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There are plenty of entry points for Jeremy's story, but a good place to start is by painting a picture of China in the late 1940s, when civil war ripped apart the world's most populous country. Chinese Nationalist forces led by General Chiang Kai-shek fought the People's Liberation Army—led by Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong—for control of China, which at that time was a feudal society where a small elite class lived well and hundreds of millions barely survived. In 1949, after three years of bloody conflict, the Communist forces won, and Chiang Kai-shek and approximately two million Nationalist Chinese fled for their lives to the island of Taiwan off the coast of mainland China.
Among those refugees were Jeremy's grandparents on his mother's side. Jeremy's mother, Shirley ("Shirley" is actually an anglicized version of her Chinese first name), was born to a mother who was one of Taiwan's first prominent female physicians. One time during the 1970s, a contingent of American doctors visited Taiwan to study the advances that Taiwanese physicians were making in health care. As Shirley's mother made contacts with those in the American medical community, the seed was planted to immigrate to the United States, where the family could pursue a better life. In 1978, just after Shirley graduated from high school in Taiwan, she and the family moved to the United States.
Shirley worked hard learning English and later enrolled at Old Dominion University, a college in Norfolk, Virginia. Her major was computer science, a discipline with a bright future. Many felt the computer revolution would explode in the 1980s. A newfangled invention called the PC, or personal computer, was beginning to find its way into American homes.
There weren't too many Asians (or second-generation Asian-Americans, for that matter) at Old Dominion, and those who spoke Mandarin could be counted on two hands. The dozen or so Chinese-speaking students formed a small Asian support group for fun and fellowship, and one of those who joined was a graduate student from Taiwan—a handsome young man named Gie-Ming Lin, who had come to the United States to work on his doctorate in computer engineering. His ancestors had lived in Taiwan since the nineteenth century, long before Communist oppression began on the mainland in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Sharing the same cultural background and a common language brought Gie-Ming and Shirley together, and they began dating. It wasn't long before their love blossomed. When Gie-Ming told her that his plan was to finish his doctorate at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, they decided to move together to Purdue, where Shirley would continue her undergraduate classes in computer science while Gie-Ming worked on his PhD.
Don't get the idea that these two foreign-born students had plenty of time to linger over coffees at the student union, attend a concert at the Elliott Hall of Music, or go sledding down Slayter Hill after the first snowfall of winter. Gie-Ming's and Shirley's parents didn't have the financial resources to contribute to their education, so they both had to work to pay their own tuition and living expenses. Shirley took shifts waitressing and bartending, while Gie-Ming moonlighted in his chosen field of computer engineering.
While at Purdue, Shirley was introduced to a Christian fellowship group and heard the gospel presented for the first time. Curious about who Jesus was, she began exploring and learning about the Lord of the universe and how he came to this earth to die for her sins. She fell in love with Jesus and got saved. When she told Gie-Ming what she had done, he investigated the gospel and became a Christian as well. They soon connected with a Chinese-speaking church and began their walk with Christ.
Gie-Ming and Shirley married while they were still in school. They liked living in the United States and became two of the many millions of immigrants chasing the American dream.
They certainly weren't afraid to work hard—or live frugally. Early on, Gie-Ming and Shirley would go fishing on the weekend at a nearby reservoir. Behind the dam was a lake teeming with bluegill, shad, crappie, and huge bass. Gie-Ming, who loved fishing and was quite good at it, would catch his limit and bring home his haul in a galvanized bucket. They would eat some of the fish that night and toss the rest into the freezer.
And that's how the young couple would feed themselves all week long—from the fish Gie-Ming caught on weekends.
One evening, Gie-Ming flipped on the television to relax and came across a basketball game. The Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Boston Celtics during one of their great 1980s NBA Finals battles, and the sight of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson doing wondrous things on the Boston Garden parquet floor mesmerized Gie-Ming. He was smitten by the athleticism of these larger-than-life figures who made the basketball court look small. Gie-Ming started watching NBA basketball every chance he had, which wasn't often since his studies and part-time work ate up much of his free time.
Wait a minute—wasn't there a new technology arriving in people's homes back then? Yes, it was called the VHS recorder, and this then-state-of-the-art device could record television broadcasts on cassettes that contained magnetic tape. Suddenly, the images and sound of TV shows and sporting events could be played back at a more convenient time—or replayed over and over for the viewer's enjoyment. The advent of the VHS tape in the 1980s revolutionized the way Gie-Ming—and millions of Americans—watched TV.
Gie-Ming started taping NBA games, and he loved watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook, Dr. J's (Julius Erving's) gravity-defying dunks, and Magic leading the fast break and handling the ball like it was on the end of a string. It wasn't long before Gie-Ming was a certifiable basketball junkie. He studied those tapes with the same fervor he displayed when he studied for his PhD. He couldn't tell friends why he loved basketball, but he just did.
Gie-Ming also started playing a bit of basketball himself. He taught himself how to dribble and how to shoot by practicing jump shot after jump shot at a nearby playground. He was too shy to join a basketball league, but he could be coaxed into playing the occasional pickup game. He loved breaking a sweat on the basketball court, and playing the game became his favorite form of exercise.
After Gie-Ming and Shirley completed their schooling at Purdue, they moved to Los Angeles, where Gie-Ming worked for a company that designed microchips. Shirley jumped on the mommy track and gave birth to their first child, a son they named Joshua. Two years later, on August 23, 1988, ten years to the day after Kobe Bryant entered the world in Philadelphia, Jeremy Shu-How Lin was born.
A Westward Move
A job offer transferred the Lin family to Florida for two years, but then Silicon Valley lured Jeremy's parents, Gie-Ming and Shirley, to Northern California in the early 1990s. Gie-Ming's expertise became computer chip design, while Shirley—who had given birth to her third son, Joseph—returned to work in her specialty: quality control, which meant making sure new computer programs were bug-free when they were released.
The Lins settled in Palo Alto, a community of sixty thousand residents that bordered Stanford University. Gie-Ming, who wanted to introduce his favorite game —basketball—to his three sons, signed up for a family membership at the local YMCA. When firstborn Joshua was five years old, Gie-Ming introduced him to the fundamentals of basketball by using the passing, dribbling, and shooting drills he had studied on his VHS tapes. Jeremy received the same instruction when he started kindergarten, and so would Joseph when he reached that age.
When Jeremy entered first grade, his parents signed him up for a youth basketball league. But at that young age, Jeremy wasn't very interested in the action around him. He was like those kids in T-ball who lie down on the outfield grass and watch the clouds pass by instead of focusing on what the next batter is going to do. Most of the time, Jeremy stood at half-court and sucked his thumb while the ball went up and down the floor. Since he couldn't be bothered to try harder, his mom stopped coming to his games.
As Jeremy grew and matured, he eventually became more interested in basketball, especially after he grew big enough to be able to launch an effective shot toward the rim and watch it swish through the net. As shot after shot poured through the hoop, he was hooked. He asked his mother if she would come back and watch him play, but she wanted to know if he was actually going to try before she committed to returning to his games.
"You watch," he promised. "I'm going to play, and I'm going to score."
He scored all right. Sometimes Jeremy scored the maximum amount of points one player was allowed under Biddy Basketball rules.
For the rest of Jeremy's elementary school years, his parents regularly took him and his brothers to the gym to practice or play in pickup games. They also enrolled him in youth soccer, but basketball was the game he wanted to play.
As the demands of school grew, Jeremy and his brothers would do their homework after school and wait for their father to come home for dinner, and then everyone would head over to the Y at eight o'clock for ninety minutes of shooting and pickup games. Gie-Ming continued to stress the fundamentals because he wanted the game's basic moves to become second nature to Jeremy.
As Jeremy improved, he couldn't get enough hoops action. On many nights, he and his family practiced and played right up until the time they closed the doors at the Palo Alto Family YMCA at 9:45 p.m.
While basketball turned out to be a fun family sport for the Lins, they weren't going to sacrifice academics or church on the altar of basketball. Academics were important to Gie-Ming and Shirley because they had seen firsthand how education could give them a better life. Church was even more important because they knew what a relationship with Christ meant to them and to the spiritual well-being of their sons.
Wherever they lived, the Lins gravitated toward a Chinese Christian church. When they moved to Palo Alto, they found a church they immediately liked: the Chinese Church in Christ in nearby Mountain View. This place of worship was really two churches in one. There were services every Sunday morning—in Mandarin and in English —in separate fellowship halls. Several hundred attended the Mandarin-speaking ser vices, while fewer people attended the worship ser vices presented in English. The English-speaking ministry that the Lin family became involved in was known as Redeemer Bible Fellowship.
The strong demand for a church ser vice in Mandarin was reflective of the demographics of the San Francisco Bay Area, home to the nation's highest concentration of Asian-Americans. At one time, the United States census revealed that 27 percent of the people living in Pala Alto were Asian-Americans—racially identifying themselves as Chinese-American, Filipino-American, Korean-American, Japanese-American, or Vietnamese-American. There was a large Taiwanese-American community in nearby Cupertino (24 percent of the population), while other bedroom communities such as Millbrae, Foster City, Piedmont, and Albany had Asian populations of 10 percent or greater.
Stephen Chen, pastor of the Chinese Church in Christ's Redeemer Bible Fellowship, remembers the first time he met Jeremy a little more than ten years ago, when Chen was a twenty-three-year-old youth counselor. "Jeremy was around thirteen years old when I first ran into him," he said. "We were having a church cleaning day, and he was running around with his friends and being rambunctious. I remember scolding him, saying, 'Hey, we're trying to clean things up, and you're making things more messy.' "
Feeling chastised, Jeremy went home and told his parents he didn't want to go to that church anymore because the youth guy had been so mean to him. His parents didn't take his side, however, and the incident soon blew over.
Stephen Chen, who was always looking for things to do with the youth in the church, discovered that Jeremy and his older brother, Josh, were avid basketball players. Josh was starting to play high school basketball, and Jeremy was living and breathing the game in middle school.
"I hadn't played a lick of basketball before that time," Stephen said. "But I wanted to connect with the Lin brothers, so I asked them if we could do a little exchange: I would teach them about the Bible, and they would teach me how to play basketball."
Josh and Jeremy readily accepted. After the youth group meeting ended, they'd go to a nearby basketball court, where the Lin brothers taught Stephen how to do a layup, properly shoot the ball, and box out on rebounds. Then they would get the youth group together, choose up sides, and play basketball games.
"Jeremy would pass me the ball, even when the game was on the line," Stephen said. "He wasn't afraid that I'd lose the game for him. If we did lose, his older brother would get upset, but Jeremy would even console his brother. Even at that young age, Jeremy was hospitable, eager to get along with different types of people. He was also a natural leader, and kids listened to him."
Before entering high school, Jeremy wanted to get baptized as a public statement that he believed in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. Stephen was pleased to hear of that desire. The Chinese Church in Christ had a baptismal font inside the church sanctuary, and Jeremy was dunked during a Sunday morning ser vice. Not long after that, Stephen asked him if he would join the youth ministry's leadership team.
Jeremy was willing. The church had been renting a local high school gym on Sunday evenings so the kids in the youth group could play basketball and invite their friends to join them. "Jeremy would always be the one who would ask other kids to come out and play basketball with us," Stephen said. "And they would come. Jeremy wanted everyone to feel at home. That was just another way he extended kindness to others."
The gym had two full courts across the main court. Many dads saw how much fun their kids were having, so they would play too—fathers on one court, their sons on the other. Moms would visit with each other during the games of roundball.
All this basketball playing—after school, on weekends, and on Sunday nights—helped Jeremy to become quite a player, even though he was a shrimp on the court. As he entered his freshman year of high school, Jeremy topped out at five foot three and weighed 125 pounds. Jeremy had set his sights on playing high school basketball, but he knew that if he didn't grow a lot in the next couple of years, he wasn't going to get a chance to play, no matter how talented he was.
One day, Jeremy told Stephen, "I want to be at least six feet tall."
Stephen looked at Jeremy. He knew that Asians were stereotyped as a short people, and there was some truth to that. The average male height in the United States is five foot ten, while in China, the average male height is five foot seven. Unfortunately for Jeremy, his parents weren't tall either. Both stood five foot six, so he didn't have a great gene pool working for him.
"So how are you going to become six feet tall?" Stephen asked.
"I'm going to drink milk every day," young Jeremy replied.
For the next few years, Shirley was constantly running to the local supermarket to buy milk by the gallon. Jeremy drank the dairy product like it was ... water. Jeremy had a glass of milk with his breakfast cereal, drank milk at lunch, and always had a couple more glasses of milk with dinner. He also gulped calcium supplements like they were Nerds candy.
"I drank so much milk because I was obsessed with my height," Jeremy said. "I would wake up in the morning and measure myself every day because I heard that you're always taller in the morning, at least when you're growing. I wanted to see if I had grown overnight."
Jeremy's great wish was to be taller than his older brother, Josh, who was in the midst of a growth spurt that would take him to five foot ten during high school. Desperate to will his body to grow taller, Jeremy even climbed on monkey bars at school and let himself hang upside down, thinking that doing so might expand his spinal column and make him taller.
Jeremy understood that he couldn't "force" his body to grow, but he also believed that to be competitive in the game of basketball, he had to grow to at least six feet.
And that was a tall order.
When Jeremy moved up to Palo Alto High School, he made a big impression on his freshman basketball coach—even though he was one of the smallest players on the team. Years of playing in youth basketball leagues at the Y had honed his skills. His freshman coach stood up at the team's end-of-the-season banquet and declared, "Jeremy has a better skill set than anyone I've seen at his age."
And then something miraculous happened.
By Jeremy's junior year, he had sprouted nine inches to reach the magic number—six feet of height. He was still as skinny as a beanstalk, however, and weighed around a buck-fifty. The good news is that his growth spurt wasn't over. He would go on to add two more inches of height by his senior year of high school to reach six foot two.
Jeremy turned out to be a real late bloomer. He added another inch or inch-and-a-half during his college years to reach his present height, which is a tad over six foot three. He also added bulk by hitting the weight room. His body would fill out to a solid 200 pounds.
No longer the shortest player on the court, Jeremy showed his coaches and Palo Alto High opponents that he could run the offense, shoot lights-out, and make the player he was guarding work extra hard. His position was point guard, which may well be the most specialized role in basketball. The point guard is expected to lead the team's half-court offense, run the fast break, make the right pass at the right time, work the pick-and-roll, and penetrate the defense, which creates open teammates when he gets double-teamed.
When Jeremy dribbled the ball into the front court, he played like a quarterback who approached the line of scrimmage and scanned the defense to determine both its vulnerabilities and its capabilities. Jeremy's mind quickly calculated how an opponent's defense was set up and where the weak spots were. His quickness and mobility were huge assets.
His father, always ahead of the technological curve, had been filming Jeremy since his middle school days. He would break down the film, and then father and son would review what happened in his games. There was always something to glean from the tapes.
Excerpted from Linspired by Mike Yorkey Copyright © 2012 by Mike Yorkey . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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