Lesson for Lin from the Ming Dynasty

Updated: 2012-02-21 14:57

By Lee Hannon (chinadaily.com.cn)

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The front cover of the Asian edition of Time Magazine said it all. While the US, European and South Pacific edition cover stories were dominated to the ascent of Kim Jong-un. The entire front page in Asia was all about meteoric rise of NBA's latest basketball star Jeremy Lin.

Lin-sanity, Lin-mania, Lin-derella, Lin-credible, Super Lin-tendo, Linner, Linning Streak. Call it what you like, but please, enough already.

Lesson for Lin from the Ming Dynasty

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin looks on in the first half of their NBA basketball game against the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden in New York, Feb 20, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

I can see how the fairy-tale of the Harvard-educated Chinese-American's phenomenal rise in basketball has left some US headline writers and sportscasters punch-drunk on the endless sludge of neologisms, but please stop.

However, what is more odious is how a sensational rise to stardom that could challenge stereotypes and prejudice has already turned a feel-good story into a racial issue.

Within days of the New York Knicks sixth victory in a row, Sports Network ESPN was forced to apologize, fired one employee and suspended another after an ethnic slur directed at Lin was broadcast on air.

Another Sports columnist Jason Whitlock from FOX also apologized for an inappropriate tweet following the Lakers and Knicks game.

While some have realized the error of their prejudicial ways, others have been less apologetic.

American boxer Floyd Mayweather posted on Twitter: "Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise."

Lin's sensational success has reawakened the American dream for many Chinese-Americans, but it also, once again, unearthed the pervasiveness of race in the US.

The famous Saturday Night Live comedy show opened their latest show with a skit on New York Knicks breakout star. The actors made Asian stereotypes, came up with puns using the star guard's last name and talked about the recent mishaps in the media. Let's hope the US media gets the joke is on them.

And the 1.91m tall economics graduate could also learn a lesson from the Ming Dynasty: Yao Ming.

When the retired eight-time NBA all-star first arrived in the US in 2002 he faced taunts and ethnic slurs.

Ben Wallace a former Detroit Piston player said of the then 21-year-old Yao that he would receive a rude welcome the first time China's national team played the United States in August 2002.

"We are going to beat him up. We are going to beat him up pretty bad," Wallace said. "Welcome to the league, welcome to our country. This is our playground."

Former Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O'Neal once mockingly told a television reporter, "Tell Yao Ming, ‘ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh'."

But it didn't stop his rise to fame and rightfully earned him a place in the hearts of Chinese fans everywhere.

And the recent uproar does not seem to have fazed 23-year-old Lin who accepted the network's apology and had no hard feelings.

"I think there are definitely [Asian] stereotypes," he said. There are a lot of them. The more we can do to break those down every day the better we will become.

"Hopefully in the near future we will see a lot more Asians and Asian-Americans playing in the NBA."

His words offer hope to many as a sign he is intelligent and tough enough to deal with life in the media spotlight.

But it is also been a warning to lazy sports pundits and those creating the media frenzy around the latest star of the game to back off and think twice.

Lin maybe enjoying his new limelight, but for some members of his family back in Taiwan, his new-found attention has become something of a burden.

"The special request I have is for the media back in Taiwan to give my family space, because they can't even go to work without being bombarded, without people following them," Lin said, adding "I want people to respect their privacy."

The cost of his own privacy will need to be measured against his desire to succeed in a world where sporting success is idolized intensely and rarely without controversy.

Lee Hannon is an editor with China Daily online.