With Jeremy Lin Exit, Some Asian-American Fans Feel Betrayed By Knicks

photo credit: Associated Press

I was quoted in this Wall Street Journal piece about Jeremy Lin’s exit from the New York Knicks. 

By Jeff Yang
Wall Street Journal
July 18, 2012

I’m not even going to pretend to be dispassionate or objective here. Bottom line: The Knicks’ decision to allow the Houston Rockets to snatch Jeremy Lin  is a gut-punch, the kind of soul-killing punk move that, in my personal opinion, shows zero respect for either the player or the fans he helped teach to believe again after years of wandering in the wilderness.

For me, there aren’t excuses. There are, however, plenty of what-ifs. What if he’d continued the incredible journey he’d started on the biggest stage in sports to its Cinderella conclusion? What would that have meant for the Knicks, for New York, and yes, for Asians across New York, throughout the nation and around the globe?

A few weeks of Linsanity was enough to make a dent in decades of myths and misperceptions, to stretch out tired old stereotypes. It was enough to forge a brand new reality, in which the biggest hero in Gotham wasn’t Batman, but a charmingly goofy nerdthlete with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a killer instinct on the court — our own Dork Knight, if you will. It was enough to turn oblivious parents, ambivalent spouses and sarcastic little sisters into instant — Linstant? Uh, okay, I guess we can’t do that anymore — sports maniacs.

We won’t find that out — not here, at least. Linsanity’s next chapter is down South, in a welcoming city with a Yao-shaped hole, on a team that has amply proven its appreciation of his talents and his value, both on and off the court. Good for him. Sucks for us. With any kind of luck, he’ll get the big man he needs (go to him, Dwight!), his game will continue to evolve, and he’ll finally do what has to be done establish himself in the eyes of his doubters and detractors…a group that includes an awkward number of his former teammates.

Carmelo Anthony, he of the bulging wallet and empty ring fingers, called his contract “ridiculous.”  J.R. Smith, a last-minute addition to the squad, suggested that Lin didn’t deserve the money, since he hadn’t been “doing it that long.” Neither apparently spoke with a trace of self-consciousness or irony. It was enough for some — like Bay Area broadcaster and longtime Lin fan Brian Tong — to wonder at the reasons for the double standard. “You don’t hear those guys say anything about other peers who have even more ridiculous contracts than Lin’s,” he notes. How many cheddar-drenched first-round draft picks have flopped? How many overpaid veterans have outstayed their welcome while maxing out cap? Bunches of ‘em, and sometimes it feels like all of them have played for the Knicks.

And next season, the story continues. Not the Jeremy Lin fairy tale, but the grim shaggy-dog joke that New York hoops fans have faced since the Dolans first took over and asserted their commitment to mediocrity. By signing Lin, the Rockets are taking smart risks to construct a team for tomorrow. Meanwhile, by shopping at the Antique Roadshow — Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas! — the Knicks are building a competitive team for the 1990s.

Most of my diehard Lin fan friends saw this fiasco as eminently avoidable.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” says Terry Park, a Ph.D. candidate at UC-Davis who’s already changed his Facebook profile picture to Jeremy in a Rockets jersey. “Classic Knicks move! In February, the Knicks almost let Lin go for nothing. Several months later, a winning streak later, an excited fan base later, millions of Linsanity dollars later, the Knicks…let him go for nothing.”

Many, especially those with no ties to New York, cheered the fact that Lin is finally busting free of the dysfunctional Garden.

“I don’t care who he plays for — I’m a Lin fan, not a Knicks fan,” says Timothy Yu, an associate professor of Asian American Studies (and Jeremy Lin Studies pioneer) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “What I’m mad about is that the Knicks just completely cut him loose — and they’re blaming him for cutting such a hard-nosed deal with the Rockets. The fact of the matter is that even the team that benefited from Linsanity doesn’t believe it’s for real. That really burns me as an Asian American fan. But shed no tears for Jeremy: An Asian American athlete is getting paid like a superstar, because he is one — and that’s cool.”

More than a few raised the question of whether Lin’s race had anything to do with how he was treated:

“People who say Lin is an opportunist expected him to be a meek, quiet Asian man who wouldn’t cause waves,” says Jae-Ha Kim, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. “This discussion about what he’s worth is insulting. Clearly these teams aren’t offering him this money out of the goodness of their hearts. And for what it’s worth, I’m a Bulls fan — I’ll just miss seeing Spike Lee go nuts over Lin.”

But the general reaction was similar to my own: A sense of existential loss that the cinematic epic that began here in February wouldn’t achieve the third-act climax we’d envisioned in our wildest fantasies — the champagne bath in the Garden after a last-seconds Lin dagger to win the Knicks the Larry O’Brien Trophy…a piece of bling that as of next year, New York hasn’t seen in 40 years. Leonard Shek, chef and multimedia producer and Golden State Warrior fan who converted to Knicksism for Lin’s sake put it best: “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cry in the shower and listen to non-stop Coldplay albums on repeat.”

Of course, the final word here should go to the man himself, who confirmed his move to Hustletown to his 843,000 Twitter followers at 11:30 pm last night: “Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year…easily the best year of my life‪ #ForeverGrateful”

A classy exit from the Apple for a classy player; no one can say Jeremy Lin doesn’t know how to finish. We’ll look forward to seeing you back, J-Lin — and when you roll in again wearing red, we know who we’ll be rooting for.

Jeff Yang writes the WSJ.com’s weekly Tao Jones column on Asian and Asian-American pop culture.


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