Long before he was elevated to the status of Asian-American sports idol during the “Linsanity” craze with the Knicks in 2012, Jeremy Lin had to overcome ethnic stereotyping and learn how to handle the racial slurs he encountered in road games during his playing career at Harvard on his way to the NBA.
The Nets point guard recounted his experiences in a teammate’s podcast, “Outside Shot With Randy Foye,” that was posted Wednesday. During the 48-minute program, Lin covers each step of his improbable journey as the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to reach the NBA, including his own skepticism about the possibility of playing in college, much less the pros.
When asked by Foye about facing racial slurs in the NBA, Lin said, “The NBA crowd is a lot better than the college crowd.”
Describing several specific incidents, Lin said a student sitting courtside at Georgetown insulted him by yelling “chicken fried rice, beef lo mein, beef and broccoli, like the whole game.” At Yale, Lin said a fan asked, “Can you even see the scoreboard with those eyes?”
The worst incident came at Cornell when Lin said opponents called him a racial slur within earshot of the officials. A teammate protested to the officials, Lin said, “and the ref just pretended like nothing happened.
“I was like, ‘This is a beast.’ So when I got to the NBA, I was like, ‘This is going to be way worse.’ But it’s way better. Everybody is way more under control.”
As he prepared to enter the NBA Draft, Lin encountered a more subtle type of stereotyping from critics who described him as not being fast enough or athletic enough even though his speed matched that of eventual No. 1 pick John Wall for the fastest sprint at the NBA pre-draft combine.
“When I finally started to play and they watched me,” Lin said, “it was, ‘He’s deceptively athletic; he’s deceptively quick.’ So I was fighting that narrative the whole time.”
Lin goes on to recount in detail the events leading to “Linsanity,” and he admits, “It scared me. My biggest regret is I never really soaked it in and appreciated it . . . It became a huge burden because I felt like I had to be this phenomenon for everybody else.
“Now, when I say it’s a ‘badge of honor,’ I say, ‘This is cool. I rep for all the Asians, I rep for all the Harvard dudes, I rep for the [California] guys, I rep for the underdogs. I take pride in it.”
Near the end, Lin and Foye shared thoughts on how their Christian beliefs and faith sustained them on their way to the NBA.