Jeremy Lin Talks N.B.A. Comeback and Anti-Asian Racism
It was Room 3296 at Coronado Springs Resort, inside the gates of Walt Disney World in Florida. Jeremy Lin said he had memorized every aspect of its layout.
“I know where the scratch marks on the wall are,” Lin said. “I know where the spider webs were.”
Lin spent 43 days and 42 nights in that room as a member of the Santa Cruz Warriors, playing in the N.B.A. G League bubble in a bid to make it back to the best league in the world for the first time since the 2018-19 season. After a season of gaudy statistics and rock-star treatment with the Beijing Ducks in the Chinese Basketball Association, Lin bypassed millions of dollars in China to play for $35,000 in the N.B.A.’s developmental league and give scouts ample opportunity to study him.
Lin, 32, finished the G League’s abbreviated season at 19.8 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting and with strong, 42.6 percent shooting from 3-point range, but missed six of the 15 games with a back injury. While he waits to see if he did enough for an N.B.A. team to sign him, Lin once again finds himself in the spotlight as a leading voice in the Asian-American community.
After another G League player called him “coronavirus” on the court, Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, has been speaking out against the racism and bigotry that numerous Asian-Americans have faced since former President Donald J. Trump began referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus” last year.
Lin spoke about his N.B.A. comeback bid and his activism in a wide-ranging phone conversation on Monday.
(The highlights of the interview have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
On his willingness to play in the G League as a nine-year N.B.A. veteran:
The more that we talked to teams, they were telling my agent: “Hey, we want to see if Jeremy’s healthy, and we want to see if Jeremy can still go. No offense to some of the leagues overseas, but we would love to see him here in front of us, in an N.B.A. system, playing under N.B.A. rules.”
I know I’m an N.B.A. player. I know I’m a better shooter. I know I’m a better defender. I know I’m more well rounded as a basketball player. I know these things, but I just needed a chance to show it.
On how he was received by fellow G Leaguers:
There were two instances where a player said to me, “I grew up watching you play.” I’ve never had another player tell me that, but then I was like, “OK, well, you’re 18 or 19 years old, so I understand that.”
On facing younger players still trying to establish an N.B.A. foothold:
Ever since I was out of the league, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get back in. Now you can put your money where your mouth is and compete against all these hungry players. It’s the ultimate competitors’ den where everyone in there is just going at each other.
I’ve been a target my whole life. Since I was a kid, I was either a target because people look at me and they’re like: “Oh, he’s not that good. I’m going to take his head off. He’s lunch meat.” Or they don’t want to be embarrassed by me. Now you add on the whole “Linsanity” thing, and I have an even bigger target, and if you watched the games, I was commanding a lot of attention from opposing teams. But it’s fun.
On initially not wanting to discuss Linsanity, his run with the Knicks in February 2012 that landed him on Sports Illustrated’s cover two weeks in a row:
That’s how I felt about it for a few years after. But at this point I’ve come around now to really appreciating and embracing it. For a while it was kind of this phenomenon, or this shadow, or this expectation, or this ghost that I was chasing — sometimes chasing, and sometimes trying to run away from. Now it’s more like a badge of honor that I’m really proud of and what it meant to so many people.
At the same time, there’s a lot more basketball left in my body. I definitely appreciate everything about Linsanity and what it taught me, but I really believe I’m a better player now than I was then. The G League validated a lot of what I felt like I was doing in my training but I hadn’t shown yet.
On revealing the on-court incident in which he was called “coronavirus” and speaking out to support the #StopAsianHate campaign:
With everything happening recently, I feel like I needed to say something. The hate, the racism and the attacks on the Asian-American community are obviously wrong, so that needs to be stated and that’s part of my role. I also feel like part of my role is to bring solidarity and unity, so I need to educate myself and continue to learn more and also support other groups, other movements and other organizations while also bringing awareness to the Asian-American plight.
And then another part is to play basketball and play well, because I think there’s a lot of underlying stuff about Asian-Americans being quiet and passive and just, “Yeah, we’ll tell them what to do and they won’t talk back.” So for me to play basketball at the highest level is going to do more than words themselves can say.
On working with the G League to handle the incident internally without naming the player who directed the slur at him — and Lin’s talks with the player:
Everything’s good. It was a really cool conversation. I felt like it was handled the best way. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. We were able to just discuss everything.
I wanted to share that everybody is susceptible to these types of things and to racism, but to me that’s not the main focus. The goal isn’t like: “Woe is me. Look at this situation.” The real issues right now are the people that are dying, the people that are getting spit on, the people that are getting robbed, the people that are getting burned, the people that are getting stabbed. That’s where the attention needs to be.
On his time in Toronto and winning a championship — but playing only one minute in the 2019 N.B.A. finals:
On one hand, I came out of it with a ring. I was the first Asian-American to win an N.B.A. championship, so there’s something super special about that. Even just being in Toronto, to see how the city, how the country, rallied around that team, to go to a parade with two million people — it was incredible, man.
At the same time, honestly, it’s what I needed. I had a 10- to 12-game stretch where I could try to break into the rotation. I didn’t play the way I needed to play, but I learned what I needed to learn. I came off two years of injury and I realized after that stretch that I had to get surgery on my shooting arm that nobody knew about. I never said anything to anybody.
It was already starting when I first got to Toronto where something didn’t feel right. It got to the point where, in the playoffs, I couldn’t even shoot a 3-pointer because there was a small bone spur in my shooting elbow. During the playoffs, no one knew, but by the end of the finals I could only shoot out to the free-throw line.
So I had to do the surgery and I was struggling with that a lot, but also mentally I had a lot of trauma and fears from my prior injuries that I hadn’t appropriately resolved. And that’s what Toronto and part of the season in China last year really showed me: You’ve been approaching the injuries like it’s physical rehab that you need. You are already physically beyond where you were before you got hurt. You have to rehab the mental side.
On his confidence that one more N.B.A. call will come:
I’ve done what I needed to do. I took on the challenge. I went to the G League when some people thought it was crazy for me to go. I think it’s just a matter of time, and I believe it’s going to happen. We’ll see. I know I belong.
The Scoop @TheSteinLine
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You ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at [email protected]. Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.
(Responses may be lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
Q: Is there anything the league can do to encourage more stars to participate in the dunk contest? It stinks for fans that the biggest stars refuse to even try. — Andrew Brotherton (Atlanta)
Stein: The reflex answer here has always been for the league and its sponsors to arrange a seven-figure, winner-take-all prize for the dunk champion to persuade the biggest names to risk whatever street cred they think they’d lose by competing. I’m so pessimistic in general about the state of the dunk contest that I’m not even sure that would do it at this point.
Would the fallout from a dunk contest flop really be so long-lasting in our short attention span world? It’s evident that many more players than not think that participating comes with some sort of grave risk if they perform poorly.
I got my hopes up when New Orleans’s Zion Williamson was so cryptic about joining the dunk field. I thought he was just trying to build up the suspense before he entered — especially since this All-Star Game was so dependent on this year’s All-Stars filling up the individual skills competitions to reduce the number of players traveling to Atlanta. Gullible me.
I think I’ve mentioned before that in my high school days, no annual event was bigger in my circle than the Saturday night every February commandeered by the dunk contest. What’s so frustrating for dunk devotees is that the 3-point contest field only seems to get stronger every year. The prospect of a poor shooting performance and the potential embarrassment apparently doesn’t trouble vaunted shooters as it does dunkers.
Q: The league has been postponing games all season if a team has fewer than eight players available to suit up, but I seem to remember Indiana playing a game after the brawl in Detroit with only six players. This has probably happened on other occasions besides my Pacers example, right? — Jeff Moye (Bogota, N.J.)
Stein: Even in the game you’re thinking of, Indiana had eight players in uniform. Two of them (Scot Pollard and Jamaal Tinsley) were injured and couldn’t play, but the Pacers still had to have them dressed to avoid forfeiting the game.
It was Indiana’s first game after the brawl that spilled into the stands at Detroit’s Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004. The Pacers had a home game against Orlando the next night — without the suspended players Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest), Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson. With Reggie Miller sidelined by a broken hand and facing suspension for leaving the bench, Fred Jones and Eddie Gill each played 48 minutes as the Pacers’ lone available guards.
There have been other games in which an N.B.A. team used only six players: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Portland was the last to do so in a win over Sacramento on April 10, 2019. But the league’s requirement to have eight players has been in place for decades.
Leave it to my tireless historian pal Todd Spehr from Australia to inform me that the New Orleans Jazz may have been the last team to play a game with fewer than eight players in uniform on March 18, 1977. Elgin Baylor, then the coach of the Jazz, was granted special permission to dress seven players rather than the required eight because five of his players had been injured in a taxi accident that afternoon. Led by 51 points from Pete Maravich, the seven-man New Orleans Jazz beat Phoenix.
Q: Has there ever been a team that had three of the league’s top 20 scorers, as the Nets do? — Meet Kachly (Mumbai, India)
Stein: It’s rare, but it has happened in the modern era. Some examples are provided here even though Kevin Durant has dropped out of the top 20 because he doesn’t qualify for the league leaders now that he has played in just 19 of the Nets’ 40 games.
2018-19: Golden State’s Stephen Curry (No. 5 at 27.3 points per game), Durant (No. 8 at 26) and Klay Thompson (No. 18 at 21.5).
2013-14: Rudy Gay did not start the season in Sacramento, but his arrival in a December 2013 trade from Toronto gave those Kings a third top-20 scorer alongside No. 9 DeMarcus Cousins (22.7 points per game) and No. 17 Isaiah Thomas (20.3). Gay was 19th at 20 points per game.
1990-91: The “Run DMC” Warriors had three players among the league’s top 11 scorers: No. 8 Chris Mullin (25.7 points per game), No. 10 Mitch Richmond (23.9) and No. 11 Tim Hardaway (22.9).
1986-87: Seattle had No. 8 Dale Ellis (24.9 points per game), No. 13 Tom Chambers (23.3) and No. 15 Xavier McDaniel (23).
1982-83: Denver had the league’s top two scorers — Alex English at 28.4 points per game and Kiki Vandeweghe at 26.7 points per game — with Dan Issel (21.6) at No. 18.
Only six teams had winning records against teams that were .500 or better entering Tuesday’s games. Philadelphia (13-6) and the Nets (17-3) are the lone East teams that qualify; Utah (17-8), Phoenix (13-5), the Los Angeles Clippers (11-10) and Denver (11-10) represent the West.
The Houston Rockets have not won a game for 41 days, dating to their Feb. 4 victory at Memphis. That was also the last time Christian Wood played for the Rockets before injuring his ankle. He’s averaging 22 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Portland’s Carmelo Anthony needed 343 more points to pass Elvin Hayes (27,313 points) for 10th place in N.B.A. regular-season scoring heading into Tuesday’s game. The only players above Anthony on the league’s scoring charts who are not in the Basketball Hall of Fame are not yet eligible: No. 3 LeBron James (35,211) and No. 6 Dirk Nowitzki (31,560).
With his recent Most Valuable Player Award-winning performance in Atlanta, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo improved his scoring average in the All-Star Game to a record 28.8 points per game.
Another interesting history reminder from the aforementioned @ToddSpehr35: Active rosters were reduced to 11 players from 12 for the 1977-78 season through 1980-81. The league voted to go back to 12 for the 1981-82 season. Including two slots for two-way players, teams can have rosters of 17 players and, in this pandemic season, list 15 as active for each game.
Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to [email protected].
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