has every reason to be proud of his identity. After all, Linsanity was not only an appreciation of his skills, but of the Asian-American representation he brought to the NBA. He played in one game this finals, making him the first East Asian American to play in the NBA finals, and the first Asian-American to ever be a champion.
I can’t wait for Jeremy Lin to bring more attention to his experience as an Asian-American. And given how honestly he discussed race and cultural appropriation when he was criticised for wearing dreadlocks, there is no better time for him to start yet more open conversations.