Jeremy Lin, the game, and a childhood

I have read all the articles, watched all the highlights, and hypothesized with my friends about what Lin should do with this new found fame. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what he means to the Asian-American community, how he impacts the NBA, and even how he’s impacting the stock market. Instead of talking about what Lin’s emergence means to the world, I wanted to talk about the way he’s influenced a much smaller population. I know there are pockets of Asian-American guys out there who have immigrant fathers who taught them how to enjoy the game of basketball…so this one’s for you.

I was maybe 11 when my dad came home one day from work with bags of cement and a brand new Huffy basketball net. I helped my dad dig a hole in the grass adjacent to our driveway where we would pour the cement in. At the time, putting up the basketball net made me feel like our family belonged to our community in suburban Detroit, since everyone else had basketball nets in their driveways. You’re at the tender age where you want to help your dad with random things around the house, but just aren’t strong enough to actually contribute so you kind of bounce around as your dad just tells you to get out of the way. My dad smoothed out the cement as it overflowed off the top of the hole as if he’s laid brick before, and while we waited for the cement to dry my dad tried to explain the rules of basketball to me.

I watched Jordan do his thing on TV. I didn’t understand the mechanics of shooting a basketball, what it meant to travel, or what good defense was. The next day, it was a clear spring day and my dad and I were ready to test out our new net. The first thing he taught me how to do was dribble, and thinking back to that day, he definitely had some swag. The high-top reeboks, tube socks with the stripe, and his dribbling was like Jerry West meets John Stockton. He told me if I wanted to get “fancy,” you can really hypnotize your opponent by crossing over between your legs. He showed me how to make a layup, how to pivot, and how to make a chest pass. I was still just a scrawny kid, and receiving a pass from my dad was like trying to stand in front of a fastball. I didn’t want to be like Mike, I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to mimic his dribbling, the way he was able to keep the ball away from me, and the conviction he had in his ball fakes.

There’s that awkward period when you aren’t really coordinated yet and shoot the ball with both of your hands. I didn’t really get the game until I was in 7th and 8th grade. My dad encouraged me to play more simply because I was tall, and that I could keep the ball away from people by holding it over my head. At 6’0” in middle school, I was definitely one of the taller guys but still lacked muscle and strength. My dad would still play me 1-on-1 and would always beat me, telling me that I would be a real man the day I could take him 1-on-1. The truth is, I’ve never beaten him. I started practicing my layups and shots by myself, and I eventually gained enough skills and muscle where I knew I could beat him, but was afraid of what that would mean to him…and me. He never pressured me to play on my school’s team, but I figure I would take his advice and play simply because I had the height.

I made the team in high school,  but thought basketball would just be another hobby like skateboarding or doing boy scouts (both activities I did growing up). Both my parents instilled the typical Asian attitude of studying hard, getting into a good college, and landing a stable job after graduation. I began to harbor the belief that the game would not really take me anywhere in life, and that I was just wasting time at practices when I should’ve been studying for an AP English test the next day. It felt as though the only reason I played on my school’s team was to make my dad proud, and show him there was something I was good at besides the books.

Little did I know, after graduating high school, basketball is the only constant in my life. I have switched jobs, lived on both coasts, and travelled to various countries. It didn’t matter where I went, I always sought leagues to play in and surrounded myself with people who are passionate about the game. From work leagues in the Bay area to the cracked outdoor court outside of Central Train Station in Sydney, there is always a game to be played. Of course, my biggest regret is not having this passion when I was in high school. It’s always tough in retrospect, wondering about what I could have done with the game if I was not pressured to excel academically and just focus on the one thing where I felt like I “belong.” There are only two times in life where society has told me I’ve done good: getting a job out of college to pay the bills…and playing ball.

Jeremy Lin drops 38 points on the Lakers, and a bunch of us are at my friend’s apartment watching in awe the spectacle that is Lin. The 4th quarter buzzer sounds and I get a call and see that it’s my dad. My dad is pretty old school, he’s a low-key guy and rarely calls me unless it’s an emergency or wants to know when to pick me up from the Detroit airport when I fly back home. I left my friends for a little bit and took the call. “Did you see the game?” my dad says excitedly in a tone I have never heard from him. “Yeah, uh, I did.” I say curiously. The ensuing conversation between my dad and I is just like any other conversation I would have with one of my friends about a big game from the night before. In those 5 minutes we talked about Jeremy Lin, I realized I was just shooting the shit with him, something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I hung up and returned to my friends. As the highlights of the game started playing, I thought about the pithy dialogue I just had. My dad was teaching me about the game all over again. We were back on our drive way, him showing me what a good follow through looks like as I copied his every move.

He doesn’t care about the game anymore than he did before Lin shocked the world with his overlooked talent. He still watches the Pistons and every once in a while tells me how bad they are and what Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer could do on the current squad. He mentions that Lin and I have that “ABC” look and have similar blood but very different lives. Through all this inane banter, I can see the effects Linsanity has on both of us and our relationship. There is that unspoken feeling that both father and son share but are too proud to talk about. And yet, to the plain observer, it’s just another father teaching his son how to play basketball in the drive way.