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From A Commish: Watching Jeremy Lin

The National Basketball Association officially kicks off tonight with three games on the schedule, feeling more like a soft private opening than an official jump off. So this somewhat subdued unveiling feels especially catered to fans of Jeremy Lin, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, who will face his former team, the Houston Rockets, tonight at 10:30 pm on TNT in the only opening night game with any hint of drama. Lin has finally (and cautiously) earned that coveted starting position in LA, and he’s playing the team kept it from him.

If pressed to choose my team , it’s actually the Rockets. I was born and raised in Houston, but I fully admit the one NBA player I follow more than any other is Jeremy Lin. Having him on the Rockets for the last two seasons didn’t enhance that appreciation for either. It was more often excruciating to watch. As much as I feel like I have a measured approach to my expectations in watching Lin, I have never been so focused in on a single player in professional sports.

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Last season, I watched all but two of his games. It was often more painful than it was pleasant given Lin’s less than consistent play, and watching him started to feel like watching my kid brother play for my high school alma mater. You can be torn between wanting him to succeed and your team to win when those two things don’t align. Everything is too close to home.

And it’s only now I finally realize why my dad couldn’t watch my high school basketball games during my senior year. I was a middling high school athlete sort of in the way Lin is in the NBA–it’s a stretch to be sure but bear with me. I was named starter of my varsity team, then lost the role, then got it back, then lost it again, all as the first player of East Asian descent that had ever made the team, which comes with its own little bag of insecurities. We did have one South Asian player named Sridhar Sista. He was legendary in the (tiny) Asian American athletic circle of the Greater Houston area, and he went on to play for University of Houston.

Of course, I never had a run like Lin did with the Knicks. My dad only saw the struggles I went through as a player. And as a slightly bigger, dumber-looking, and less hairy version of him trying to act like a man, it was too close to home for him, too. He stopped watching. I feel like that watching Lin sometimes, I just want to turn it off.

But the truth is, Jeremy Lin is a grown man, he’s not my brother, and he is a whole lot better a basketball player than I ever even considered to dream. So I’ll keep watching and measuring and hoping.

Late October is the most exciting time of year in American sports, and this past month has actually been a pretty notable stretch for Asian American athletes, too. But especially in that it hasn’t been distinctly noted. Jeremy Lin is officially the starter of perhaps the NBA’s most prestigious franchise, and that’s perfectly normal. Three Asian Americans are playing in the World Series, nobody bats an eye. When the San Francisco Giants’ Travis Ishikawa won MVP of the NLCS, there was nothing made exotic about it. The media at least seems to have gotten past the ridiculous punning and obliviously distasteful jokes prevalent during Lin’s run with the New York Knicks (three seasons ago!). That’s a good thing in general, but it’s even better for the aspiring Asian American athletes who are still watching, and still trying to find where they might in.


Ren Hsieh is the Executive Director of The Dynasty Project and semi-retired Commissioner of NYC-based recreational basketball league Fastbreak NYC. (@renhsieh)

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