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Jeremy LinThe Reason for the Linsanity
By Dalrymple, Timothy
Center StreetCopyright © 2012 Dalrymple, Timothy
All right reserved.
NEW JERSEY NETS
The Parable of Perseverance
When Mike D’Antoni called for Jeremy Lin to enter the game against the Nets with a few minutes remaining in the first quarter on February 4, 2012, the Knicks coach was pacing on the sideline and grinding the bitterness of a disintegrating season between his teeth. New York had lost an agonizing 11 of its last 13 games. Their brightest stars were injured or underperforming. The offense was stagnant and uninspired. Fans who were frustrated with their beloved but deeply dysfunctional franchise were calling for Coach D’Antoni to be fired.
The game against the Nets was the third in a grueling series of three games in three nights—the only back-to-back-to-back series the Knicks would have all year. They had lost to the Chicago Bulls 102–105 two days ago, and lost to the Celtics 89–91 the previous night in Boston. Now they faced the Nets, whose 8-16 record was slightly worse than the Knicks’ 8-15 record, but who had won five of their last ten games.
The game had gotten off to a dismal start. Four minutes into the first quarter, the Knicks had already fallen behind by 10 points. The Knicks had been trying to run pick-and-rolls with seven-foot-one center Tyson Chandler at the top of the key, but they couldn’t quite execute. Just past the middle of the quarter, Carmelo Anthony hit a three-pointer in transition to cap a 7–0 run and bring the Knicks back within three. The score was 16–20 with 3:35 remaining in the first quarter when rookie guard Iman Shumpert was called for his second foul. A backup guard had to take his place.
Jeremy was not exactly greeted with a chorus of hosannas. A murmur spread through the crowd when he bounded off the bench—Jeremy had more fans than a last-resort guard who had never played significant minutes in the NBA should have. But the television play-by-play commentator, veteran Mike Breen, seemed to believe that Jeremy’s entrance into the game was so bizarre that it needed explanation. The other backup guard, Toney Douglas, he said, is “a better defender, and a better scorer—he’s a better player.” But Douglas, he explained, had been deep in the trough of a shooting slump.
The Linsanity did not begin right away. In fact, a minute after Jeremy entered the game, the deficit had grown to 10 points. He registered one assist and one rebound, television analyst Walt Frazier commented on the “very inept” play of the Knicks’ bench, and the New York crowd began to boo when their Knicks fell behind by 12 points. “The Knicks hearing boos in the first quarter tonight,” Breen lamented, and the period ended with a score of 20–30.
The second quarter started on a promising note. Jeremy sped around a give-and-go and drove swiftly to the hoop for two points. When the Nets came back up the court, Jeremy punched the ball away from Jordan Farmar and lobbed it to Toney Douglas for a layup that sent Douglas crashing into the photographers behind the glass. Suddenly the offense was flowing and the crowd rallied. When Lin shook off his own defender and drew Nets forward Jordan Williams off of Jared Jeffries, he fed the ball to Jeffries for a dunk that cut the deficit to 5.
Jeremy scored four more points on a running jump shot over the defender and off the glass, and a fast-break layup in motion with Shumpert and Carmelo Anthony. He played solid defense against the Nets star Deron Williams, and lofted a gorgeous alley-oop pass to Tyson Chandler for a two-handed dunk with 92 seconds left. Lin and Chandler were executing the pick-and-roll that the Knicks had struggled with all season. Jeremy entered halftime with 6 points, four assists and three rebounds, and the Knicks were down 46–48.
As the Knicks headed for the locker room, Mike Breen marveled at “the Jeremy Lin Show.” During the break, commentator Al Trautwig asked assistant coach Kenny Atkinson where this version of Jeremy Lin had come from. “He’s probably our hardest worker right now,” Atkinson answered. “It’s unbelievable, how hard he works. So it’s good to see his work paying off.”
On many other nights, that might have been it for Jeremy Lin. But the Knicks were hamstrung. Veteran guards Mike Bibby and Baron Davis were out with injuries and the starting guards, Shumpert and Landry Fields, were fatigued from the previous two games.
So Jeremy Lin reentered the game four minutes into the second half—and then things got ugly. He missed a layup and a series of uncontested shots from the perimeter. In one possession, Jeremy missed two three-point attempts badly. The Knicks fell behind again. The commentators noted that the Nets defense had adjusted at halftime. Knowing that Jeremy could penetrate, they were cutting off the lanes and making him shoot from the outside. That, Frazier implied, would probably be the end of Jeremy’s production that night. “This man,” he said, referring to Jeremy, “is not a good perimeter shooter.” With the defense forcing him to the perimeter, the magic was over.
And it looked as though the commentators were right. With a few minutes remaining in the third quarter, Jeremy had scored only one more point—he made one of two shots from the free throw line.
If Jeremy had lost confidence then, the game might have been forgotten—and it would have been so easy, so natural, to falter when the shots started clanging off the rim. Even when the crowd was behind him, even when his offense was flowing, Jeremy must have harbored some doubt that he could keep it up. Wasn’t this stretch of brilliant play taking place on borrowed time? Didn’t he have to give it back and return to his status as a meager backup?
The voices of the Doubters never quite leave us. If Jeremy had grown discouraged, if he did not have the power to persevere, then the Jeremy Lin Show in the first half of the game on February 4 would have been a blip.
Jeremy had seen significant playing time against the Boston Celtics on the night before. While there had been flashes of potential, they were largely lost in the gray of a mediocre performance. When Jeremy had entered the game, he had lunged for a rebound but knocked the ball out of bounds, then turned the ball over the next time he brought it back up the court. He missed his first shot, from nineteen feet, and fouled Paul Pierce with three seconds left in the first period. After he missed a couple more shots in the second quarter, he was benched with eight minutes remaining in the half. He had gone 0-for-3 from the field with one turnover and two fouls in six and a half minutes of play. Howard Beck would write later in the New York Times that Jeremy had looked like an “overmatched, easily rattled, mistake-prone reserve.”
It was too much to expect a complete transformation in twenty-four hours. How could he go from “easily rattled” one night to a supremely confident performer in the next? So when the shots stopped falling in the third quarter, it would have been easy to conclude that the miracle had passed. Reality was setting back in.
But Jeremy persevered. In the face of hardship, in the face of doubt, he persevered. And that was when the real fun started.
Jeremy’s story does not begin with Jeremy. His powers of perseverance were not his alone. They were conferred upon him. Understanding the Linsanity means understanding Jeremy Lin. And understanding Jeremy Lin requires an understanding of the family from whence he came. His personal story is interwoven in a richer family narrative, and that family narrative in turn is embedded in the broader fabric of the social and cultural saga of Taiwanese immigrants and American-born Chinese.
Lin Gie-Ming and Wu Xinxin, Jeremy’s father and mother, came to America amid the tide of Taiwanese immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s who sought in the United States a graduate education and a life of prosperity for themselves and their children. The Asian Tiger economies had not yet begun to roar, and Taiwan’s future hung upon the wire of America’s fickle friendship. A small island in the South China Sea that’s home now to 23 million people, it’s regarded by the Chinese government as a renegade province and coveted for its workforce and capital.
The children of the Taiwanese political elite had little motivation to leave the island. Yet those who were not wealthy but bright, hardworking, and upwardly mobile looked to distant shores to provide a better future. A saying at the time (Lai, lai, lai, lai Taida; qu, qu, qu, qu Meiguo) encouraged the brightest Taiwanese students to come first to National Taiwan University (Taida, “Taiwan’s Harvard”) for college and then make their way to the United States (Meiguo) for graduate study. While the best students won scholarships from American universities, especially in science and engineering, the less fortunate washed dishes and bused tables at Chinese restaurants in order to pay their way.
The Chinese proverb “Shu zhong zi you huang jin wu” explains why these young men and women went to such lengths. Roughly translated, “There is a gold house in the book” speaks to the classical Chinese view that scholarship is the route to success. It was also the easiest way to get a visa to the United States. This is why Taiwanese families in America tend to be well educated and relatively affluent—those who made it to these shores in the first place were among the brightest and most ambitious the island had to offer. The intelligent and ambitious tend to flourish wherever they’re planted.
My own parents-in-law came from Taiwan in that same generation. I’ve observed in them the extraordinary courage that was required to travel to the other side of the globe in pursuit of a new life. Many came with no resources apart from their own smarts and gumption. They were tough, industrious, family-oriented men and women in their twenties who brought with them formidable work habits and a fierce determination to establish a foothold in the land of opportunity and then use that foothold to launch their children and grandchildren to greater and greater success with every generation. While immigrants of Chinese descent in earlier centuries had built a meager living in the new country upon the strength of their backs, these built by personal sacrifice and the strength of their brains the foundation for a prosperous line of descendants.
Many of these immigrants from Taiwan and the mainland, Hong Kong and Singapore, or from Chinese settlements in Indonesia and Malaysia formed Chinese-language churches in the United States. Even many non-Christians joined these churches since they served not only as places of worship but also as community centers, schools of character for children, and vessels for the transmission of culture and language down the stream of generations.
While a seminary student in 1999–2002, I served as a part-time youth pastor for a Chinese American congregation in Princeton, New Jersey. The painstaking effort these parents employed in the cultivation of their children’s character and success was a source of regular astonishment to me. All parents love their children, and different cultures express familial affections in different ways. However (although my own parents were veritable saints), I had never belonged to a community that put such an extravagant amount of thought and effort into shaping their children and equipping them for success.
After completing their graduate studies, many of those immigrants took tech-oriented jobs in urban centers like the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Boston. Many of the largest Chinese-language churches in the United States today grew out of graduate-student Bible studies founded in the later 1960s and 1970s. One of those churches was the Chinese Church in Christ, which began with five Chinese students in a Bible study at San Jose State University. It opened its doors as a church in 1971, grew to over four hundred congregants, and purchased a property in Mountain View in 1986—two years before Jeremy’s birth and six years before the Lins settled in nearby Palo Alto. The church stands today across Highway 101 from the sprawling Google campus and a couple miles from Stanford University. CCiC (as it’s called) has founded or planted six churches scattered around the Bay Area.
This would be the first community to pour deeply into Jeremy Lin’s life, and they continue to support him to this day. Modern sportswriting focuses too often on the individual and his talents. It’s a reflection of American individualism. In the Chinese way of looking at things, each person is in large measure a product of the people around him—of the parents who sacrifice for him, of the family that shapes him, of the community that nourishes him and raises him up. This is one of the great missing pieces in the Jeremy Lin story as it has been told so far in the American media. Jeremy would not have succeeded apart from the quality of his character, and it was his family and his friends and his communities of faith who, over the years, planted and cultivated the seeds of character within him.
The Lin family had taken a circuitous path to Palo Alto, one that led from mainland China to Taiwan, from Virginia to Indiana, through southern Florida and Southern California. Theirs is a story of suffering and sacrifice, but also the enduring commitment to perseverance and excellence that the Lins would pass on to their children.
Lin Gie-Ming’s ancestors had made their way from the Fujian province across the Strait of Taiwan in 1707. (Families like Gie-Ming’s, which have been in Taiwan for many generations, are much more likely to insist that they are Taiwanese—and not Chinese—American.) His father, Lin Xinken, survived Chiang Kai-Shek’s purge of native Taiwanese in 1947, established himself as a businessman and an interpreter, then died when Gie-Ming was five. After moving from the village of Beidou to Taipei with his mother and siblings, Gie-Ming enrolled at National Taiwan University. A former graduate from Taida who had become a professor at Old Dominion University invited his alma mater to send a research assistant, so Gie-Ming was sent to Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1977 with a government scholarship and $1,000 in his pocket.
The family of Wu Xinxin—Jeremy Lin’s mother—hailed from Jiaxing, on the northeastern outskirts of Hangzhou, where her maternal grandfather, Chen Weiji, had converted to Christianity through the efforts of Protestant missionaries. Chen passed on his convictions to his children, and also his height. According to the family, he was well over six feet in height, and all of his children were tall. That height would skip a generation in Xinxin and reemerge in Jeremy. The family crossed the strait in 1949 and made their home in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan in the aftermath of the Chinese civil war and the ascendance of the Communist Party. Like her mother, who was a doctor, Xinxin too was intellectually gifted and excelled at everything she attempted.
It was at Old Dominion that Lin Gie-Ming met Wu Xinxin, who went by the Westernized name Shirley Wu in the new country. They married and departed in 1979 to pursue further graduate degrees at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where they lived in a tiny, sparse, dirt-cheap apartment. Gie-Ming’s doctoral thesis, which concerned the processing of data from satellites, passed with accolades.
The young couple, armed with advanced degrees in computer science (Gie-Ming) and computer engineering (Shirley), then flitted around the country as they established their careers. Eventually they purchased a home in 1985 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, an area of rolling hills and affluent homes by the coast near Long Beach and San Pedro. Their eldest son, Josh, was born in early 1987, and Jeremy on August 23, 1988, the very day that Kobe Bryant turned ten years old. Josh and Jeremy in their early years were largely raised by Gie-Ming’s mother, who came from Taiwan for eleven months out of the year, as Gie-Ming and Shirley worked long hours and traveled frequently.
According to the New York Times, the family moved to Northern California and purchased a small ranch home for $370,000 in Palo Alto in 1992. Even in the 1990s, this was significantly below the median home price in Palo Alto, one of the wealthiest and most educated communities in the country. Nurtured by Stanford University, Palo Alto was home to burgeoning technology companies like Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems, with other tech giants like Oracle and Apple nearby. Unlike nearby East Palo Alto, which had the highest murder rate per capita in the country in 1992, Palo Alto was filled with quaint shops and leafy parks and perfectly manicured homes that sold for millions of dollars—and the dot-com boom was just around the corner (Yahoo and eBay would be founded nearby in the next three years).
Like many immigrants of Chinese descent, Gie-Ming and Shirley had settled in a place where their children would receive the best opportunities available, even if it meant purchasing one of the smaller, cheaper homes in the area. And they quickly found a community for themselves and their children at the Chinese Church in Christ, Mountain View. Their brood of three children (a third son, Joseph, had recently been born) were growing and playing—and learning to love basketball.
It was Gie-Ming who implanted in his sons the love of basketball. In Taiwan he had caught only the most fleeting glimpses of the sport, but already found himself transfixed. So he came to the United States with two dreams in his heart: to earn his doctorate and to watch the NBA. At Old Dominion in 1977, his fascination became a passion. As Jeremy puts it, “My dad moved to America in 1977, turned on a television, and fell in love with basketball.”
Gie-Ming devoted the same rigor to the study of basketball that he had to the parallel processing of satellite signals. He videotaped NBA games, watched them repeatedly, and modeled his own moves after the greats. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s “Sky Hook” was a particular favorite; one of Jeremy’s childhood friends would later recall that he had never seen Gie-Ming take any other shot. It had taken him years to feel sufficiently confident to join in pickup games, so he decided that he would confer a proper basketball education upon his children from the start. He understood that if they were put through the motions from an early age, then basketball would be “like second nature for them. If they had the fundamentals, the rest was easy.”
When Josh was five years old, Gie-Ming took Josh and Jeremy (Joseph would join them in later years) three nights a week to the local YMCA—at 8:30 p.m., after they had finished their homework—for ninety minutes of drills and games. As the boys grew older, they played later and later into the night. Gie-Ming sculpted their form and technique after the greats. Their jump shot was modeled after Larry Bird’s. The ability to penetrate the defense and kick the ball out to the perimeter was modeled after Magic Johnson. And then there was that beautiful hook from Abdul-Jabbar.
Yet credit for the development of basketball discipline must also be given to Jeremy’s mother. Shirley served as the benevolent ruler of the household, the enforcer of exacting standards in everything her children did, and the fiercest advocate on the planet for her children and their pursuits. Her perfectionism, her drive to excellence, and her determination that her sons should learn to persist at anything until they’d mastered it equipped Jeremy to succeed in basketball as much as it did in other spheres of life. And while she did not share Gie-Ming’s obsession for the sport, Shirley was a quick study. She learned about basketball (Julius Irving was a particular favorite of hers) in order to share in that part of the family life and to help her sons improve.
Shirley is a central and yet largely overlooked part of the story of Jeremy Lin’s success. Seeking perspective, I asked Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a smashingly successful book that stirred conversation on Eastern and Western styles of parenting, whether Shirley, with her demands for excellence and her still-higher demands upon herself to invest time and passion in her children’s formation, would qualify as a Tiger Mom.
“She’s the quintessential Tiger Mom, in the best possible way,” says Chua. The essence of Tiger Mothering is “that you believe in your child and you’re willing to get in the trenches with them…. You demand excellence, but what’s driving you is unconditional love and a deep belief that your child can do more than anyone else thinks they can.”
Jeremy’s high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock, would later tell ESPN: “You know how parents tell their kids they can do anything? Most people just say it to say it, but Jeremy’s mom lives it. Because of that, Jeremy always had this ridiculous confidence level.” Or as Chua says, Westerners emphasize talent so much that it actually becomes limiting. Asian parents emphasize that hard work can take you anywhere. “If you’re taught early on that hard work can fix just about anything, it gives you a lot of resilience. There’s almost nothing you cannot achieve.”
Yet few Chinese American parents, especially immigrants, would permit their children to devote so much time to basketball, where the potential for lasting success is so remote. Fewer still would serve as the Team Mom again and again for her three basketball-crazed sons and the various teams they joined over the years. Shirley took criticism from her circle of friends, but as Jeremy said in an interview on Taiwanese television, “She let me play because she saw that basketball made me happy.” Or as Gie-Ming explained, “Many Asian families focus so much on academics, but it felt so good to play with my kids.”
When Jeremy first played kiddy-league basketball games at the local YMCA, he didn’t take to it immediately. As Josh told Time magazine in 2009, Jeremy “stood at half-court sucking his thumb for the entirety of about half his games that season.” So Shirley stopped attending the games, and when Jeremy asked her to return she said she would do so only if he put in an effort.
Jeremy responded: “I’m going to play, and I’m going to score.”
He did just that. When Shirley came to the next game, Jeremy scored the most points the league rules allowed a single player to score in a game. “From that game on,” says Josh, “he just took off and never looked back.”
Shirley was a fierce advocate for her children and demanded excellence from them in return. When Jeremy neared the end of elementary school and there was no top-notch basketball team to develop his talents, she worked with other parents to put one together. Over the years, she coordinated transportation for the teams and organized banquets and special events—all while working at Sun Microsystems. Mike Baskauskus, whose son Brian would go on to star alongside Jeremy at Palo Alto High, called her “the single most involved parent I’ve ever been around.”
Jeremy was stubborn and deeply competitive. As a toddler he banged his head against the wall until he got what he wanted (so when you see Jeremy crashing against a towering center in the paint, you can know he’s been willing to “sacrifice the body” for a long time). As he grew older it was common for him to throw the video game controller across the room when he lost. He had a famous appetite. Gie-Ming recalls that his middle son ate as much as the other sons combined (and he outweighs them each by half). Even today Jeremy astonishes his teammates and depresses his trainer with the amounts of junk food he consumes.
He also showed a goofy, self-deprecating sense of humor, and an inclination to mischief. In one story he recounted at the River of Life Christian Church conference in the summer of 2011, he and his brothers took some toothpicks from a restaurant and, when their nanny showered at home, planted them in her favorite place to sit on the couch. Their plan stalled, however, when she took a nap. A few hours later, a bored Jeremy wandered back to the couch and sat unwittingly—and bloodied his backside—on the very toothpicks he had meant for his nanny.
Jeremy remembers himself as a “bully” and a “class clown,” the kind of kid who made his Sunday School teachers cry. The acts of elementary school evil he describes are minor and mundane, however, the scattered acts of rebellion that are common with suburban kids in wholesome families. The guilt he feels over them is a better measure of the sensitivity of his conscience than the severity of his crimes.
The National Junior Basketball program that Shirley had helped to build included a regional team that traveled and competed in major tournaments. When Jeremy was ten, the coach of an Amateur Athletic Union team, Jim Sutter, was told that he should come to the YMCA to see him play. Though Jeremy at the time was “just this little thing,” his talent was obvious and he showed an uncanny knack for getting the ball in the basket.
In his first two seasons on Sutter’s AAU team, Jeremy played the position of shooting guard. While the point guard (“the one guard”) is responsible for bringing the ball up the court, distributing the ball, and running the offense as the coach directs, the shooting guard (“the two guard”) can position himself for an open shot or try to catch a pass in motion and create scoring opportunities. The shooting guard position is for pure scorers like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant. These were the players Jeremy idolized. Like them, he wanted to score.
At the 12-and-under national championships, the team was struggling to bring the ball up the court. When Sutter decided to put his best athlete at the one-guard position in order to break the defense, Jeremy resisted.
“You’re playing the one,” Sutter said, “because that will most benefit the team.”
From then on, though Jeremy often asked to “play the two today,” Sutter focused on making him a triple threat: proficient in dribbling, passing, and scoring. Jeremy worked with Sutter for five seasons, and they went to four AAU national tournaments. He would later list Sutter, a coach who believed in him and took him under his wing and his friend and mentor for so many years, as one of the ways in which God provided precisely what Jeremy needed to prepare him for the NBA.
The admiration is mutual. “There are guys that are terrific players,” Sutter told the San Francisco Chronicle, “but when the stage gets big, they shrink. For Jeremy, it’s always been that he glows—he just glows—when he’s in the spotlight. It’s just his makeup. It’s his determination to succeed.”
As Josh entered Henry Gunn High School and played junior varsity, Jeremy volunteered as scorekeeper, and when the Gunn team ran through conditioning drills Jeremy kept pace on the sideline. He was growing stronger with every year, and his basketball skills multiplied. As Sutter recalled, Jeremy could count on being the best basketball player on the floor whenever they took the court. It gave him swagger.
He needed it. Asian Americans accounted for 17 percent of the population of Palo Alto in 2000 (27 percent in 2010), so it wasn’t terribly uncommon for the local teams to compete against Asian Americans. His high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock, claims that “his race was never a major issue” in Jeremy’s childhood years because they lived in a progressive and multicultural area, but I take this with a grain of salt. It’s more likely that, like a lot of non-Asians, Coach Diepenbrock did not notice or understand what was hurtful. “It was definitely a lot tougher for me growing up,” Jeremy told ESPN in 2009. “There was just an overall lack of respect. People didn’t think I could play.”
On the blacktops and when they traveled, Jeremy was told by other players to open his eyes or return to China, to go to math club or play tennis instead. He was called “Wonton” or names far worse, names every Asian American basketball player hears. In other words, he was told in countless ways great and small that he did not belong on the court with the “real athletes”—until he showed the “real athletes” who the real athlete was.
A Japanese proverb is often cited: “The protruding nail attracts the hammer.” Yet there’s a similar Chinese proverb that holds, “The loudest duck gets shot.” Jeremy was a brooder in the first place, and his father advised that he remain calm when he heard racial taunts. “Win the game for your school and people will respect you.” But Jeremy was tempted, and sometimes attempted, to return the taunts or humiliate the mockers for payback. The words hurt and angered him, even if he didn’t always show it.
(Ironically, the lone Asian American on the blacktop is now less likely to be called “Yao Ming” than “Jeremy Lin.” So Jeremy has gone from being called Asian monikers to being an Asian moniker.)
Jeremy attended Jane Lathrop Stanford (called “JLS” by locals) Middle School, home of the Panthers. He continued with Coach Sutter and the AAU team and attended basketball camps in the summers. Diepenbrock first came across Jeremy when he was in fifth grade, and his memories spill over with superlatives. Jeremy was, he says, “very, very small, but a very good player—very good instincts, very good feel—and his leadership stuck out.” And through the teams and the camps and the pickup games Jeremy was developing relationships with the best basketball players in town, many of whom would be his teammates in later years at Palo Alto High School.
When Jeremy attended Diepenbrock’s summer camp as a sixth grader, the notoriously intense coach yelled at him for complaining about the referees. Jeremy broke down in tears and avoided Diepenbrock for three years afterward. “I left that day and never went back to his camp again,” Jeremy later told the Viking, a sports periodical at Palo Alto High. “Ever since then, I was rooting for Gunn…. I didn’t talk to him until I showed up on campus my freshman year.”
One of the ministers in the CCiC network of churches, Fred Mok, remembers playing basketball with Jeremy at retreats and church tournaments, starting when Jeremy was thirteen years old. Jeremy particularly loved to block shots. “He looked like nothing. He looked like a typical Asian kid. But he was just destroying people.”
The question was whether Jeremy would grow. With an August birthday, he was generally the smallest kid in his classes. A five-footer in middle school has, to put it mildly, a questionable basketball future. “Everybody knew he was the best player,” says Diepenbrock, who tracked Jeremy’s development even after the yelling incident. “The question was how big he was going to get.” Every day Jeremy came home from practice and asked his parents when he would grow. At 5’8” or 5’9” he could be an effective point guard in high school. To be a great college player (and no one gave the slightest thought to the NBA at the time) he would have to be taller, but above-average height did not appear to be in the cards.
“I didn’t expect to play in college,” he told me in February 2010. “Honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play in high school.”
Basketball, of course, was only a part of Jeremy’s life. He loved his video games—especially first-person shooters like Counter-Strike—and loved his food. The three brothers, by all accounts, were best friends. Their schoolwork required hours of labor every night, but Jeremy was a dedicated student who wanted to be a doctor. He was a little less devoted to the acquisition of the Chinese language. Like many second-generation Chinese Americans, especially in the Bay Area, he understands Mandarin when it’s spoken to him, but cannot speak it fluently himself.
On Sundays the family faithfully attended services at the Chinese Church in Christ, Mountain View. Like many of the Chinese American churches founded by immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, CCiC offers services both in Mandarin and in English. The Mandarin service typically draws the older generation and the founders of the church, while the English service attracts the youth, young families, and a few hardy souls from the older generation who want to worship with their children. The quieter, more reserved Gie-Ming typically joined the Chinese-language service, and Shirley went to the English-language service with the boys. Jeremy attended the junior high youth group, and Shirley was involved in everything her children did. It was not uncommon to see her embracing the girls and joining in playful conversation with Jeremy’s friends.
Although the Lin family’s financial fortunes have waxed and waned in the economic tumult of the last two decades, even through the hard times and the layoffs they provided a stable and nurturing home for their boys. The families that attended CCiC were generally affluent, with large, immaculate homes. The Lin household was more solidly middle-class, and Gie-Ming and Shirley were (according to friends) too involved in their children’s pursuits to spend much time cleaning and cooking. Their less pristine home was a reflection of their priorities and their commitment to support their children’s passions.
Even when he grew frustrated with them, Jeremy loved and respected his parents. His father took great pleasure in watching his boys play. When I asked Jeremy about his father’s encouragement in basketball, however, he rushed to include his mother. “I look up to my parents,” he said, because “they do a great job of teaching me about playing in a godly manner.” Their concern is less for the stat sheets and the win column as it is for his character. If he has a dominating individual performance but loses his temper, everyone else will focus on the performance but his parents will focus on his behavior. They would rather see him play with faith and integrity than cut moral corners to get the win.
The stereotype holds that Asian Americans in general, and those of Chinese descent in particular, hold their parents in too high regard. This has deep roots not only in the culture of Confucian “filial piety” but also in the specific ways in which the immigration experience has shaped first-and second-generation Chinese Americans. When the children of these immigrants respect and honor their parents, and allow their parents a great deal of authority in their lives well into adulthood, it’s an expression of their gratitude. They know of the hardships and sacrifices their parents endured for them, and they know full well that their parents are more profoundly invested in their children’s success than the children are themselves.
Many Asian Americans will identify with a story Jeremy told at the River of Life conference. One day, he said, convinced that he should express more love to those around him, he decided to tell his parents he loved them. Many first-generation Asian American parents are not exactly effusive in speaking their affections. Just thinking about it made Jeremy sweat. What would they say in response? He was so nervous that he slurred those three little words together to get them out quickly:
“I was like, ‘Hey mom… I-love-you.’ She was like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I-love-you.’ She still didn’t understand. So I said, ‘I… Love… You.’ She said, ‘Aw, I love you, too.’ But I had never told my mother that I loved her. It was really hard for me. I told my brother the same thing the other day and he laughed at me.”
Although Jeremy’s parents rarely spoke the words, their actions gave eloquent testimony. Gie-Ming and Shirley went to heroic lengths to provide a life of opportunity for their children and then to support them as they matured in their education and other pursuits.
Gradually, the message of the Christian gospel, which had not initially made sense to Jeremy, began to have a deeper effect. For those who are “naturally cocky and competitive,” as Jeremy says he was, it takes time for the lessons of humility and sin and the need for redemption to permeate the soul.
Stephen Chen, now the pastor of the English congregation at CCiC, was then a volunteer who was largely responsible for coordinating the high school youth group meetings. When they first met, Jeremy was a rambunctious junior high brat. On a church cleaning day, Jeremy was running around the church throwing a ball and avoiding any serious work. Pastor Chen pulled him aside and told him to settle down. That night, Jeremy told his mother that he wouldn’t go to youth group meetings next year as long as Chen was in charge. Shirley, who had never met him before, arranged a meeting with Chen because she was so eager to thank him for setting her son straight.
Jeremy must have overcome his qualms. When he entered the ninth grade and joined the high school youth group, he found himself encouraged toward faith in a way he had never experienced before. The group met on Friday nights for games, singing and biblical teaching. Jeremy fell in love then with “Christian fellowship,” or that experience that Christians share when they are joined to a community in their beliefs and commitments, their passions and purposes.
Jeremy was baptized by his own choice, as a public declaration of faith, in his ninth-grade year. Christian faith was no longer reserved for his parents and his older brother. In fact, seeing they were such “fanatics about basketball,” Stephen Chen made a deal with the elder Lin brothers that he would teach them about the Bible if they would teach him about basketball. So after the meetings on Friday nights, along with the Lin brothers’ friend Roger, they went to the Stanford campus and played with college students until one or two in the morning. As Chen told me, “He was schooling college students even then.” They often ended their midnight adventures with trips to Denny’s.
Excerpted from Jeremy Lin by Dalrymple, Timothy Copyright © 2012 by Dalrymple, Timothy. Excerpted by permission.
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