ColorLines' Jamilah King says that the rise of New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin — the deeply religious son of Taiwanese immigrants — shouldn't be surprising. But the fact that it is a shock to many unearths and challenges some deeply held assumptions about the place of Asian Americans in U.S. culture.
Lin is only one of a handful of Asian-American players in the NBA's history, and the first in over a decade. Although 1950 is usually seen as the year when two black basketball players broke the color barrier, Japanese-American Wataru Misaka technically did it two seasons before in 1947-48, when he played for the New York Knicks.
Although Lin has consistently shown promise since his high school days — even leading his Palo Alto, Calif., high school team to a state championship his senior year — he was overlooked by both college coaches and NBA scouts. The first time he showed up to a summer league game in San Francisco's celebrated Pro-Am tournament, someone at the gym told him: “Sorry, sir, there’s no volleyball here tonight. Just basketball.”
It was a precursor to the thinly veiled prejudice that Lin and other Asian American male basketball players often face after decades of racist caricaturing that’s stereotyped them as nerdy and un-athletic, wholly incapable of excelling in a distinctly physical sport like basketball. “The most glaring stereotype to plague Asian athletes is that they are too small to succeed at the highest levels — too short for basketball, too weak for football,” Adachi said.
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