Jeremy Lin, the first American-born NBA basketball player of Asian descent, said he believes his race was one one of the reasons why he received no Division I scholarships out of high school, even though he was named Northern California’s high school player of the year in 2005-06.
When Charlie Rose, who interviewed Lin for Sunday’s “60 Minutes” special on CBS, asked him about racial stereotypes, Lin said colleges may not have thought as American of Asian descent could actually play basketball at the next level. Lin led his team to the Division II state title in his senior year of high school.
“Well, the obvious thing in my mind is that I was Asian American which, you know, is a whole different issue but…I think that was a barrier,” Lin said. “I mean…it’s just a stereotype.”
Lin took the NBA world by storm last year in New York, when he became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five NBA starts and scored the most points (136) in his first five starts than any player since the 1976-77 NBA merger. That means he had a better total than Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and LeBron James in their first five starts.
His play spawned “Linsanity,” and President Barack Obama and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, in a rare moment of agreement, effusively praised Lin.
After the season, Lin signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Houston Rockets after the Knicks declined to match the offer. NBA players–like former teammate Carmelo Anthony, who was jealous of Lin’s success and accolades–even, in an almost unprecedented manner, criticized the contract of a fellow player.
Houston is 43-33 this year, and Lin has been a steady leader, scoring 13 points and dishing out 6 assists to compliment James Harden and Chandler Parson.
Lin did have to overcome hurdles to get to the NBA as well.
At Harvard, Lin won the praise of many coaches and scouts, but his school was also a barrier. Harvard had not had a basketball player in the NBA since 1954, so his performance was often dismissed by scouts because of the name of the front of his jersey.
Before the 2010 draft, HoopsAnalyst rated Lin very favorably and put him in a similar league as Andre Miller, Penny Hardaway, Steve Francis, Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, Jason Kid, and Rajon Rondo when those players came out of college. The ratings were based on metrics that predicted how successful college players would do at the next level.
ESPN’s Andy Katz said Lin was “easily one of the nation’s best-kept secrets” and “one of the top point guards in the country” during the 2009-10 season. Basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Lin could play “anywhere, in any league.”
UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, who has coached NBA superstars like Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton, said Lin was more athletic “than you think,” “knows how to play” and was one of the “better” guards–including Big East guards–“who have come in here in quite some time.”
Calhoun said he had not seen a college team that his team has played against that Lin would not be able to play for and noted he would be able to play at the next level.
“He’s really, really good,” Calhoun, who is not known for effusively praising opponents, said after Lin scored 30 points in a 79-73 loss at then-No. 13 UConn in 2009. During that game, Lin dunked on a UConn player and also blocked a dunk attempt. Kemba Walker, the no. 9 pick in the 2011 draft, started at guard for UConn in that game.
Lin was a leader at Harvard, who found ways to win with shots like this. But because his team never made the NCAA tournament, Lin never even got a chance to showcase his talent in March Madness, which was another barrier he had to overcome as scouts could not seem him on a national stage against top talent.
Since his days at Palo Alto High School in northern California, Lin has been described as someone who does not stand out during drills and practices, but is instead a “gamer” whose skills shine during live games. That assessment was evident during the NBA Summer League, when Lin outplayed the top overall pick in the 2010 draft, John Wall, in a summer league game. Video of his performance against Wall went viral, and the Golden State Warriors signed him to a contract because of his summer league performances. But, as has been the case with Lin, he did not stand out in practice and did not get enough significant minutes in real games during his rookie campaign to display his skills.
That changed in New York, when Lin had to be inserted into a game against the New Jersey Nets on February 4, 2012 a week before he may have been cut and while he was sleeping on a couch at teammate Landry Fields’s apartment. Lin played because the Knicks were depleted with injuries and did not have other options, and he scored 25 points in what became the first game in Linsanity.
A week later, Lin scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers at Madison Square Garden in a 92-85 victory on national television. After the game, Bryant said NBA personel had dropped the ball in assessing Lin’s talent because he could simply play on that level.
Of course, many teams and scouts do not have the resources to see a prospect play in numerous games, let alone keep track of the player’s improvement to find players like Lin. And the same goes for colleges as well. Lin could have been someone who developed his game at a later point as well, and he could have gotten lucky because Tommy Amaker, regarded as one of the country’s best coaches, happened to be coaching at Harvard.
Other NBA players–like Ben Wallace, John Starks, and Bruce Bowen–also did not get drafted. Future superstars like Gilbert Arenas got drafted in the second round. In the NFL, legendary quarterback Tom Brady got selected in the sixth round, though Brady’s alma mater Michigan is known for football in a way Harvard is not known for basketball.
When asked if Lin’s race was a barrier to his getting into the NBA, Commissioner David Stern implied it was, said Lin was discriminated against, but he noted it also could have also been due to the school he attended, which Lin had to do because Division I schools did not offer him a scholarship out of high school (Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships).
“I think in the true sense the answer to that is yes,” Stern said. “In terms of looking at somebody…I don’t know whether he was discriminated against because he was at Harvard… or because he was Asian.”