“People ask me when the last time I was happy. I genuinely almost always tell them Linsanity. I’m not joking. For two weeks, that was the best,” exclaimed restauranteur David Chang on Bill Simmons’ podcast in May (1 hour, 9 minute mark).
“One of the highlights of my life as a 38-year old man was when Linsanity was happening in New York,” he added.
Chang summed it up better than I ever could, and as a Chinese-American-Christian-NBA fan, Jeremy checked off all my boxes except for the Ivy League education. Lin talked with Vinson Cunningham at the New Yorker Festival at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan on Sunday, October 9th.
Lin has faced the challenge of being an Asian-American playing basketball since high school. He’s been called “deceptively tall, strong, and quick.”
“What’s deceptive about it?” surmised Lin with his outstretched arms.
“If I was just another African-American point guard, and you tweeted about me, nobody would care unless I was the next big superstar.”
During some high school tournaments when he played for Palo Alto in California, the team would travel, and as the players ran out of the locker room, he’d hear”Yo, he’s Asian!” from the stands.
The racial slurs reached its worst from opponents in college. Once, he got blocked and the defender shouted, “Get that out of here, you chink!” The referee heard but ignored it.
“How are you not teching him?” shouted one of his teammates to the referee.
Unfortunately, it still happens to him at the NBA level with one player calling him “Chicken lo-mein.” Lin then lightened the mood by calling that a really good dish, but emphasized that he didn’t like to be called that.
The turning point in his college career was when Harvard assistant coach Kenny Blakeney told him to “Take all that energy and funnel it onto the court.” That improved his play.
It was during his senior year at Harvard in 2009 when he realized he could play in the NBA. Lin scored 30 points in a game against UConn, and then NBA scouts started showing up after that point.
During his senior year, his parents were laid off, so they were short on money. Lin would eat $5 Subway foot-longs, but would not eat until he was full. His mom knew he had to eat considering he was training to be an NBA player, so she took money out of her 401k to support him for two years.
Lin is really thankful for the sacrifice — something so unconventional for Asian immigrant parents.
During Linsanity, D’Antoni was instrumental in keeping Lin’s confidence up. The run consisted of a seven-game win streak, and the first loss was to the New Orleans Pelicans (Hornets at the time) where Lin committed nine turnovers.
After the game, D’Antoni called him and exclaimed, “I don’t care about tonight at all. If you get 15 turnovers the next game, you’ll probably get 30 assists. Just keep being aggressive.”
That call gave Lin the ultimate green light.
The following are various quotes throughout the interview. Some quotes are edited.
On coming to the Nets:“I don’t really feel that much pressure being back here. I’m excited more than anything. I get to have that level of responsibility I always wanted. I was meant to be a leader and a starting point guard.”
On Nets putting hands on shoulders during the National anthem before a preseason game against the Detroit Pistons: “We do more beyond the national anthem gesture. Gesture’s are great, but it’s still just a gesture. We have all the support from [Coach] Kenny Atkinson and [GM] Sean Marks.”
On Lin’s faith and improved play with the Charlotte Hornets: “I had to trust God. As cliche as it sounds, it freed me up. Spiritually, I got to a different place — who God is, and who He is in my life.”
On his faith and how it changed his perspective: “There would be times that we’d be losing, and I’d look up and see 10,000 fans and felt really blessed.”
On how he dealt with his poor Lakers season when it ended: “I put on 21 pounds in 21 days.”
On admitting to being self-absorbed during Linsanity: “There would be games where I’d shoot 0-4 and the first thought in my mind was ‘What are my fans going to think of me?'”
On faith: “God gave me a purpose—a deeper sense of joy.”
On who he thinks is the biggest ball hog between Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, and Kobe Bryant: “A lot of it is what the team needs and what the coach pushes. That’s my way of not answering your question.”
On what it’s like being in an NBA locker room where guys might not like each other, more particularly in Houston: “NBA players are good at compartmentalizing things. You don’t necessarily dislike each other as people. You become close with with guys you’re competing with. Maybe off the court, we eat together and blow off steam. It wasn’t weird or awkward. But on the court, we were like ‘We’re not a team.'”
On what it’s like being traded: “I’m used to it. If there’s a summer I don’t move, it’s like, ‘What’s wrong?’ Getting traded is better than getting cut.”
On whether a long-term deal changes the way he plays: “It’s more starting verses coming off the bench.”
On being in a new city: “I want to stay in a city for a long time to put down philanthropic roots.”
On what he learned from Kobe: “Attention to detail. When splitting the pick and roll, as a defender, you hit the right hand. The referee won’t see it, and the big man will steal it.”
On who his favorite teammates are:
Knicks: Landry Fields, Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries.
Hornets: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, and Kemba Walker
“Jeffries and Williams are my all-time favorites because of the way they affect locker rooms.”
On how being famous affects old friends: “Old friends change. I can’t trust some of them anymore. Everyone around me was changing. You don’t make new friends outside of teammates. It’s lonely at the top and it’s hard.”
On sharing his faith in public: “I want to be authentic and not fake. I say things selectively.”
On why he chose Brooklyn: “Kenny Atkinson. There’s a level of trust.”
Most NBA writers believe Lin will have a good season, especially reuniting with Atkinson, and finally getting a chance to start. It won’t be Linsanity, but for me, it will be good enough.