I was raised in the Bronx and went to college at Duke, which means that the past week has been a really good sports week for me.
The New York Giants won the Superbowl on a last minute touchdown, and the Duke Blue Devils beat its hated rivals in UNC Tarheels on a last-second three-point buzzer beater. It doesn’t really can’t get better than this.
Except it has. My hometown NBA team, the New York Knicks, suddenly found themselves blessed with a super duper point guard in Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese-American, Harvard-educated, cross-dribbling phenom who came out of nowhere to become the most talked about and best feel good story of the year in the sports world.
The Asian-American community, in particular, has been burning up the social media hotline talking about Lin. The Facebook status of a friend of mine read, ``We are cheering for you with your future wife.” Well, you better take a number because I am sure that Lin has many future wives waiting in the social media world.
I am also excited. At work, I kept looping the highlight reel where Lin blows past John Wall, the number 1 draft pick point guard of the Washington Wizards, and weaves his way through the paint to slam dunk over two opposing players who were looking at each other with an expression that said, ``Are you kidding me? This guy can jump?”
This is the same question that I am incredulously asking myself at this Asian guy who looks like he is strolling through Harvard Yard. I mean he so looks like his resume: a nice, unassuming, Asian-American student from an Ivy League school ready to start a nice, unassuming career in finance, academia, consulting, medicine, or law. Except this guy will go up against Kobe Bryant on national TV.
Then it hits me. I am not fascinated by Lin just because he’s an underdog or he’s a fellow Asian. I am fascinated by Lin because he’s just broken an ingrained stereotype of what an Asian-American student in America should be. Worst thing is, this was my own stereotype of what I should be in America: a nice, highly-educated professional with a safe career and a stable family.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. But we all know that our expectations about ourselves actually define our future. We have seen research that shows bright African-American children in urban neighborhoods underachieve academically as they get older because that’s what society expects of them.
In other words, I had run up against a bamboo ceiling of my own making and didn’t even know it until I saw Jeremy Lin score a double-double against the Washington Wizards. Even more troubling, I would have passed along this unconscious bamboo ceiling to my baby boy without even realizing that I would be predefining his future potential. My inheritance would have been all about what he can’t do, not what he can become.
This is what pioneers do. This is what Jackie Robinson did by breaking baseball’s color barrier. He freed the African-American imagination from its mental shackles. He inspired them to aspire to something more, something better. He broke through the traditional parameters that defined the black American experience and expanded the canvas upon which African-Americans could sketch out their future.
Lin is not Robinson. But he did open my eyes to my own mental prison. By doing something so unexpected in such an outstanding way, he freed me from a prison of my own expectations. This doesn’t mean that I can go out there and challenge Michael Jordan to a game of HORSE. But it does mean that I will no longer automatically divide the world into things that I can do and things that I can’t. Just because I am an Asian-American.
The thing is, Lin was not the first athlete to teach me this lesson. Hideki Nomo and Park Chan-ho had taught me the same thing. Pak Se-ri and Grace Park had reinforced the lesson, not to mention Park Ji-sung and Yao Ming. But Lin’s lesson hit closer to home for Asian-Americans because he is most like us yet has done something that is so far outside of our everyday experience. The supposed ``model minority” who can dribble through a trap, fake a three, throw a no-look pass through a throng of defenders, and do a chest bump after a slam dunk.
What a story. What an inspiration. Thank you, Jeremy, for making me feel not only excited but empowered. Thank you for teaching me not to begin building a bamboo ceiling for my son before he even reaches his full height. Thank you for curing my insanity with your ``linsanity.”
But if I am allowed just one minor regret about your career so far, it’s this: you should have gone to Duke.
Jason Lim is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant in organizational leadership, culture, and change management. He has been writing for The Korea Times since 2006. His email address is email@example.com.