I’m not going to say I knew him his whole life. Up until February 4th, 2012, I didn’t really know who Jeremy Lin was. When he averaged 13 points and 4 assists in during career at Harvard, I still had no idea who he was. I was more interested in Greg Paulus, Kyle Singler, and Gerald Henderson than Jeremy Lin. When he signed with the Golden State Warriors, I heard about him in passing. He’s some Asian kid playing for the Warriors. Still, nothing registered. When my hometown New York Knicks picked him up shortly after Christmas 2011, I read his Wikipedia bio, but nothing more. I wasn’t even really a Knicks fan at that point. I attended their last playoff win in 2001, but my 7 year old self didn’t fall in love like many kids do at their first game. I watched Knicks games on television at college every once in a while, and rooted for them when they played, but my NBA fandom was like this: I was going to wait until the Nets moved to Brooklyn and got me excited, or until the Knicks got good. I was going to hop on whatever bandwagon came riding up first, buy a seat for life, and not budge. This was my lifelong fanhood that was at stake—I wasn’t going to blindly pledge to either team.
In a fantastic twist of fate, I landed a couple Knicks-Nets tickets at MSG on February 4th. I took my buddy Rohtas along with me, and his obsession with the Knicks was contagious. If I was going to sit through a game with Rohtas, I had to root for the Knicks. At MSG, I bought a Carmelo Anthony jersey—my first piece of Knicks merchandise. After throwing down $80 for a jersey, I was literally invested in the Knicks cause.
Early on in the game, Carmelo got hurt. Going into the night with a 7-15 record, Coach Mike D’Antoni, fearing a loss to the Nets would cost him his job, went all Lin, and gave the gangly Jeremy Lin his chance to run the point. As a 19 year old Chinese-American, I was glued to Jeremy’s every move. I cheered every basket, rebound, and assist he made like I would celebrate a goal in soccer. My shouts of “It’s the Year of the Lin,” “That’s my Chink Balla!” and “Kung hei fat choi motherfuckers!” rained down onto the court after every one of Jeremy’s moves. I remember being enthralled after he scored 10 points, ecstatic when he topped 20 points, and euphorically foaming at the mouth when he ended the game with 25 points after sparking a 4th quarter comeback.
After the game, I scoured the MSG concourse for any vendors selling his jersey. They had Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas, and Landry Fields jerseys printed, but no Lin 17 shirts. I had to rep my new favorite athlete and my new favorite team immediately. I went to the NBA Store the next day in hopes of scoring any Lin merchandise. Nothing was there, but people had been customizing $300 Knicks jerseys with Lin’s name and number all day. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was hooked and needed a little retail therapy.
The Knicks went on to win 10 of their next 13 games, hitting the tipping point when Jeremy scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. The day before the game, Kobe scoffed at the notion that he’d personally be guarding Jeremy. After Jeremy torched Derek Fisher, and traded baskets with Kobe in the 4th en route to a big Knicks win at MSG, I’m sure Kobe wished he had paid a little more attention to my man. Rohtas was at that Laker game, and he said that the Garden was buzzing like it was a playoff elimination game. In a way, this was Jeremy’s elimination game. Four games and three starts into Linsanity, Jeremy still had more doubters than lovers. If he had shat the bed against Kobe Bryant with the world watching, Linsanity would’ve been tempered to just Jeremy Lin, Knicks starter. Nothing is Linsane about being a starter on a team below .500.
Instead, Jeremy took himself, his expectations, and my pride to heights I’ve never felt as a sports fan. A week after the Nets game, I purposely showed up late for a test so I could go and buy the last Lin jersey at Paragon Sports in Union Square (I ended up getting a C+. I’ll take it.) I was at his 28-14-4 performance against the defending champion Mavericks (After the game, I told an ABC reporter outside of MSG that I was Jeremy’s third-cousin removed. I don’t even know what that means. My interview ran that night on the 6 o’clock news. No, I am not actually Jeremy’s third-cousin removed). To this day, I still don’t understand how he nailed that 3-pointer over Dirk Nowitzki. I’m waiting for Sports Science on ESPN to figure that one out for me. Since I was born (and became a fan of my respective teams. I wasn’t wearing a Yankees cap out of the womb) my Yankees have won five World Series titles, my Packers have won one Super Bowl, Michael Schumacher won everything, and Liverpool FC has been successful. None of those championships and wins mattered as much as Jeremy’s two month run at the top of the sports world.
That’s why it hurts losing him so much. He mattered more.
It wasn’t just that he was good. It wasn’t just about the wins, the worldwide hysteria, and his underdog story. Jeremy Lin mattered to me, because he was doing all of those things as a Chinese-American kid. He’s just like me. (Technically, he’s Taiwanese, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s Chinese.) I’ve never been able to identify with anybody like that before. I’m a bi-racial kid, but I usually don’t self-identify. Being half-white doesn’t give you the White Privilege in America that’s afforded to every other white man—it only gets you sideways stares at family weddings or gatherings featuring my “Block” side of the family. I look Asian. I don’t look white. I don’t look like them.
The “Lew” side has brought me personal shame. During baseball games, everyone teased me and compared me Ichiro or Hideki Matsui. Actually, I hit righty. While I was pitching in an All-Star game once, the announcer compared my unorthodox motion to Hideo Nomo’s. No. I based it off of Black pitching great Bob Gibson’s windup, and I like Huston Street. They called me the “Blazin’ Asian.” My friends usually just call me J. Block. At school, I was picked on viciously for being Asian, despite living in a town that falsely prides itself on diversity. No, I do not have squinty eyes. My penis is the same size as yours. I’m actually bad at math. Fuck you Carlos Mencia. I’ve been conditioned to be self-ashamed when faced with other Asians. I’m embarrassed when I see an Asian mother struggle to order a hamburger at McDonalds. I’m disgusted when I see nerdy Chinese kids in matching outfits play on their Gameboys at dim-sum. They’re all playing into the stereotype that I was ridiculed for, and I used to blame them for it.
Jeremy Lin changed all of that.
He made me proud to be Chinese.
He made me proud to be me.
It takes a long time for everyone to get comfortable in their own skin. Some people never get used to themselves. Everything is cool when you’re a kid, and then puberty blows everything up. We get fat, skinny, tall, wide, muscular, acne-scarred, ugly, pretty, handsome, busty, or just lame. I became Chinese. Jeremy Lin made that okay for me. I’ll gladly self-identify in a world where Jeremy’s playing basketball.
Jeremy related to me in a way that Yao Ming never did. Yao was from China; I’ve never been to China, and he couldn’t have been more different than me culturally and physically. Yao was over seven feet tall. He looked like a basketball player. He was always going to be one. After all, what’s a seven foot Chinese kid going to become in a country where he’s a full two feet taller than the average man? He was built to play basketball. Jeremy, however, could be just another American man. I’m sure that his six foot three inch, 200 pound build is more imposing in person, but on an NBA court, he looks like a college freshman. He got knocked around like one too. Drive after drive, he’d get hit at levels only Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose know, and he’d get back up after every fall. Jeremy’s got five inches and 50 pounds on me, but I figured that if he could go out and dominate a Black man’s game, then I can hold my own in pickup games at NYU. At the very least, I could carry myself with more confidence. Want to call me “Young Jeremy Lin” anytime I play ball? That’s what I want to hear.
Even in totally random situations, Jeremy’s affected me. I was in the hospital this past weekend with an intestinal problem (I’m fine now). While I was sitting in bed in agony, all I could think of was this picture that Jeremy put on his Facebook after his knee surgery in April.
If Jeremy could be in the hospital and stay strong, then so could I. That seems like what a kid on one of SportsCenter’s “My Wish” segments would say, but that’s how I felt. Every time I play beer pong, write an article, or play a video game, I often shout “I do it for Jeremy Lin!” as if Jeremy is somehow being empowered through my nonsensical chants. He inspires me to live my life.
During Linsanity, I wasn’t the only person in my family who became Linsane. My father, who hates basketball, began watching Jeremy’s games after work instead of watching Glee. All my mother could talk about was Jeremy, and she’s clueless about sports. Even my 84 year old Chinese grandmother watched Jeremy play on TV. These people could’ve cared less about LeBron’s playoff redemption, which was arguably the sports story of the 21st century. My family stopped and watched Jeremy and only Jeremy, and millions of other families around the globe did too. He became a worldwide icon, and my personal hero.
I’ve been heartbroken by athletes before. Brett Favre coming out of retirement twice to play for the hated Minnesota Vikings was treacherous. Fernando Torres, after declaring his undying love for Liverpool FC for years, burned us out of nowhere and forced a move to the empirical Chelsea FC. Jeremy’s broken my heart today, but unlike Favre and Torres, I won’t harbor any ill-will towards him. He’s a Houston Rocket now because he wanted to get paid after the Knicks gave him every indication that they’d hand him a blank check. Jeremy did what every other 23 year old with a limited resume and a chance at the jackpot would do. He took the money, and still should’ve been a Knick. I’ll never forgive the Knicks for letting Jeremy go. My brain and I had a meeting about becoming a Nets fan, but I’m too loyal of a person to do that. I was at MSG for their first playoff win in over a decade against the vaunted Miami Heat. There’s a different energy and passion that Knicks fans give that building, and I want to be a part of that for the rest of my life. I won’t, however, be giving the Knicks a single penny as long as Jeremy is playing NBA basketball.
We all have that one friend who we accept and deal with just because they’re around. By all accounts, they suck and they’re a total snake, but we still call them up to hang out. The Knicks are now that friend to me. Jeremy Lin, however, isn’t my friend—he’s my idol, and idols don’t just wear uniforms.
“I love the New York fans to death. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career.”
We did too Jeremy.
February 2012-July 2012
“To know Him is to want to know Him more.”
Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49