I'm a fan of the Jeremy Lin story. He's the Asian-American starting point guard for the New York Knicks. A basketball star with a degree from Harvard. A great athlete who works hard to persevere.
A Linderella story.
He's a 6-foot, 3-inch unlikely star in professional basketball. He played at Palo Alto High and took them to a California state championship in 2006. He wanted to play at Stanford but received little attention from any major college basketball program. Instead, he opted to go to Harvard, where he led it to its winningest season ever, a 21-7 record.
Still, he garnered little interest from NBA. He signed as a free agent with Golden State and Houston and was eventually cut. Later he was picked up by the New York Knicks as a reserve and sat on the bench until they were desperate; depleted by injuries, they had no choice but to start him.
He succeeded, winning his first six games and setting scoring records. Suddenly, a bad team is looking good, talk of making the playoffs increases with each victory, including wins over some of the elite NBA teams. He's new, exciting and winning.
Lin it to win it.
Lin is one of the first Asian-American faces in professional basketball, but not the first. In 1947, "Wat" Misaka, a Japanese American, joined the New York Knicks. The racism following World War II was intense, Misaka played in a few games, then was cut.
Likewise, Lin breaks stereotypes. He's not the traditional Asian-American success story in science or math. This is sports and entertainment.
He's not Asian -- his parents are from Taiwan, but he was born in America. For some, Asian American is a new term.
But he can play the game. He's an exceptional athlete and he's Harvard educated and he's Asian American.
HustLIN' on the court.
Lin sat on the New York bench for much of the season. His success now has many guessing: What other gems are sitting on the bench, any bench in any profession?
But Lin shatters stereotypes because he plays a game. In typical Asian-American fashion, he got great grades (4.2 GPA in high school, avoiding the Asian F of an A minus) and has a backup plan with a college degree in economics. But the idea of play is unique: He and his family valued life outside the classroom.
We can move beyond the Tiger Mom syndrome of dominating, uncompromising and unforgiving discipline with absolutely no hoops, no indie music, no play.
This can be a break-out moment for Asian Americans: They can find success in other fields, including the arts. How many Jeremy Lins sit on the bench of dancing and acting? How many should be encouraged to follow their dreams in creative fields?
The Lin story is about high standards and unconditional support. Too often, alternative paths are not taken seriously, not just for Asian Americans, but all our families. (For example, I want to believe it was OK for me to attend UC Berkeley and then come back home to Fresno and farm organically.)
Lin also carries the weight of race and the color of his skin. People of color means just that: We are identified by physical features that mark us as different. Others may claim to live in a color-blind society but we're not quite there yet. Race still triggers something in people.
Many are unaware of attitudes. They use language without regard, believing it's just words. Example: ESPN has backtracked when it allowed the C word -- rhymes with link -- to be posted on a story and used on air twice while referring to Jeremy Lin. That word is racist and "not knowing" is a weak excuse. That's why race matters -- it's a lens through which people still see the world and frame others with words.
Lin is a rare sports star: He's humble. His humility is a new attraction, a feel-good moment that infrequently takes the spotlight in sports -- like the community-owned Green Bay Packers or the Wonder Dogs of the Fresno State national championship baseball team. We still enjoy an underdog story.
A Lin beneath my wings.
He is a Christian, but avoids overt public demonstrations of his faith. No need for others to witness his beliefs. He says he's not the savior of the Knicks, just trying to make the team better.
It also helps he plays for New York, a media center of hyperbole. Celebrities attending your games can only help generate hype. Spike Lee wearing your high school and later college jersey is very cool.
You can't Lin them all.
So what happens when the Knicks lose games? The luster will inevitably fade, but perhaps not so quickly forgotten. Lin is a very good basketball player; that should sustain him.
But why the puns and play on words with his name? There's a danger when we trivialize someone's name and, by extension, their race. Asian-American names are often foreign sounding with different tonal qualities. I believe people have found a comfort zone in word play with his name. I find it fun.
I once played basketball in high school. I, too, was too short, didn't have enough flair and got A's in the classroom. Was I a gem on the bench? Could I humbly work hard and find second-chance redemption? I would eventually have a back-up college education plan and understood the creative value of play. But -- and this is the most important fact -- at basketball, I just wasn't that good.
No Masumoto insanity. Just a Lincredible story.
Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Send email to him at email@example.com.