It’s that time of the year again. Sneakers squeaking on polished, hardwood floors. The swoosh of a ball spiraling through the net. The roaring of rabid fans.
That’s right, people. The NBA 2010 – 2011 season has begun! (Granted, it’s pre-season until October 26th).
I’ve been a casual NBA fan for the last ten years and a hardcore fan for the last two. I can’t really explain why I love it so much. Maybe it’s because it’s nice to see a sport that’s dominated by people of color. Maybe it’s the fast-paced nature of the game. Or maybe it’s because, unlike other sports, teams actually score more than just a few points by the end. Don’t get me wrong: I realize that, at the end of the day, it’s essentially just a bunch of people trying get a ball through a net, but basketball is much more complex than that. Really!
When Lebron James brought up how race had to do with the kind of media treatment he received after ‘The Decision,’ it got me thinking a little more about the racial dynamics within the NBA. And one of the top questions on my mind has been: where are all my Asian American ball players at? Yes, there is a lack of an Asian American presence in the NBA, but why?
I don’t think there is just one reason as to why this is the case, but a multitude of possible explanations: perceptions that Asian Americans are only good at academics, that we have neither the physique nor athleticism to play basketball, lack of Asian American role models to look up to in the league, etc. All of these reasons and a plethora of others I haven’t mentioned, contribute to explaining the phenomenon.
Growing up in an Asian American household, my parents, like many other Asian American parents, reinforced the notion of study, study, study. They weren’t super hardcore about it but I knew where they wanted my priorities to be: academics. Doing well in school was the gateway to being financially stable. Sports were an afterthought because even though they looked great on your college application, they were thought of as leading to nowhere professionally. Yes, you can play sports, but don’t think for a second that you can place shooting a ball into a net three hundred times a day in front of getting an A+ on that U.S. History test.
But even with all that pressure growing up, there was one point where I wanted to be a figure skater. If I were to be perfectly honest with myself though, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that there were role models in the sport I could idolize: Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan. They were representing the U.S. Not Japan or China. They gave me hope that one day I could be a figure skater too. And a successful one at that.
Nowadays, my dream career is a little different but I do think there is something to be said for seeing those who look like us in sports. Not only showing that we can ball with the best of them but here’s someone who is of the same race/ethnicity as me who has probably had similar experiences in relation to their racial/ethnic identity; we can relate to them.
That’s why I think there was such a hubbub over Taiwanese American Jeremy Lin signing a deal with the Golden State Warriors. Here’s an Asian American guy [as opposed to Asian, like Yao Ming or Yi Jianlian] who is a pretty decent basketball player who is playing in the pro league!
Lin, who has had racial slurs thrown at him during games, is well-aware of the rarity of Asian Americans in the NBA and is conscious of how his presence may very well impact the future of Asian American basketball players in the league. He may not be become an All-Star caliber player during his tenure in the NBA but his existence in the pro game alone speaks volumes not only to Asian American youth watching his every basketball-related move but also to basketball scouts, general managers, coaches, etc.; we can play and we can play pretty darn well, thankyouverymuch.
Now I’ll admit, I’m a Chicago Bulls fan through and through, but I know I’ll be catching the next Golden State Warriors games in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Lin himself. And you should too! Homeboy is legit.