If the NBA doesn’t draft Harvard’s Jeremy Lin this year you may find him delivering sermons at the Mountain View Church in Palo Alto. Asian Americans may idolize him as a sort of homegrown future Yao Ming, but to Lin the only real superstar is Jesus Christ. And a scan of his young life shows that his success as the Ivy League’s hottest point guard was no miracle but the product of seventeen years of human sweat.
From the age of five Jeremy remembers playing pickup games at the YMCA three nights a week. In those days, though, he wasn’t the team player he is now. Sucking his thumb and standing at half court, Lin didn’t show much promise. Until the day he decided to show up. That night little Jeremy scored the maximum number of points allowed under the kid league rules.
If you think Jeremy is an anomaly, meet his father, Gie-Ming. Most immigrant parents try to give their kids a better future by pushing them to crack the books. Gie-Ming directed Jeremy to the court. Basketball, he explains, was a way to assimilate his sons into mainstream America.
Lin going for the basket during his memorable 30 point game against UConn last season.
The truth is that Gie-Ming had been nursing a passion for the game since his rigorously academic days in Taiwan. For Gie-Ming the U.S. was his dreamland — a place in which he could watch NBA action live. When he arrived in California, Gie-Ming earned his PhD in computer programming but devoted library hours to watching old NBA games. He was learning from the best. Those lessons were then translated through a father’s tough love into Jeremy’s dazzling on-court finesse.
Jeremy Lin led Palo Alto High to the Divisioin II State Championships. By senior season he was considered the runaway favorite for player of the year by every California sports writer. But no Division I team offered him a scholarship. Many Asian Americans suspect Lin’s ethnicity was the stumbling block. The Asian basketball player lost its novelty after Yao Ming’s NBA debut, but the Asian American superstar becomes problematic when less than 0.5% of men’s Division I basketball players are Asian-American.
Now a Harvard senior and the Crimson’s captain, Lin has caused quite the splash in the NCAA. Lin averages 18 points, 5 rebounds and nearly 3 steals per game. But those stats obscure his remarkable knack for delivering when it counts. Against crosstown rival Boston College the 6’ 3’’ guard scored 25 points. Against an intimidating UConn team he powered a Harvard win with 30 points and 9 rebounds.
Even a player of Lin’s proven stature isn’t immune from the racial burden faced by most Asian Americans. Not a game goes by without racial slurs thrown at him, Lin admits. But he is tight-lipped about what exactly is said. He told Time, “Honestly, now, I don’t react to it…I expect it, I’m used to it, it is what it is.”
GS: What part of your success as a point guard do you owe to your father?
JL:My father and my family’s support of basketball has been tremendous. My father instilled his strong passion for the game in me since I was a kid.
GS: How would you describe your childhood? How big of a role did basketball play in it?
JL: Basketball obviously played a large role for me growing up and continues to do so. We would go as a family to the basketball courts whenever we could to play. It was a family thing and I have a lot of great memories about that.
GS: Was there a specific moment growing up when you realized you wanted to be a basketball player?
JL:I’ve always wanted to play basketball and always had the support so it goes as far back as I can remember. Watching Michael Jordan win championships year after year definitely strengthened my dream of playing basketball in the future.
GS: How would you have described yourself as a high school student? (Were you studious? What kinds of people did you mingle with? How did you spend your free time other than playing basketball?)
JL:I think that I had a pretty normal high school experience. I worked to get good grades and was involved in other things outside of basketball but basketball was still a big part of my life. I hung out with basketball players and non-basketball players. We loved playing video games, poker and eating In n Out burgers.
GS: How did you feel about not even getting an offer from a Division 1 school after upsetting Mater Dei to take the CIF Division II Championship, then winning Player of the Year at Palo Alto High?
JL:Things have worked out wonderfully for me a Harvard and I am honored to be here and wear the Harvard uniform. A lot gets made out of my high school situation with the scholarships but I also committed to Harvard early in the process before the state tournament so it is a little deceiving.
GS: What are you majoring in at Harvard?
GS: When you joined the Harvard Crimson how long did it take for you to become one of the guys?
JL:The basketball team, like all teams at Harvard, is a really close-knit group with a family atmosphere, so it didn’t take long.
GS: You try to avoid the limelight, but what is it like to be an Asian American basketball stud at Harvard?
JL:The thing about being at Harvard is that every student here is a star – or stud as you put it – in something. Quite often there are students here who are stars in multiple areas. So I don’t think its that unusual to be who I am at Harvard. It is a dynamic place where anyone who works hard can succeed in his/her chosen field. We have great athletes here, Olympians from other countries, Rhodes Scholars like former basketball player Darryl Finkton.
GS: Was your 30 pointer against UConn this year the highlight of your Harvard career?
JL:A good friend of mine on the football team, Cheng Ho – who is an amazing story by the way – once said when asked about his career highlight that, “it gets remade every day here at Harvard.” I like to think the same way that every day will bring another highlight in my time here. Our team is aiming for an Ivy League championship, which would be much more of a highlight than anything else.
GS: What are you more proud of—being a basketball star or being a Harvard senior?
JL:I feel very blessed by God to have had some success as a basketball player while attending Harvard; it is a tremendous honor to be at this school.
GS: What are your parents more proud of?
JL: I’m not quite sure what they are more proud of, but I know they are more concerned with my relationship with God and overall character more so than school or sports.
GS: Do you model your game after any NBA player (past or present) in particular?
JL:I used to do anything I could do to emulate Michael Jordan and all the great players. I would videotape their games if I couldn’t see them live and I would run outside and try to copy their moves.
GS: In your opinion, what is the strongest part of your game?
JL:I would say playmaking, but I give my teammates a lot of credit because they definitely help me in terms of knocking down shots, setting screens and finishing plays.
GS: Has your ethnicity been a factor at Harvard, either on or off the court?
JL: I don’t think so.
GS: How does racial discrimination on the court affect your game?
JL:At this point I am not affected by whatever goes on – if anything we all get some laughs in the locker room depending on what goes on in the stands.
GS: Is playing for the NBA your plan A?
JL:It would be an honor to play professional basketball. Obviously the NBA would be a dream come true, but I just love playing so if I have an opportunity to play somewhere I will certainly weigh my options. Honestly it is not a concern of mine right now. There is a lot to do this season at Harvard.
GS: If so, what would be your top three teams, in order?
JL:It would definitely be the top three teams that would consider me haha.
GS: If you don’t play for the NBA, what are your career plans?
JL:Ultimately I want to be a pastor for a church and work with inner city youths.
GS: Are you currently seeing anyone romantically?
JL:Haha thats a private matter. Sorry.
GS: You are a rising superstar within the Asian American community. Do you feel a sense of pride, pressure or even burden about that fact?
JL:I am honored to be thought of in that regard and I am very thankful and flattered by support from the Asian American community.. I don’t really think of it as pressure. I just try to play hard and enjoy my experience. Thanks for your time!