Lin's Asian-American fans have arrived
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Gie-Ming and Shirley Lin sat in the front row behind the Harvard bench, and to support their son, they proudly wore T-shirts that read on the back, "Welcome to the Jeremy Lin Show."
The print on the front of the shirts screamed a more powerful message:
In the corner of the sold-out arena, 16-year-old Austin Ng was starting to do just that while leaning over the concourse-level railing alongside his parents. He was getting a glimpse of a stereotype being shattered.
An Asian-American basketball star?
Ng's family had snapped up discounted tickets for $8.88 apiece and made the hourlong drive from San Francisco -- not to see Santa Clara in nonconference action, but to be mesmerized by Lin's every movement.
"It gives me inspiration," said Ng, who recently got cut by his high school team but continues to play basketball for an Asian-American club team called the Dragons. "If he can do it, why not me?"
Lin was playing about 15 miles from his hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., and his presence resulted in a capacity crowd at the 4,700-seat Leavey Center that included a handful of his family members and droves of Asian-Americans wanting to witness his homecoming. The 6-foot-3 senior, averaging 17.4 points per game for the 11-3 Crimson, said he didn't pay attention to it until his teammates told him, "It was like Hong Kong."
Jeremy Lin fanatic Brian Yang, wearing a shirt picturing Chinese-American actor Bruce Lee, beamed at the sight. The 36-year-old helps run an Asian-American basketball league and assisted in coordinating the effort by the Dream League to pack the stands with Asian-Americans.
The Dream League, a Bay Area community service organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian-American basketball players, purchased about 500 tickets from Santa Clara and offered to resell them at lower prices in order to encourage members of the Asian-American community to watch Lin play. Why charge $8.88 for general-admission tickets? The No. 8 in Chinese culture is a lucky one.
Yang estimated his mass e-mails, as well his Facebook and Twitter posts advertising the event, reached about 1,500 people in his network, and ultimately around 400 of the 500 tickets were resold.
Like Lin, Yang grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley after his parents emigrated from Taiwan to attend graduate school. The self-described basketball junkie also started for his high school team as a 6-1 power forward.
"With Jeremy, it's like, 'Wow, he is me,'" Yang said. "This is exactly me, except I'm not as good in basketball."
In the Asian-American community, academics are king and immigrant parents are usually more concerned with a GPA than PPG. Even Lin, who won numerous player of the year honors as a senior at Palo Alto High and led his team to a state title, famously did not receive a single Division I scholarship offer.
Ng, who plays guard at 5-7, believes Asian-American players are often judged unfairly.
"People just look past you," he said. "It's like they don't even see you."
According to those in the community, the positive image of the Asian-American male is largely absent in mainstream media as well.
"The stereotypes are still there," said Yang, who works as a film and television producer. "We're often martial artists, we're sexless, we're geeky, we're dorky. Asian males are definitely sort of nonexistent, and if we are [existent], we're either a William Hung -- something you laugh at -- or an anomaly like Jeremy Lin.
"It's definitely frustrating, but it's changing a little because the more anomalies you see, the more it's a norm. Every time you see a Jeremy Lin or a Harold & Kumar, these things chip away the stereotype of being weak and not cool and hip."
It gives me inspiration. If he can do it, why not me?” -- 16-year-old Austin Ng
Lin, meanwhile, is no longer college basketball's best-kept secret, judging from the hits on his YouTube clips and the national publication clippings he's been accumulating, including this one by our own Dana O'Neil.
For Monday's game, Santa Clara credentialed an Asian-American magazine, a Chinese-language television station and two Chinese-language newspapers.
One of the newspapers, the Sing Tao Daily, even asked a Harvard official if it could send a camera crew to San Jose International Airport to cover Lin's arrival with the team.
Asian media outlets usually reserve their paparazzi-style coverage for celebrities, and Lin appears to have little desire to become one. According to the team's spokesman, he didn't even want to be the cover boy for Harvard's basketball media guide.
When his family was able to whisk him away from the team hotel for about three hours before the game, Lin simply spent the time back home playing video games with his brothers and satisfying his cravings for In-N-Out Burger, which he's deprived of on the East Coast.
He's like every other bright, church-going, family-oriented, guy-next-door type, except he hung 30 points on UConn last month and is also known for hitting buzzer-beaters and unleashing ferocious dunks.
"His storyline is one we recognize," said Jeff Yang, who writes an Asian pop culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's one we live with or hope to live. He was born here and raised here. His dad was an engineer. He's faced the same kinds of unique challenges.
"The difference is on the playground. When we were being picked last and told to play zone and not to shoot, he was getting himself into shape and that made him a legitimate talent."
Against a Santa Clara defense determined to make Lin's Crimson teammates do the scoring, he tied a season low with six points. But he put up 9 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in Harvard's 74-66 win.
Lin finished the night by holding a news conference and then signing an autograph for a young Chinese-American girl waiting outside the door. She wanted it because like Lin, she also plays guard and wears a No. 4 basketball jersey.
"It's people I've never met before," Lin said of the support he's been getting. "I'm very flattered and overwhelmed."
Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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