What do you think of Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese American guard from Harvard—about his chances, his type of game, and what he represents for the future of the sport?
Keith Chow: I already mentioned Jeremy and the reasons I already stated are the reason I'm very much invested in his career right now. The biggest thing is because he's Asian American. So unlike Yao or Yi Jianlian, he's probably experienced the same things I've experienced playing basketball in the States, so I can totally identify with him. Also, he's an athletic wing player as opposed to a seven-footer (as much as I love Yao, sometimes it's hard watching him lumber up and down the court) with a fierce competitive streak and an ability to single-handedly take over a game. Guards always have the ball in their hands, so it's easier for the casual fan to appreciate the things he does on the court.
Also, the NBA is no longer a big man's game. Guys who play like Yao have been phased out, and Team China has not developed wing players the way they did big men, which is why watching them play internationally is so disconcerting.
The other reason is that if Lin not only succeeds, but also excels in the League, than that'll only mean more opportunity for other Asian American basketball players, because scouts will start paying attention instead of dismissing the Asian American kids.
Steve Chin: Jeremy has got a legit shot at the pros—albeit it's a long shot, like from half court. But it would mean a lot for the community if he made it. It's uncharted territory for Asian Americans—to play pro ball in the modern era. He would become an instant role model for Asian American athletes. I'm rooting for him.
Albert Kim: Though I haven’t seen him play yet and frankly, don’t know a whole lot beyond one or two articles I’ve read, I love the idea of Jeremy and what he represents. An Asian American basketball player competing in a Division I school who’s also a genuine NBA prospect? That’s a first in my lifetime. And I know for certain there’s a whole generation of kids out there who are watching him and realizing that it is possible to compete at that level.
Bernard Chang: I think Jeremy and the publicity he has received is tremendous, and I applaud every time I hear about him. Whether he makes it into the NBA or not, he has already placed a spotlight on an area that needed much attention.
At the same time, don't forget about the youngest head coach in the NBA, Erik Spoelstra, a Filipino American. He currently coaches Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat and is the successor to legendary coach Pat Riley. Erik played Division I basketball for the University of Portland, and was the starting point guard all four years, averaging 9.2 points per game, and named West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year. He joined the Heat staff as the team's video coordinator in 1995 and worked his way up through the ranks to become the team's head coach in 2008.
Jerry Ma: I am super excited for Jeremy. He's a good player who has a solid all-around game, and I think he has a good chance to be drafted in the mid-second round of the draft. I do believe he has a chance to play and have a career in the NBA too. As for what he represents...I'd say that right now he represents hope for other Asian American athletes. At the end of the day, all that matters is your ability to play and perform in sports—it doesn't matter what color you are, which makes it probably the most honest form of work there is.
That being said though: Jeremy will show other Asians that it's possible to achieve things.
Bill Yao: Would love for him to become a NBA star but from what I can tell from his YouTube clips he doesn't seem like he has superstar potential. I also don't think most Americans would distinguish American-born from foreign-born Asians like Yao Ming.
Jonathan Lee: I’ve followed the career of Jeremy Lin ever since he played at Palo Alto High in high school and through his four years at Harvard. He’s obviously a very gifted player and should have received at least one Division I scholarship offer coming out of college. I truly think that his race affected the decisions in a lot of coaches.
He’s a great player—always one of the best on the court, and well-rounded. The fact that he was in the top 10 in every statistical category last year in the Ivy League proves this. His basketball IQ is very high. However, projecting him to the NBA game is rather difficult, because he’s more of a combo guard, not really a true point guard, and he’s not the kind of scorer you need to be a shooting guard. If he plays in the NBA, I'm not sure where he’ll play.
But Lin has done a lot to increase his visibility. He’s received a ton of exposure on the national scene, with a feature in Time, and numerous features on ESPN. Now I think his future depends on a lot of things, particularly how Harvard performs in the Ivy League. The Ivy League will only send one team to the tournament—either Harvard or Cornell. If he can somehow lead Harvard to an upset of Cornell and take his team to the NCAA tournament, that will do a lot for his exposure, and his chances to impress people will increase.
I think he has a chance to be drafted, but I think it's a long shot. He will most definitely be invited to work out with various NBA teams, though, and be given the opportunity to showcase himself by playing in the Summer League. If he doesn't get signed by a NBA team, I can easily see him playing in the NBA Development League or in a pro league in Europe.
Nelson Wang: I ribbed you in my initial response to this email by pointing out the unusualness of calling Lin “Taiwanese American” rather than Chinese American, but I think that’s emblematic itself of how important it is to have role models of your own ethnicity and national origin, and how the closer that role model gets to your specific background, the more meaningful it is and the more pride it induces. For me, I’d probably refer to Lin as Chinese American, while for non-Chinese Asian, he’s probably more often described as Asian American—we are all Jeremy Lin!.
Michael Kim: Lin will have to overcome stereotypes on several levels. Gaining acceptance as an Asian American is one but I don't know if people who have already "accepted" Yao Ming would know the difference. But in a sense, going to Harvard hurts him. If he played at a Big 12 or Big East school, there wouldn't be many questions about his skill set as compared to other college players. And he'll also have to overcome stereotypes from coaches who want players who are smart, but not too smart—as crazy as this sounds, it's true.
This reminds me of a story James Brown of CBS Sports once shared with me. Don't know how many of you are aware that Brown is a former Harvard basketball star. He's 6'6"; he grew up in a rough area of D.C., but his mother sent him to DeMatha High School in suburban Maryland. He was offered scholarships by John Wooden, Bob Knight, Dean Smith and all the top coaches at the time, but his mother made him attend Harvard. After graduating, he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. At the end of the preseason camp, he and another player were competing for the final roster spot; they were dead even, but Brown was cut. The reason: He was told by a coach that he was "too smart," and that he would be able to get a job with his Harvard degree—but the other guy had nothing but basketball.
Brian Yang: I've been following Jeremy since his senior year in high school. I never thought back then we'd be sitting here talking about his chances in the NBA, even though he was the Northern California Player of the Year at the time. Over his college career, I've seen him mature as a player to the point now where I think he has an all-too-real shot at the League. He's on many NBA scouts' lists, and the way Jim Calhoun, Steve Lavin, and Chad Ford have been pumping him up only helps his shot.
As I said before, you have to have respected B-ball figureheads going to bat for you to raise your profile and your stock. All the recent publicity he's getting is great, and helps his chances, but he still has to deliver. At this point, I think a smart NBA GM should be able to see that Jeremy would be the perfect player to come in off the bench, run your team for 15 to 20 minutes a game and play great defense. I don't know that Jeremy will ever excel as a scorer in the NBA—he has a flaw in his jump shot and needs to work that out—but as a guard to run your offense, as someone with uncanny court awareness, as someone who has always come up with clutch plays in clutch situations, the kid has it. Right now, he is a very, very rough Steve Nash in the making I believe—an unrecognized, smallish guard from a small school. I think he could do everything Nash does, other than maybe score 30 a game and win MVP twice. But a poor man's version of Nash still isn't bad.
If you want to get really analytical, peep this.
Have you played in an Asian American-only sports league in the past? Why or why not? What do you think those leagues represent? If someone could compete effectively in a multiracial league, why would they want to participate in an ethnic-only league? Do those leagues formally exclude non-Asians, and if so, under what rules or parameters?
Keith Chow: I never played in an Asian-only league simply because I never lived anywhere that had one, at least not officially. I've played a lot of pick-up games that ended up all Asian. But I do have friends and family who have participated. I don't see anything wrong with them, primarily because they're just offshoots of ethnic communities.
Steve Chin: The J-league (A.K.A. "Asian league") is a huge part of my life and community here in the East Bay. Growing up in Queens in the Sixties, I had no idea. I played street ball with my non-Asian buddies in the playgrounds. Didn't play organized ball until high school. But on the West Coast, Japanese Americans have been running their own youth and adult leagues since they were let out of the internment camps. It has deep roots, and it keeps the generations of Japanese Americans connected through sports. It's a significant cultural touchstone for the community: Four of the fathers on the team I currently coach played in J-league themselves in their youth.
When my daughter hit second grade, Reverend Ken Yamada, our journalist-turned-Buddhist-minister friend, encouraged me to check out the Ohtani basketball program connected to his Buddhist church. His daughter was the same age as my daughter, and they ended up playing together on a co-ed team in the Japanese church league. After the first year, I ended up as the coach of the team. I loved it for all the reasons girls should play sports. I also loved it because my daughter was surrounded by other Asian athletes, both boys and girls, and at practices she'd see the older teenage girls playing serious hoops. It was inspiring for her and for me. Where else can Asian girls find that?
What ends up happening—after years of organized coaching and competition—is that now our Asian girls are among the top ballers in our middle and high schools here; four out of the five starters at my daughter's school come out of the Asian league, and our high school basketball teams are dominated by Asian girls. It's a pretty impressive sight. And they're competitive with Bay Area schools of similar size.
Our family has also embraced the whole Asian American community aspect tied to the league. As lame as it sounds, I realized I found the "village" that would help me raise my child when we discovered our basketball program. I discovered Asian American peers who value both sports and spam musubi, and, oh yeah, sportsmanship. Who knew? Our team families have become our extended family.
I've served on the Ohtani board for years. Our program has 11 teams this year, with players ranging in age from 6 to16. I built and run the program's website that might be of interest to you for background. Two years ago, my daughter joined another Asian basketball program (http://www.risingsuns.net/) in addition to Ohtani. It's a tournament team that competes around Northern California and beyond, against other Asian all-star teams. And yes, I coach that team too....
Yes, Asian ball has taken over my life. Pretty much every weekend from September through June, we have a league game or a two-day tournament somewhere in California or Nevada. I'm in the gym four days a week coaching.
And that's not even including my own sports!
Bernard Chang: I do not personally believe in the benefits of Asian American only leagues/tournaments and have never participated in one. But at the same time, I can understand that they might provide an athletic outlet for someone who might otherwise not have played in a situation outside his or her community.
A mostly Asian league in Chinatown is the result of the demographics of the immediate community; it's the same, in effect, as a church league or other similar organization. But it's important to remember that in these leagues, players actually pay to play; these aren't employment opportunities that exclude people based on their race and background.
Jerry Ma: I've played in some college basketball tournaments organized by Asian American groups, but the tournaments I've played in were open to all ethnicities. And it really doesn't make a difference who's guarding me—I'm going to do what I'm going to do either way. I really believe sports are as honest as anything in life. Bottom line is, if you're good, you're good.
Jonathan Lee: I have never played in an ethnic league, but I know a lot of people who have. A popular league is the North American Chinese Basketball Association that runs a very competitive tournament every year featuring Chinese teams from across the country. The only rule is that every player must be at least 25% Chinese (one grandparent must be 100% Chinese), which is not really that stringent a rule. There's also a Bay Area youth Chinese league I'm aware of that's very popular.
I don't have anything against such ethnic leagues. Most of the times, they're just a bunch of people from the same community who want to compete against each other. There’s a sense of camaraderie and closeness in them. And a lot of my friends who play in these leagues also play in multiethnic leagues as well.
Brian Yang: Playing in Asian American basketball leagues has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up in California, you're exposed pretty quickly to leagues and tournaments up and down the coast that originally sprouted up as a result of the Japanese being sent to concentration camps during World War II. From that unfortunate era, the Nisei Athletic Union eventually came into being. It was a way for people of the community to recreate together in baseball, basketball, etc., given that they were being barred from society at large. Chinese American teams, Indo-Pakistani tournaments, and other Asian American-only leagues followed suit in due time. Today, there are thriving, long-standing annual national tournaments and leagues nationwide—in Canada, too—in the Korean, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and Indo-Pak communities.
These groups represent tradition and community. They're affinity groups, nothing more, nothing less. I once asked Jeremy if he ever played in those tournaments back home growing up and he said he did a couple of times and he had lots of friends who did play in them—in fact, his brother still does today—but that he didn't really participate too much.
I think that since he excelled at the game so more than the average Asian American amateur player, he was probably pulled into situations like AAU, or other open institutions, and didn't have much time for playing in community leagues—he had bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
Ethnic-only leagues are recreational by nature. They feature good players and decent competition, but Jeremy had to be playing against the best of the best to keep honing his game. That said, former Kansas star turned NBA lottery pick Rex Walters, who is half Japanese, used to play in those tournaments all the time before he went to Kansas, and a few times during and after, I believe. I think he liked the camaraderie he had with his friends since he grew up playing with them. And guess what? Rex's teams didn't always win!
The Asian American leagues/tournaments don't try to formally exclude non-Asians. It's a tricky thing, no doubt, and they do have rules that mandate that players must be of 25% Asian descent, but if anything, again, it's about preserving a community affinity group that has been around forever and a day.
Have you heard of the All-American Basketball Alliance, the attempt to launch an all-white, American-born-only league in order to allegedly create a "fundamentals-based," "no street ball" competitive environment? What do you think about the idea?
Keith Chow: My biggest gripe with the AABA is number one, it's a "professional" organization, as opposed to community-based ethnic rec leagues. So to exclude people based on race should actually be illegal. But secondly, the premise behind the league is pretty freakin' racist. The founder has said that he created the league to promote "fundamentals" and to move away from the "street ball" that "non-whites" play. He basically said that since blacks are naturally athletic, they use that to make up for their lack of fundamentals. Okay, if these aren't code words, I don't know what are. Hell, those words are barely even coded. And I also like that the league is only for "natural born citizens" yet he cites Dirk Nowitski (German) and Steve Nash (Canadian) as the only "fundamental" basketball players in the NBA.
Albert Kim: I read about this thing last week. I choose to ignore knuckleheads like this, the same way I dismiss out of hand the KKK and other organizations that are designed to deliberately provoke and foster hate.
Bernard Chang: It's a racist organization under the disguise of an athletic organization. That the commissioner of the league, Don Lewis, had the audacity to back the existence of his league because quote, "people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now," unquote, shows the complete idiocy of his scam. Really, white people are minorities now? Besides, basketball was invented by a Canadian, and they're excluded from this league as well.
Jonathan Lee: I do have issues with the “All-American Basketball Alliance,” and I do believe it is racist because of its intent. Their outright mission is to create a “fundamentals-based, no street ball” competitive environment. This is a direct affront on African American players who play a “street ball”-type of game. It’s not just a group of Caucasians players who want to play with each other, but rather it's a group of players who have something against the way a certain ethnicity plays the game. What about if you have an African American player who doesn't play a “street ball” way, but plays “fundamentals-based” ball? Would this person be allowed to play? Not according to the league rules.
Brian Yang: When this idea came out, I was asked, "How is this different than an All-Asian American league? How is what an Asian league stands for different than all-white league?" It's unfortunate, because the founder of this league is so obviously racist by the fact of what he's saying. He may not mean it to be harmful or slanderous, but what he's saying is the essence of racism. He thinks that whites are the minority in America now? Oh, brother.
The fact is, Asian American leagues were originally founded as a result of racism with the concentration camps. Over time, the leagues became tradition. One can argue that these leagues are "racist" in their own way, but I don't think we're comparing apples to apples here: There is no racism without power. My friend who was giving me a hard time with this—and he is an Asian American who played in all-Asian nine-man volleyball tournaments growing up, but now thinks the tradition should be banished as it doesn't help promote unity and equality to all—then asked if that's how I felt if they had a "whites-only" league in China, basically flipping the idea on its head; would that be acceptable? I just wanted to smack him. Smartass.