Jeremy Lin isn’t just carrying the New York Knicks.
He’s carrying the hopes and dreams of legions of fellow Asian Americans. Most have never met Lin but might feel like they know him. They’ve been starving for someone like him to come around and break the stereotypes of a race that has been dubbed the “model minority.”
He’s the boy they grew up with, the one who was in the same class as their daughter, who played sports with their son.
Michael Chang can relate. Two-and-a-half decades ago, he was that boy.
Just like Lin, the former pro tennis player had doubters who looked at him and figured he was too small, too passive, too unathletic.
A generation before Lin made headlines from New York to Taipei, it was Chang who made it fathomable to even utter “Asian American” and “professional athlete” in the same sentence. It was also Chang who would ultimately reach No. 2 in the men’s world tennis rankings.
There have been other men with Asian American ancestry to make a name for themselves in the sports world since Chang — Tiger Woods, Hines Ward, Rex Walters and Apolo Anton Ohno, to name a few. However, because of their bi-racial heritage, the Asian American community could not claim them as theirs alone.
A second-generation full-blooded Asian American, Lin says he is proud of both his Taiwanese and Chinese heritage and is happy to be a role model.
But it’s Chang who has been a role model for Lin, speaking to him on the phone prior to Lin’s rookie season with the Golden State Warriors.
In describing the start to his pro career, which began in 1988, Chang said, “I felt like there was added pressure. Obviously the Asian American community wants you to do well. They are cheering you on no matter what the circumstances. The first initial feeling, at least for me, was to go out and play well and hopefully win and have the Asian community be even more proud.”
Lin’s pro career, however, got off to a rough start as he averaged less than three points per game, played in just 29 games and admittedly felt a tremendous amount of pressure. Many saw the Warriors’ signing of Lin, a native of nearby Palo Alto, as merely a publicity stunt by the franchise to attract Asian American fans.
This season with the Knicks, though, has been a “miracle from God,” according to Lin.
“The whole sports world has been just in awe of what he’s been doing,” Chang said. “I’m certainly really excited about it and am always trying to watch his games on TV or check to see how he’s been doing.”