It’s winter 2012, and the New York Knicks are in a tailspin. They’d just lost 11 of their last 13 games, their record a lowly eight wins and 22 losses. With the season slipping away, coach Mike D’Antoni, desperate to give his team a boost, gives an unknown bench player his first NBA start. His name: Jeremy Lin.
Lin proceeds to astonish everyone and gives the Knicks a much-needed win in their home at Madison Square Garden. Three wins later, including a 38-point game against the late Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA’s first American-born Asian player — he’s Taiwanese — was in the international spotlight. Linsanity had officially begun.
As a six-foot-three point guard, Lin was more relatable than his Asian NBA predecessors (sorry, Yao Ming). He captivated fans and his name was in every headline. Social media started flooding with #Linsanity and, surprisingly, #ProudToBeTaiwanese. The Asian pride was refreshing to see. All in all, an incredible win for everyone, right?
Not exactly. Because as the Asian community could see itself in Lin, the rest of the world saw him in us, too. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a seminal moment in my life, setting in motion events that would challenge my own identity and relationship to my Chinese culture.
After a month the hysteria ended, and Jeremy Lin faded from my memory. But now, nine years after Linsanity, increasing anti-Asian racism has made me once again reflect on my own experiences — one fateful night in 2012 in particular.
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I’m also a fan of basketball player Carmelo Anthony (Melo, to my generation) and have followed him since he entered the NBA. He’d recently been traded to New York, so buying a Knicks snapback at the start of the 2012 season was a no-brainer. Oh, and I’m six-foot-two and Cantonese. This hat would become baggage, both literally and figuratively.
Henry Chan’s New York Knicks snapback. Buying it was like investing in a good stock. It would eventually become baggage. Photo by Henry Chan.
Fast-forward a few months to Linsanity. The Knicks were on their winning streak, so it was the perfect time to rock my hat and represent. That week, I bought tickets to watch Safe House (an underrated Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington film, in my opinion). My friends and I hopped onto the SkyTrain and headed downtown. Somewhere along the line, a group of guys boarded the train, sitting in one corner. After a few minutes, it began.
The train arrives at our stop, so we leave and head for the station exit. It’s their stop too and while on the escalator, one of the guys breaks off from his group, approaches us and apologizes for his friends’ behaviour, as if he wasn’t involved too. My then-girlfriend calls him out on this.