Jeremy Lin has dealt with racist remarks as an Asian American in the NBA but he said nothing compares to what he repeatedly experienced while playing in college.
Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, said he heard deplorable racial slurs hurled at him from fans, opposing players and even an opposing coach during his four years at Harvard while playing on the road from 2006-2010.
“The worst was at Cornell when I was being called a c—k,” the Brooklyn Nets point guard said in a very candid interview on his teammate’s podcast “Outside Shot with Randy Foye.” “That’s when it happened. I don’t know … that game, I ended up playing terrible and getting a couple of charges and doing real out of character stuff. My teammate told my coaches [that] they were calling Jeremy a c—k the whole first half. I didn’t say anything because when that stuff happens, I kind of just, I go and bottle up where I go into turtle mode and don’t say anything and just internalize everything.”
Lin told Foye that one fan at Georgetown shouted negative Asian stereotypes at him such as “chicken fried rice!” and “beef lo mein!” and “beef and broccoli” throughout the entire game. And when Harvard visited Yale one time, Lin said fans heckled his appearance, specifically his eyes.
“They were like, ‘Hey! Can you even see the scoreboard with those eyes?'” Lin recalled.
Lin says one opposing coach also used an offensive slur to Asian Americans while referring to Lin as the coach argued with a referee. And even if officials heard what was being said, Lin said nothing was ever done about it.
“In Vermont, I remember because I had my hands up while the Vermont player was shooting free throws [that] their coach was like, ‘Hey ref! You can’t let that Oriental do that!’ I was like, what is going on here? I have been called a c—k by players in front of the refs, the refs heard it because they were yelling it [like,] ‘Yeah, get that out, c—k!’ And the ref heard it, looked at both of us and didn’t do anything.
“It’s crazy. My teammate started yelling at the ref, you just heard it, it was impossible for you not to hear that. How could you not do something? And the ref just pretended like nothing happened. That was when I was like, yo, this [kind of racism and prejudice] is a beast. So when I got to the NBA, I thought, this is going to be way worse. But it is way better. Everybody is way more under control.”
Lin says now when he hears something offensive from a heckler, the Nets’ point guard doesn’t allow it to affect him the way it did in college at times when he was younger.
“To this day in the NBA, there are still some times where there are still some fans that will say smaller stuff and that is not a big deal,” Lin said. “But that motivates me in a different way.”
Lin admits that when his career exploded overnight and “Linsanity” was born during his brief tear with the New York Knicks in 2012, he didn’t know how to cope with the sudden fame or the unexpected responsibility that came with being a new Asian-American role model.
Lin tells Foye that his biggest regret during “Linsanity” was not enjoying the moment more.
“I had set the record for the most points ever scored by any player in their first five starts but I didn’t look like anybody they had ever seen,” Lin said. “All anybody ever knew about Asian players were 7-foot centers from China … it scared me.
“My biggest regret is I never really soaked it in or appreciated it. I was so scared and then I was so focused on all right, they think this so I got to be that and next year I got to play even better and then it was onto the next goal and I was never really able to slow down and appreciate it.”
Now more mature and in a more comfortable place in his life, Lin, 28, has fully embraced his role within the Asian community and looks forward to challenging all stereotypes and racial prejudice that comes his way. Lin just finished the first year of a three-year, $36 million deal he signed with the Nets.
“Back then [during ‘Linsanity’] it was like, every question (was) like, ‘Jeremy, what it is like to be Asian in the NBA?'” Lin said. “Everything was about being Asian in the NBA. At a point, I was like man, just stop talking to me about being Asian. And everyone would refer to me like, ‘Linsanity!’ ‘Linsanity!’ I was like dude, just stop calling me that name. It became a huge burden because I felt like I had to be this phenomenon for everybody else.
“And now when I say badge of honor, it’s like, this is cool, I rep for all the Asians, I rep for all the Harvard dudes, I rep for the Cali guys, I rep for the underdogs. I take pride in it. It is not a burden to me anymore. I am not scared anymore. I appreciate it and want to help and challenge the world, stereotypes and everything. Back then I didn’t understand it and it came so fast I didn’t really know what was going on.”