Editor’s Note: It is my pleasure to present this interview with Terry K. Park, academic, athlete, blogger, activist and public intellectual about all things Jeremy Lin. Terry started the Joy Dunk Club, an internet-based show that discusses Jeremy Lin, and his effect on race, culture, religion and politics. Please take a minute to check out Terry’s website, follow him on Twitter, and check out the Joy Dunk Club. Part One discusses Terry’s childhood, the Jazz, and of course, Jeremy Lin. Part Two will continue the Lin discussion, and get into the Joy Dunk Club.
- JG (Ed.)
A little personal information, just to contextualize. Who are you? What makes Terry Terry?
Lots of different things. I currently live in Oakland. I’m a PhD candidate in the cultural studies graduate program at UC Davis. I’m writing my dissertation on the Korean demilitarized zone as a transnational space of US Empire. So it’s a cultural history of the militarized space outside of the US, but from an American perspective.
So it’s not so much a Korean studies project, even though that’s what a lot of people would assume, which makes sense, since it’s the Korean DMZ. But I’m more interested in how these spaces outside of America talk back at America, or talk about America. So it’s going along with this trans-national, American studies, and I see the DMZ at a fascinating place, not only because it is this kind of Cold War relic of Cold War US empire, but it’s an unofficial wildlife refuge with endangered species and a lot of scientists and NGOs are invested in preserving the DMZ. It’s a heavily visited area so it’s one of the top destinations for tourists visiting Korea. So, it has that tourism studies aspect, it has this environmental studies aspect. I kind of see it as a microcosm of lots of different forces; neo-liberal forces, military forces.
Yeah, so that’s the academic part of me.
Did you play much ball growing up? How did basketball play a role in the development of you, I guess?
Yeah. I loved sports ever since I could remember both watching as a viewer and as a participant. Especially when I moved to Utah. So I grew up in Salt Lake City from the ages of 7 to 16 and, you know, just growing up as a boy, a young boy, as a teenager in the United States with, you know, these ideas of masculinity, what it is to be a man and a boy. And then on top of that, being Asian-American, or identifying or not quite sure how to identify as an Asian American, I think the space, the court or the space of the baseball field is a space where a lot of those feelings and structures of power and different kinds of identity merge and get messy; get played with, literally and figuratively. So I think that’s why sports was important for me; a way to negotiate my identity as an Asian American in Utah where immediately I felt excluded, just knew not being white, not being Mormon, which is a dominant religion in Utah, made it hard to belong, which is a classic narrative in Asian American studies and Asian American identity.
I felt that acutely in Utah. So I saw the court, the baseball field as a place to prove myself, to prove my worth, and that worth being defined not by me but by the dominant masculinity, the Mormon church, etc. So for me, baseball was my number one sport. That’s what I devoted most of my time to, so since the second grade I played every year, little league, different all star teams, played for two different teams at my high school. My dream was to become the first Asian American baseball star. This was before Chan Ho Park kind of usurped that dream of mine. And basketball was a close second, so I got cut from my freshman year basketball team and…I probably should have been cut.
I mean, I was okay. My first high school was very white and very Mormon. And it was almost preselected; everybody knew each other, the players and coaches, they went to the same Mormon ward. So I already felt the odds were stacked against me. But I didn’t go to basketball camp for 3 years. Rick Majerus, who was the coach…
Rest in peace coach.
Rest in peace. Yeah, he was a legendary basketball coach who ran one of the best basketball camps in the country.
Yeah. Michael Doleac was discovered there.
Interesting. Big Daddy Doleac!
Big Daddy Doleac! Shaq said he was his favorite backup center.
He was. And now Michael Doleac is a medical student at the University of Utah.
Yeah. And that was his dream to be a doctor. So yeah he came back. So yeah I loved going to that camp and I learned a lot but I was kind of…I was the only person of color at that entire basketball camp, which was astounding. Not only the Asian American but, yeah, so..(laughter). I had to prove myself there, but I actually did pretty well at that camp, and had assistant coaches asking me, “Do you play varsity? JV?” And I said, no, I don’t play anything.
You talked about the playing field as a problematic space. Do you feel that’s uniform across sports? Do you feel like all sports can be seen as a proving ground in a way where different things are parsed out; become problematic or does it differentiate by sport?
That’s a really great question. I never thought about that. I think to generalize all sports spaces as the same in terms of how race and gender are distributed and felt would be problematic. I’m just…maybe the baseball field I felt more comfortable. Not that I didn’t feel the need to prove myself on the baseball field as a legitimate actor, legitimate citizen of Utah, of the US. But maybe the openness of baseball fields; it’s not this concrete block. It’s softer. It lends itself to a more, I don’t know if I want to say feminine, but there’s something gentler in the pure architectural configuration of the baseball field; how the dynamics between the players, the relationships, is…yeah, it’s different from the basketball court that seems more enclosed or demarcated.
The action, the kinesthetic dynamism of baseball. Yeah, there’s something about it.
Did you feel that same sense of longing; would that carry into your watching of sports as well? Would you be seeing the same things watching a baseball games as you would if you were watching a basketball game at the time?
Maybe. I didn’t really like watching baseball.
I just thought it was…I mean, I loved playing baseball.
So you preferred to watch the NBA?
Preferred to watch the NBA. Preferred to play baseball. I was more comfortable playing it. I think in a way I could disappear a little bit more in the baseball field but still be a part of the game.
And maybe that speaks to being Asian American; how we’re often seen or not seen. And that invisibility renders us as not active participants. But with baseball we had 9 players. You’re crowded into a dugout. And I played 2nd base which maybe doesn’t get as much action as shortstop depending on how many left handers there are versus right handers. But I could still be part of the team, part of the action, without sticking out. And with basketball it was 5 on 5; can’t disappear as easily, so maybe yeah, that’s real interesting. Maybe that’s the difference. And I think that when I was playing baseball in the late 80s, early 90s there was…you began to see a trickle of Asian baseball players, then with the emergence of Chan Ho Park, I think that helped instill that sense of, “oh I could actually become a baseball player, whereas the basketball, I mean, we were years behind Yao Ming.
So that must’ve led to some interesting steps in your development of becoming an NBA fan in a way and I’m just wondering if as you developed into a full fledged fan of the NBA growing up in Utah and being where you come play a role in that. Did any teams or players speak to you in a different way growing up in Utah?
Well, all we got are the Jazz.
All you got are the Jazz for better or for worse. It was good when you had them.
Yeah, in the nineties. And the eighties. Those were the glory years of the Jazz.
Probably the most consistent franchise in the NBA during those years. Maybe not in terms of winning the big one, but you were always in the playoffs, in contention for a title.
Sure, 50 win seasons.
A few 60 seasons. Didn’t they win 66 in 1998?
Yeah. And there was another one who won 67. They were the Bulls.
I remember ‘em.
Bad years for all the non-Bulls teams. And the Jazz were right up there. But the Utah Jazz were a huge part and probably still a huge part of my identity because here was a team that represented Utah and as a fan, again, there’s this notion of disappearance, I could sit in front of the TV and be a part of the Utah masses but not be seen. It was hard because the games to the Salt Palace and later at the Delta Center I felt very hyper visible.
We always make a point of noting how white the Delta Center…it’s no longer named that…uh…
Energy Solutions Arena.
Yeah the Energy Solutions arena. It seems uniformly white.
It is. And that speaks to the composition of Utah. And I know it’s hard for other teams to come play in Salt Lake not just because the fans are wild and loud, but because they’re a little racist.
Do you think there’s a sense of cognitive dissonance betweens fans and players and [vice versa]? Do you feel like there was something…you had to separate yourself from Utah to think that jazz team was representative of the state of Utah, especially with the performance aspect of white, seemingly kind of angry…there was an edge to Utah Jazz fans. Am I wrong there?
No, it’s definitely there. That’s why Utah is known as a hard place to play in.
And it’s strange because Utah, Salt Lake, is heavily Mormon, and there’s this idea of Mormons as being very passive, nice, polite, conservative people but I think some of the anger that people sense when watching the fans in Utah that’s something I grew up with.
So in some ways I’m not surprised because in elementary, junior, high school I saw kind of the ugly side of these well-dressed fresh faced Mormon kids. Stick ‘em in an arena and yeah…the cognitive dissonance is interesting because you have this team now it’s mostly black players but back then it’s was a lot of white players. The Jazz had a reputation of having…you know they had Jeff Hornacek.
Kind of like the Timberwolves today.
Right. With Andrei Kirilenko. Luke Ridnour. All of them.
But you had Hornacek, Stockton, Ostertag and…well, Karl Malone isn’t white, but…
Man, I could talk about Karl Malone.
It’s funny that Karl Malone ended up on the Jazz. I wonder what his career, not just in terms of performance, but his identity would have been like had he been on any other team. It was almost a perfect fit for him. There was the whole controversy where he was called an Uncle Tom by…who? Barkley?
Derrick Coleman maybe?
One of those fell to the ground forwards who don’t stand the test of time very well.
But yeah, Karl Malone was a perfect fit, being this rural redneck black guy from the countryside of Louisiana. He fit well.
West Monroe, LA. Right?
Yeah! I think so.
Which is where Paul Millsap is from.
Yeah, another LA Tech power forward.
There ya go.
I mean, different playing styles.
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting that a lot of the black players that end up in Utah and end up staying are from rural places in the south, like Al Jefferson who’s from a small town in Mississippi. Paul Millsap. Karl Malone set the standard and I think a lot of the white fans, not to over generalize, realized that. And it’s easier for them to cheer for and identify with these rural black players especially when certain free agents spurned Utah. So I think there’s this sense of, okay, urban black players don’t want to come to Utah.
Like Derek Harper, who said: “you go play in Utah” when he was about to be traded to Utah. Even Rony Seikaly even refused, which was kind of strange. There was a trade between Orlando and Utah which was gonna send Greg Foster to the Magic for Seikaly and he nixed that.
I didn’t remember that. That’s fascinating.
Yeah, right before the trade deadline, that trade was made and nixed by Rony. So that just furthers this idea from white Mormon folks from Utah that we’re isolated, people don’t like us, and I think that even extends back to the Mormon identity when they were seen as enemies of the US government, and the Mormon church very much opposed being a part of the Union, and I think that sense of suspiciousness has extended.
I would assert that, to not put it all on the Jazz fans, there does even today seem to be a persistent fear or distrust of Jazz fans from the larger NBA viewing audience. We almost project a Mormon “otherness” upon them. It is not likely that all Jazz fans are Mormon; we’re proving this right now. But we assume something about that place.
And I think that’s interesting to observe. Yeah, people still don’t know that much about Mormons outside of Mitt Romney’s presidency, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Osmond’s…
Really like the show Big Love.
Probably the biggest entry point for a lot of folks.
And you were talking a little bit about the edginess not just among Jazz fans but of folks in Salt Lake City. There have been more efforts to show that edgy aspect of the space. Mormon culture, Big Love, SLC Punk, stuff like that.
Yeah and I think that feeds into this fascination that people have with this Mormon other, and I think that’s a good way to put it because they’re white but…they’re a weird white?
A weird white. True.
It’s a white we don’t know too much about. They’re Christian, but some evangelical Christians don’t consider them to be. And Mormons are almost hyper-aware, and that makes them hyper sensitive of their kind of marginalized position within whiteness, within the US. And I think that’s why there’s so much support for Mitt Romney’s candidacy, that this was their time to shine, this was their stage to present a nicer image of Mormonism, and non threatening. That may clash with what people see when folks watch Jazz games and the rowdiness of these folks who some may not even be Mormon, and I think SLC is majority non-Mormon.
I didn’t know that.
There’s a lot of migration from out of state, from California.
There are jobs there.
It’s a strong economy and it’s changing the demographics of Utah. In 2008 Salt Lake country voted for Obama.
Yeah, which I’m sure trips a lot of people out. And the mayor of SLC is always democrat. Its considered to be a liberal island within Utah. I mean, John Amaechi, the first player to come out as gay.
And also claimed homophobia from Jerry Sloan, but also support from Kirilenko.
And oddly, Karl Malone.
Yeah. You know, who’s a conservative republican, but there was this implicit support that John Amaechi felt from Malone that transcended politics. And yeah, I know, it was surprising. He talks about in his book that the first time he really connected with a gay community was in Salt Lake City and that SLC is known as one of the biggest gay friendly towns outside of San Francisco.
Wow. I had no idea.
Yeah, and it’s shocking but in some ways it makes sense because of how overbearing the Mormon Church is. You have these pockets of alternative identities that really blow up in ways that you wouldn’t see in a San Francisco or a New York City.
So SLC Punk is a perfect example. Vibrant punk scene in the shadow of the Mormon church. Same thing with the gay community.
And the diverse types of punks seen with many different types of people who embody many walks of life.
Yeah so I mean…
So you’re telling me that Salt Lake City is a city too, Terry?
[Laughs]. It’s actually a city. There’s a reason why “City” is in the name. So the image that people get from watching Jazz games actually does a disservice to the heterogeneity and complexity of Salt Lake City and the different groups that in some ways all kind of bond together because of the dominance of the Mormon church, so alliances I think in some ways have to be formed across race, across religion in ways that would be more difficult in maybe a bigger city.
Do you have a favorite player from your past? Or maybe a favorite one right now, someone who speaks to you. I know “favorite player” is a loaded term so I try to avoid that, but a Jazz player that comes to mind when it comes to your fanhood.
Oh man. I mean, I’ve been a fan since 1986 when I moved to Utah from California.
Must be a Howard Eisley.
I love Eisley!
Yeah. The bench from the NBA finals.
Antoine Carr. He was an integral piece.
Had a huge Game 4 against the Bulls.
Yeah definitely. Carr was fun. I mean, I definitely patterned my own game on Stockton.
Being a small guy, being a point guard, I appreciated the patience that tenacity, the toughness that Stockton had, how he was an orchestrator. And a lot of people said he could average 20 plus points if he wanted to, but he saw his role as being the distributor, and he excelled at it. So I think that spoke to me as someone…you know, again going back to race, who was both hyper visible and invisible. Being that distributor, being someone who can make the team better was appealing to me because I could fit that role. I didn’t feel that I could be the star but I could at least be a part of the team and maybe be appreciated for occupying this conductor role.
There was an unapologetic nature about Stockton’s game that I appreciated myself. I’ve called it a…this is bad terminology, I’ve called it “a Gestapo-like efficiency” but he always regarded every single game as a series of tasks that he had to accomplish and as long as he was checking down the list that team won all the time. He was just so important for them.
Coldly efficient, with every pass and every shot, though at the same time, he never thought the game, he just felt it. He was just instinctual.
What does that mean about our racial perceptions when we assume that Stockton was a cerebral guy who thought about tasks and organization. Is this something that gets led to that, white, pure point guard stereotype that you see around?
Totally. Yeah. And basketball again is a fascinating arena to talk about race, because…yeah there is an interview with Frank Layden that always bothered me because he talked about Stockton as the “pure point guard”. Stockton is always elevated, seen as pure. What does that mean, the word pure? The term is very racially loaded. Cerebral. And then, Layden talked about Malone as a “workhorse”, or a “bull”, someone who was physical with game. How racialized can you get with that division between two players as if Stockton wasn’t physical or that Karl Malone didn’t adjust his game as he progressed from a dominant post player to later in his career taking a lot of jump shots.
Best jump shooter in the game. Raised his FT percentage. He was a terrible FT shooter.
That’s not a physical thing to improve your free throw shooting. He was like a high 40% guy, and got it up to mid 70% maybe. He was a guy you didn’t want to foul because he was gonna hit his shots and that’s not something that gets associated with “physical prowess” or workhorse-ness. That’s a cerebral aspect.
And it wasn’t that he wasn’t physical. C’mon. He was one of the bruising power forwards in the NBA.
This is where we put in the Isiah Thomas elbow.
Yeah it’s iconic. So it’s hard not to see Malone in that lens…though that was just one moment out of many moments of Karl Malone’s very long career. Somehow that moment of violence gets associated with him a lot, which is telling in some ways.
Telling in some ways. And that happened in the early 90s around the time of the LA uprising, so there was more attention towards black physicality, black violence on the court as a way to distract folks from a more systematic analysis of these structural factors for economic violence. And yeah, Karl Malone had this persona, being a hunter, the redneck…he was like an exception. He was an exceptional figure who both exceeded and was trapped within this lens of black manhood that had currency especially in the early 90s.
And he continues to flip it on its head by wearing cowboy boots and driving monster trucks and showing up to NASCAR races. He throws us all for a loop.
Yeah in some ways I love and in some ways it irks me.
This sort of militant radical in me because he’s sort of a betrayal of the legacy of Black Nationalism and Malcolm X. But at the same time, yeah, in the early 90s, there were a lot of people, you remember the HIV controversy with Magic.
He didn’t want to play in that game, didn’t want to go in that locker room, didn’t want to share that bench.
Didn’t want any exchange of possible fluids.
That’s also been a moment that’s defined Karl Malone’s career in a lot of ways too.
But I want to share a memory I have.
A few months after I moved to SLC when I was 7 years old, I really remember this. Some friends of mine came to my house and said “Terry! Karl Malone is at 7-11! We gotta go! Let’s go say hi to him!” And I think I just begun to get to know who Karl Malone was and the Utah Jazz was. I remember running over to this 7-11 and in the parking lot was the biggest truck, I mean it just looked like a freakin’ tank, and my 7 year old imagination, and we just knew that was Karl Malone’s truck.
We went inside and before us was this massive, towering black man. I don’t know if he was wearing a cowboy hat, but it was definitely Karl Malone, the mailman. And of course my friends pushed me to say hi to him and get an autograph. I remember looking up, and up and up and up and a few minutes later when I saw his face, I asked “are you Karl Malone?” And he said, “yeah.”
So I asked, “can I have your autograph.” He said sure. He proceeded to – and I still have it – write his name, and then my friends came in and asked for autographs too. And I’ll never forget this; he took out his wallet and took out a $5 bill, and said “here you go. Go buy yourself a big gulp”
Karl Malone gave me $5 to buy a Big Gulp. And from that moment I was a hardcore Utah Jazz fan.
Its moments like this I’m so happy I have a blog.
Yeah I’ll never forget that.
That is ridiculous! Terry Park, always pushing the envelope.
Yeah! I wish I could say I have the $5 bill, but you know, I was a 7 year old kid.
Did you do what he asked?
I’m not gonna say “no” to Karl Malone. So I did as I told.
When Karl Malone says “get a big gulp” you get a big gulp.
You drink that Big Gulp. And you like that Big Gulp.
Oh man. Thank you so much for sharing that. That’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard in my life.
We know why we’re here. The master of perceptions and expectations, Jeremy Lin. So let’s take it a few steps back. So we’re approaching the one year anniversary of Linsanity, when he rose to prominence as a high profile starting point guard in the NBA. This might be tough but if you could pick one word to describe Jeremy Lin’s journey to this point to where he’s getting paid and getting te playing time and attention in Houston. What word might you pick?
I don’t know if this is the right word, I’m sure there are a lot of appropriate words to describe Lin’s ascendance. “Ascendant” could be one word. But the first one that came to mind when you asked the question was perseverance.
Because before Linsanity happened that’s how he was even in the position to be a part of Linsanity; for Linsanity to be possible. I mean we all know his story by now; not being given a D-I scholarship, not being drafted in the NBA to being cut by the Warriors after his rookie season not to mention not being given a lot of playing time to being cut by the rockets to going to the Knicks to being benched to not being given a chance to play, getting sent to the D-Leagues. I think most people would fold; would just give up, and would either doubt themselves or just be so overwhelmed by the obstacles and not to say that he wasn’t overcome. It sounded like he was heavily doubting himself but he persevered and was given a chance luckily. I describe Linsanity as a perfect storm because so many things had to go right just to give Jeremy Lin a chance to show his worth. For Shumpert to get injured, for Toney Douglas to struggle…
For the Knicks to be struggling at that point…
They were desperate. Needed anyone to save them.
We were all loving the collapse. No one was thinking about Jeremy Lin because we were focused on D’Antoni, Stoudemire, Anthony. What is it gonna be? Is Baron Davis gonna come back and save this team? The point guard focus was going to be Baron Davis.
He was seen as the savior but he was a few months from being healthy. But out of nowhere – and that phrase in itself was interesting, I think it speaks to how in some ways Linsanity was kind of a birthing moment for Asian Americans. Because before that you didn’t hear about the “model minority myth” in national discussions. Vincent Chin’s name was brought up.
Yellow peril, yeah. I mean, this allowed a space for Asian America, which I think had been in incubation, with American Studies programs, with different blogs, different websites, where these discussions were having in certain spaces.
Angry Asian Man was doing excellent work throughout that run. Just an excellent site. And I’m sure no basketball fans had ever run across AAM until Jeremy Lin started playing well.
So in a way that he was sort of given a stage to show his talents, Jeremy Lin was a spotlight for Asian America to show its talents. I think for me that is the important, or the worth of Linsanity. You know, not just marketing potential or Lin’s play itself, but how it gave a space for Asian America to speak for itself. But actually, it had to struggle to speak for itself, right? Because even during Linsanity you had national commentators, ESPN sportscasters, struggle to talk about Asian America.
And that in itself, that was an interesting indication about how little people knew about Asian Americans, and we had to knock the door down in order to speak for ourselves. Not just to correct these national commentators to be more accurate, but also to say, “No, we need to craft and control the narrative that is being spun about us.” Because if we don’t…I mean this opportunity may never come again. In a way, Asian America had the ball in their hands in the 4th quarter and it’s the last 2 minutes, and every possession counts. Every blog, every article that came out in the NYT, ESPN, each word had to be calibrated perfectly because there was a huge audience watching our every move, just like there’s a huge audience watching every move of Lin’s. But in a way we were ready because again, 20-30 years of work in Asian American studies programs, blogs, newspapers, that had sharpened and calibrated the message so when it finally came out, we could spawn off of it.
Two things you mentioned there that I want to get a little bit more deeply into, audience and narratives. Let’s start with narratives. Can we contextualize Linsanity at this point? At the time, it was sort of crafted as a haphazard Tebow-mania, but over time, race, religion, identity, trans-nationalism all shifted the focus into many different directions, and Jeremy Lin meant different things to different people. Would you say that’s fair? Am I off on that?
No that’s totally fair. And that’s why I wanted to start the show, the Joy Dunk Club, because there are all of these different narratives that are floating about Linsanity and at this point just because of the nature of social media there’s almost this nostalgic quality about Linsanity.
As if it’s over.
As if it’s over. I think that’s partly why I wanted to do this show. To show how maybe the way in which Linsanity was framed as an eruption…okay, maybe that’s over. But the issues that were raised around race and gender, masculinity, trans-nationalism, who gets to frame Jeremy Lin’s body, is he Asian, Asian-American, Taiwanese…all these issues, these were not eruptions and that’s why I wanted to do the show, to maintain and complicate and deepen and expand these discussions so that they don’t go away because, I mean, to be honest, who knows what’s going to happen with Jeremy Lin’s career? None of us can predict it. He’s playing alright right now, but yeah, he could be an injury away from having his career be over.
I think people undersell, apropos of nothing, that Jeremy Lin went through a fairly considerable knee surgery last year. You don’t want to mess with knees in any case, but they went in there and fixed ligaments. There’s been very interesting things that Jeremy Lin has had to persevere through, yet his perseverance is symbolized in a different type of way, I feel. Am I off?
Well…I mean, I think that…well, because he is only currently Asian-American basketball player that…I, I’ve seen some really harsh reactions, especially from…
…quick time-out, and maybe this is terminology, do you not consider Hamed Haddadi, from Central Asia, do you consider him…oh, he’s not American. But is he Asian?
And that’s a question I’ve wanted to pursue at this point in the Joy Dunk Club. Why do certain folks claim him in a way that Yao Ming was claimed; that when Linsanity happened there was an automatic association made between Lin and Yao Ming; that there’s a direct lineage or trajectory. And that bothered a lot of people.
It bothered me. It bothered me that people were instantly saying that Yao was Lin’s mentor, when there was no evidence whatsoever that said so. And when people asked him, he’d say “yeah, you know, I texted the guy a few times, but I’m in China doing my own thing.”
Totally! So again, that spoke to the challenges a lot of Asian American pundits had to try to complicate and dispel these long held ideas of Asian-ness as foreign, right? That Jeremy Lin was seen as the natural foreigner, which is why he could easily be collapsed with Yao Ming. I think that’s why a lot of Asian Americans like me can go maybe in the opposite direction and try and disassociate ourselves from Yao Ming, and with the so-called “import players” like Ming, like Haddadi, like Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian.
Yep. Played for the Nuggets.
For a very brief minute. And Sun Yue spent some time with the Lakers. Don’t know if he every played in a regular season game, but I know he was part of the Lakers program.
So you had these brief moments of Asian import, Asian careers, so I think that line between who gets to be seen as Asian American, who’s the domestic and foreign, speaks a lot to Asian American discomfort over the perpetual foreigner discourse, and how easily that discourse is used by the dominant media to blur these lines between a Yao Ming and a Jeremy Lin.
And I think these things should be teased out and discussed and who better to do it than basketball fans; Asian American basketball fans who do have a grasp of these delicate, nuanced ideas of race and trans-nationalism. Not to say we all have the same ideas, and that speaks to how Linsanity is almost a mirror; something that has been produced but also serves as a mirror for all these different strands.
Would you say there’s a uniformity to the “Proving Ground” theory that you presented at the beginning of this interview, about the place of sport as a problematic space where different questions of identity, belonging, maybe ownership of sports, or particular moves – there was lots of talk that when Jeremy Lin showed people what he could do, there was surprise that he was “playing black”; that if he was gonna be good, he would look like a Stockton or a Nash, but instead, he looked like a D-Rose. I always had a hard time raising him to that level, to me he played a lot like Mookie Blaylock…
Haven’t heard that name for awhile.
I’ve been watching ball for a long time. So it was interesting to me. Do you think that a lot of those feelings come from maybe a uniformly internalized but also externalized, as you get older and able to articulate memories and feelings and link them to larger societal and cultural forces that has come into that promotion of Jeremy Lin; how he becomes representative of something across the board even though his experience is very particular, and an exception to the rule. Not all of us become NBA players, play D-I basketball, do that stuff. Do you think there’s a certain uniformity or maybe a communal idea that has elevated Lin? And this doesn’t have to actually just be within the Asian or Asian-American community it could be for anybody who has had to work hard to do what they feel they can do, on a basketball court, or on a baseball diamond, or on the rugby pitch, or whatever. Make sense?
I think so.
[Laughs.] Sorry. That question just popped into my head.
Well the way I interpret that question, or push me in the direction you want me to go.
Eh…that’s not sound journalism.
Well there’s the issue of labor.
That when it comes to Asian-Americans, you can’t help for it to be racialized because of how the labor of Asian Americans was just caught up in the model minority myth; seen as both aligned with US ideals of the proper subject who the American dream is relevant. You may not have that much talent but you make the most of them. I think that’s what enraptured so many non-Asian fans because it accomplished the American dream, the American myth that people hold on to.
And, it also echoed the model minority myth, which even though people may have not heard of it, that’s how they think of Asians, as these hard-working, cerebral, Harvard-attending…I mean, in a way, his life story was almost perfectly crafted to align with the model minority myth. And so I think that’s how he was initially interpreted when he emerged during Linsanity. This hard working guy. These reactions of surprise, that, “oh! He’s more physical than I thought!” Or, “whoa! Jeremy Lin is driving down the lane! He’s a big point guard!”
I will always remember Hubie Brown who was calling the Knicks-Mavs game on [ABC] and he just exclaimed, “He’s so strong! He’s so strong!” when he flew in to get a rebound, which is something that, you know, if you’re in the NBA you should be able to fly in and grab a rebound on occasion, even if you’re a point guard. It was as if it was first time he had ever seen it happen, and you have to wonder in those moments, where you from Hubie Brown? What are you conceptualizing in your head?
Excellent point. And there were lots of commentators…I could do an entire show just about reactions from commentators. But if you followed Lin’s career from Harvard, you knew that he was a physical point guard, on the same lines as a Derrick Rose. I was also thinking when you asked that question of how, I mean, you know, Jeremy Lin is like everything and nothing. And, I mean, as I think Asian Americans of a certain age like Jeremy Lin, you grow up watching lots of different sports figures, basketball stars, different playing styles, from John Stockton and Steve Nash to Derrick Rose or Mookie Blaylock. And I think you could see those different elements in Jeremy Lin’s game. So I feel like his playing style is an amalgamation of these different playing styles. Maybe that contributed to misidentification, but the multiple identifications that Hubie Brown made. You heard so many different descriptions. “he’s so fast, he’s so slow, he’s so physical, he’s not physical”.
Doesn’t even get to the “drive to the hoop like a dragon” or “slinks in like a ninja”; the more overt ways we racialized and made him into an other that should be regarded with curiosity rather than with acceptance. At the time he seemed great, I would argue right now he’s a good NBA player, but everybody needs to remember he’s been in the league for only three years. As an undrafted rookie with a starting job and a $25 million dollar contract, he’s already way ahead of the game as compared to his peers.
Yeah. And people compare him a lot to Steve Nash. Look at his career.
A late bloomer.
Yeah. People wondered if he was a starting point guard. He was playing behind Steve Nash and Kevin Johnson.
Chauncey Billups was a late starter.
Yeah, took him awhile. For some guys like Kyrie Irving, they take off, for various reasons. People have different trajectories, not just when it comes to sports, but when it comes to anything.
People quickly forget how quickly Steve Francis flamed out, or how quickly Steph Marbury flamed out when it was over for them. We hope Rondo doesn’t tear his ACL next year too, you know? Careers are long – or short – you never know.
Jay Williams’ career never started.
The Duke point guard. Absolutely.
Was going to be the savior of the Bulls franchise. Didn’t even get to have a career.
Just one solid rookie season, and that was it.
That was it. So I think it’s important to remember that Lin’s young, still learning the game, and he may be thinking more about longevity, like a career like Jason Kidd’s. If he ends up averaging 13, 14 points a game, 6, 7 assists over a 13 year career, I would consider that to be a magnificent achievement.
Especially if he earns $85-90 million in career earnings? He’s going to be all right.
I think so.
Along those lines, how do you feel about people continuing to invoke Lin’s 37 game run even now? Is it appropriate at this point to keep drawing us back to the 2012 Lockout season which was, aside from LeBron winning his first, I would argue that the Jeremy Lin story was the biggest story of the NBA season. He was the focus of that season. Is it appropriate at this point, or does it do a disservice to him and his career? His brand, if you want to take it to that level. What is Linsanity now?
I mean…how can you not talk about that 37 game run? It was just so awesome. To witness that, to be a part of it, I mean and it seemed very much like a participatory event.
Which may not have been the case if that had happened five or ten years ago.
You remember when Lin beat the Raptors, hit the game winning shot. There was something about that moment. They broadcasted it with an angle…I’ve never seen a game winning shot from that angle, because we were standing behind Jeremy as he was sizing up Jose Calderon. You could almost call it like a movie. It was like we were sitting there, courtside, and you knew it as he was running down the clock, you knew “Jeremy’s gonna hit this shot.” Just so many things were going right that when he went up, and you watched the trajectory of the ball kind of do that arc into the hoop. As soon as it went up, I was like, “it’s in.” And then when it did, it was on after that. Participatory is a wonderful way to describe it.
And I wonder if the narrative of Jeremy Lin that was happening during Linsanity, if that narrative wasn’t one of someone who was overlooked and who had a chance just because of his own labor and some talent and some luck. What if that was LeBron James, or Dwayne Wade or Derrick Rose, would people have that same instant connection? I don’t know. I think there’s something amazing about how he was being narrated as this underdog. Yeah, it was like a 1980s sports movie with Gene Hackman as coach. Rudy-esque. And I think we already have these sports films in the US popular imagination, like Rudy or Hoosiers; any underdog story echoes the American Dream. If you work hard enough, you get a chance to shine. And to have that particular court angle, where you felt like – and that’s a great close reading…
Thanks for calling my basketball watching a “close reading”.
Speaks to your grad school experience. It’s important to closely observe how this is being framed, literally. Not just through text, but the visual framing. That courtside view, you’re behind Jeremy figuratively. We’re all behind Jeremy.
And he was doing the things that we do; sleeping on couches, between living situations, having little money in the bank account when he arrives in a new city, just doing all those things. There were times that I thought that the narrative was being racialized needlessly; what was connecting with us was his very everyday story. A story that any middle class person connected to the internet could identify with.
And the idea of an Asian-American occupying an everyday space is kind of amazing. It speaks to the power of the model minority myth so that an Asian American could be there. What if a black player was in his position, undrafted and ignored. Could he spark that type of excitement? A Latino player? A Middle Eastern player? I think his race played a role in his ability to occupy this everyday space, while at the same time, be seen as not everyday, as not American, almost as a threat. Like when he signed his big contract with Houston.
And the couch.
Yeah. Again, the timing was perfect, because this happened during an economic recession, when lots of Americans could definitely identify with, you know, the idea of not having a secure home, a secure job with a secure company. Being ignored, being passed over, just wanting that one chance to prove their worth, especially if they’re educated at a place like Harvard. Right? Because this recession hit middle class people, highly educated people…
AKA, the people who watch NBA games.
The people who watch NBA games, and it also corresponded with a kind of classic immigrant tale, of first arriving in the US and not having a place to sleep. Of course, Jeremy Lin, born and raised in California, but his immigration to New York, which already has this…
The Ellis Island narrative. Land of the free, give me your tired, poor, huddled masses…
10 cents in your pocket, not having a place to sleep. Again, perfect storm. All these narrative pieces coming together to form this story that everybody can cheer for in their own way.
Do you feel that because of the multiple narratives and the way people claim Jeremy Lin, is there a tension between NBA fans and Jeremy Lin fans? That is to say, the people whose interest in the game specifically rose when Lin became one of the more discussed players in the league. Is there tension between those fans, or is that a false dichotomy?
If there is a tension, it’s coming from basketball fans. Now that I’ve started the Joy Dunk Club, I have this Google News alert that I get anytime something comes out about Jeremy Lin, and a lot of it is from “the Bleacher Report”. And it seems like they have a bone to pick. They hate him! I don’t know if it’s one guy, it seems like it’s multiple sports writers who just want to dispel the illusion of Linsanity. It’s like their mission to show he’s a mediocre basketball player. And that’s been supported by popular writers like Stephen A. Smith, the leading force to discredit him.
Call him a “chump”.
Yeah. This immature name calling.
He’s into that.
And just to have casual fans, who maybe never watched basketball until Linsanity happened, they don’t care. Or it seems like they’re kind of shocked; why is there this venomous reaction to Jeremy Lin.
How do you think he is playing? What are your thoughts on the Jeremy Lin era in Houston, being a major part of that franchise’s foundation future?
Before I start, I should say that I could never in my wildest dreams do one hundredth of what he is doing on his worst day of playing, I could only dream of doing that and it is important to remember that NBA players total, however many they are, represent only a fraction of college players, high school players. It is important to remember he is pretty special.
One of the 450 best players in the world. That means a lot. There are a lot of players who play basketball in the world.
There are, and a lot of NBA players are international too. He is, I don’t know, top .001%, if that, and he is a starting point guard for a pretty good team that is surprising a lot of people. He is a legitimate starting point guard. I know that is a discussion a lot of people are having, whether he should be a starting point guard, but the fact is the Rockets are doing well, and he is getting a lot of players involved. He is finding the right guys, people feel comfortable with him on the court. He gets them into the right spots like he did with the Knicks. They have assembled an array of three-point shooters and slashers that I think people increasingly recognize are good complimentary pieces for Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Individually, I think he is doing alright. I mean, by his own admission, it sounds like he is pretty hard on himself and that he could do better. Like you brought up he had knee surgery, and that could explain why maybe he is a little bit slow at the beginning of his season. I mean, new team, a completely new role, it is only his third season or so as an every day starting point guard, and then James Harden gets signed like a day before the regular season starts and completely transforms the complexion of the team.
I do not believe they had a training camp together, I think that trade happened after training camp.
It happened after training camp, they didn’t get a chance to play together much so, you know, I’m sure like the first 15-20 games were an adjustment period for everyone. I think he is having his ups and downs. He has glimpses that show what he could do on a more consistent level. It looks like his shot is getting better. It seems like he still struggles with his 3-point shooting, but that’s not him. He didn’t come into the league as an outside shooter, of course he has to improve if defenses are going to collapse on him and shut down the lane.
But he is not regressing on his 3-point numbers. I need to double check that. [Kevin Note: He is not regressing, he just still sucks at threes.]
They have been pretty consistent throughout the season. He is still learning to pick his spots, especially with Harden, who demands a lot of attention and has the ball a lot. I think the Rockets are still figuring out how to best use both Lin and Harden, and to stagger their minutes so that Lin can, you know, do the pick-and-roll at the top of the key. I think he is doing alright.
One of the things that people might overlook is this season, I think Lin has had his fair share of criticism this season, is that the players that he primarily plays with—Omer Asik, Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons and James Harden—are all having their best statistical seasons to date. Jeremy Lin, I think, is making those guys better.
I think that is a really important point to make in assessing Jeremy Lin’s performance. People get to get caught up in individual numbers, but especially with the position of point guard. Now we have different kinds of point guards, shoot first point guards or hybrid point guards, but maybe it is growing up with john Stockton but I see the point guard as someone who should make other players better. And if that is your measurement, Jeremy Lin is succeeding wildly.
I’m not sure how many people do this because Houston isn’t on TV a lot, but those who watched a lot of Knicks games and saw the Jeremy Lin that was playing in a Knicks game and then they turn into a Houston Rockets game and they see a much different Jeremy Lin than they might remember. What is your advice to those people? Keep watching the Rockets? Or do you need to, for lack of a better phrase, forget Linsanity?
It is a different team, different players, you don’t have Carmelo Anthony but you do have James Harden who demands attention in a different way. He is not an iso-shooter, he drives a lot more. I think in some ways, I’m sure McHale watched what happened last year and saw what kinds of situations maximize Jeremy Lin’s talent, and during the offseason it sounded like the Rockets were committed to building around Jeremy Lin and getting the right pieces so that you could have… I am just amazed that it seems like every player on their team besides Asik can shoot the three. They just come out with all these power forwards, Patrick Patterson, Morris.
He is an interesting player, and Morris is a really interesting player. I think a lot of people forget that Houston, for all intents and purposes, is ahead of schedule. This was a team that was, if they won 30 games this season it was going to be a major success, and even after James Harden was traded, I don’t think people expected much more than .500 at best, and right now this team is probably projected to win 46-47 games, way ahead of schedule.
I had them not being in the playoffs at all, even after Harden was traded
Thank you Los Angeles Lakers for messing up everybody’s playoff brackets.
It seems like they are doing pretty well know, so maybe they could sneak into the 8th or 7th spot.
They don’t control their own destiny. Houston would have to play bad for them to make it, Utah would have to play bad, Minnesota would have to keep being bad, Portland would have to slip up a bit. The Lakers don’t control their own destiny anymore.
They dug themselves too much of a hole. Whereas, ahh hey, I think we are all happy. There is one thing that unites fans of every team in the Western Conference: our hatred of the Lakers and joy in watching them explode. The Rockets do in some ways control their destiny and I think that is in large part due to Jeremy Lin’s play. As maybe erratic as it has been, the one thing I hate hearing about is the turnovers. I mean, it’s not as bad as people think, and then what about James Harden.
Does he lead the league in turnovers? [Editor's Note: He is third in the league in TOs/Game behind Holiday and Rondo.]
He is definitely one of the league leaders in turnovers, and nobody talks about that. There is this spotlight. You’re right, people maybe need to forget about…not need to forget, but the spotlight has transferred from Linsanity to Houston. He is still operating under that glare, and so things like turnovers will pop out. Minor mistakes. I, and I am going to bring this up in the next show, Clyde Drexler, my god. Jeremy Lin cannot do right with Clyde Drexler. Any mistake that Jeremy Lin makes Clyde Drexler will point out. And even when Lin does something well, Drexler will still be hard on him.
I also have a theory, additionally, and this is mostly informed from Carmelo Anthony’s discussion of Lin’s contract as ridiculous over the summer, that there is a certain reluctance and in some cases militancy towards Lin’s ascension as one of the highest paid players, because he will be making $15 million in the 3rd year of that contract. The players who are paid that type of money don’t see him as that type of player, and I think that there is a sort of, kind of collective rejection of Jeremy Lin in the sense that, in as much as player’s salary dictate how good they are, I think a lot of players look at the salary and think of him as not that good. That’s just a theory I’ve had. Drexler is not the only one who has looked at Jeremy Lin and scoffed, and said “what are we doing here, what is the big hype here?”
I think those are really great observations to make, and again, that speaks to the position of Asian-Americans as illegitimate actors on a stage, who get unfair treatment, and aren’t seen as actual people of color and all of that. I think it is important to unpack because, again, you have these color commentators, these pundits who speak for Jeremy Lin and shape the narrative. Again, that’s another reason I started this show, so that we could…Yeah, he was given a big contract, and I think there were a lot of internal reasons for why he got that big deal. The Rockets wanted to scare the Knicks away, which is why they created that poisonous deal last year.
The poison pill.
The poison pill. Did his 35 or so games legitimate that contract? I don’t know. But a lot of players are drafted or given contracts based on potential. Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, how many players have we seen who have been given…
Further, lots of players have cashed in big paydays for a very small sample of games. Austin Croshere cashed in on I think about a $50 million paycheck for playing really well in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals when he was playing with the Pacers, so Jeremy Lin is part of a long tradition of people have turned a small sample size into a large paycheck.
I don’t think it is fair to say the sample size wasn’t big enough. What he did in those 30 games, in that spotlight, with that amount of pressure speaks volumes to his perseverance. Again, that word. To his talent. To his ability to make players better, and to focus too much on the money does a disservice or draws attention away from what he is actually doing on the court. How good is the team, how good are the players who play around him? By that measurement, I think he deserves all the money that he can get, and again, he is just starting out. Who knows, I don’t know what his ceiling is. It would be hard to say. He is a good player.
Part 2 can be found here.