Why Jeremy Lin is Changing the (Basketball) World

The legend that is Jeremy Lin is just nine games old and in just a short span, Lin practically did something considered impossible by most standards – he knocked off the New York Giants – fresh from their thrilling Super Bowl victory – from front pages in newspapers all over New York City.

Of course you have to be a special person to be able to accomplish such a feat in just a matter of days at the heart of the biggest media market in the world. Lin is off to an explosive start in his young NBA career. He is even off to a better start than when eventual Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton began their respective careers. The Knicks are now 7-1 with Lin in the starting lineup.

The Knicks are back in the thick of the Eastern Conference. More importantly, Lin has sparked a phenomenon only Tim Tebow could duplicate. There have only been three players coming out of Harvard to play in the NBA, and even less Asian-Americans at that level. Lin, an Asian-American who went undrafted in the 2010 NBA draft from Harvard, is now one of the biggest underdog stories in all of sports.

Equally as important, the “Linsanity” among his new fans is the stuff that many NBA fans – especially Asian-American fans – have been waiting for. There’s no doubt that in the past 15 years, the league has grown into an worldly sport loaded with international players. Most have come from Europe, others from South America or even China, all playing in a sport predominated by African-American players.

When Chinese players like Wang Zhi Zhi, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian entered the league, new fans from Asia were drawn to the sport. Asian Americans also showed displayed their pride in seeing Wang, Yao and Yi play with the best in the world. Of the three, Yao was the only one to become an All-Star, but his career was cut short with constant foot problems. In Lin’s case, the phenomenon could be something even bigger than what Yao created because he’s simply not just Asian – he’s an Asian-American.

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Lin helped lead tiny Palo Alto High School to a Division II state championship. He attended Harvard on an academic scholarship and worked hard to make the Golden State Warriors roster in the 2010-2011 season. Having covered hundreds of high school basketball players as a former prep sports writer, several of them Asian-American, I appreciate Lin’s story because he worked from the ground up, whereas other Chinese-born players were entering the NBA already having played at the professional level in China. Lin’s story will further add inspiration to those who are going up against doubters and critics.

Lin’s story also rekindles a new connection between the NBA and its Asian-American fans. Despite their love for Yao and other Chinese-born players, Asian-American fans can feel even more connected with Lin because his road to the NBA stayed here in America. In a sport often considered filled with talented, but overpaid and spoiled, athletes who are not connected to their fan base … and only to their entourage, Lin remains humble and shows that he doesn’t have to have an attitude and have eight to 10 “Yes Men” surrounding him. All he has to do is work hard and he will prosper. He understands how hard it is to make it to this level and he’s not about to change his mentality.

The NBA season started with players and owners bickering over a Collective Bargaining Agreement that 95 percent of us, as fans, could never comprehend. If Lin keeps giving fans exciting basketball, not only will we forget about what owners and players were fighting about in the first place, he will give even more fans reason to say “I love this game.”

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