Source: Sam Louie
When the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA Basketball Championship on June 13th, the nation of Canada exploded in celebration. One player, Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese-American was also on the roster. While his contribution on the court and playing time was minimal, he too celebrated as a member of the Raptors.
When media outlets pointed out that he made history by being the first Asian-American NBA Champion, many critics scoffed. They cited that he only played 27 minutes throughout the entire playoffs, with all the minutes meaningless to the outcome.
So the question gets raised, “Does Jeremy Lin deserve to call himself a champion?” Of course he does. He won. He was on the roster. He practiced with the team. He was part of the process. Why can’t he celebrate that?
As an Asian-American psychotherapist, diversity speaker, and trainer, I can tell you no one is upset he’s part of a winning team. What they fail to acknowledge is they’re upset he’s getting celebrated as a champion with the media coverage and accolades which usually follow players who played and impacted the game.
Think of all the major sports teams where each player on a winning championship team in each of their respective fields will get a ring, trophy, etc. regardless of whether they’re Tom Brady, his back-up quarterback(s), or any of the other 52 players of a 53 man roster. In fact, in NFL football, only 46 of these players may be eligible to play on game days. But regardless of whether they’re playing or not, if their team wins a Super Bowl, they also get a Super Bowl ring. Is that fair to starters? Does it mean the benchwarmers don’t deserve a ring or deserve to call themselves a “Super Bowl winner”?! In fact, if you google motivational speakers, you’ll find a number of former “Superbowl Champions” turned public speaker. I’ll guarantee you won’t know the majority of these “champions.”
For an NBA comparison, are you familiar with Lance Allred? I doubt it, unless you’re a basketball junkie, deaf, or a part of a deaf, basketball community. You see, Allred played less than three months in the NBA after joining the Cleveland Cavaliers in March of 2008. During that span, he averaged just 3.3 minutes per game. Some would call this a footnote, if that. Some would declare his title as a former “NBA Player” a bit of a stretch. But not to the deaf community. He is seen as a role model and someone to aspire towards because as insignificant as his on-court contribution was in the NBA (I think he would even acknowledge this himself), his mere accomplishment of making it to the top marked Allred as the first legally deaf player in NBA history. He parlayed that accomplishment and is now an inspirational speaker and author.
With this comparison, should we knock Allred and clamor he didn’t “accomplish” anything? Ask the deaf community and they will resoundingly tell you otherwise. Ask the young men and women he speaks to if his words matter less because of his lack of playing time.
As for Jeremy Lin, he should be congratulated. Not only for being a part of a winning organization and being seen as a role model to others of what’s possible (i.e. Asian-Americans reaching the highest level not only in basketball but in any field you aspire towards) but for his perseverance and his talent. Lin is considered an “NBA Journeyman” having played for eight different NBA teams. But he’s also been in the league since 2010. So he’s persevered for nearly 10 years in a league where many players will never make it past one (see above reference to Allred). Lin himself has inspired a nation and the wider international Asian community that someone of Asian-American descent can “make it” to the top.
The tragedy is some of his biggest critics today are other ethnic minorities. They ironically fail to recognize why race matters and are contemptuous that Lin has gotten so much exposure compared to their own achievements. This may be analogous to male white critics who wonder why every time a “first black, first female, first hispanic, (fill in the prestigious title here)” is celebrated.
The reason these individuals are celebrated is that they are the first of their kind to do so. While others may have reached the pinnacle, to become the first to do anything in your sphere of influence (e.g. the first in your family to graduate from college, the first to immigrate to a different country, the first to marry someone of a different race, etc.) marks a tremendous achievement only those in your community can truly appreciate. Those communities recognize how these achievers have fought off thousands of negative comments and naysayers. Not only that, they have to fight off the internal demons that also tell them they can’t do what they set out to accomplish. To sum up, these valiant and courageous people are more than their titles. And for those whose accomplishments are in the public spotlight like Lance Allred or Jeremy Lin, It’s their unyielding mindset to never give up and be a beacon of light to other like-minded individuals that truly makes them champions.