Did you know that we’re huge basketball fans? All of us, even the girls. It’s so entertaining to watch Knicks games with them because they get so nervous and chatty and they’re full of hilarious commentary. It’s almost like watching a game with cranky old ladies who can’t stop commenting about every play, much like those old Muppet guys sitting on the balcony of the Muppet Show (oh, did you know they have names?? Statler and Waldorf! I had no idea). Mark gets kind of annoyed because he rarely gets down time and when he sits down to watch a game, he just wants to watch the game in peace. Poor guy. He has to watch basketball games with 3 loud, nervous nellies who scream at the TV.
I grew up watching sports with my dad and my brother – the Knicks, the Mets & Yankees, hockey and the Olympics (I was never into football and still find it unwatchable). I was also obsessive about tennis in high school. Even though I was probably the least athletic kid ever, some of my biggest memories from my childhood involve sports, from watching games on TV to going to baseball games at Shea Stadium to playing those crude early Atari and Commodore 64 Olympic themed video games. Even if you’re not into sports, and even if you don’t like what it has come to represent these days (oh, you know…the egos, the celebrity worshipping, the endorsements and bloated contracts) you can’t deny that it has some strange power to illicit the most crazy and passionate emotions out of people. It also has the undeniable ability to generate city-wide pride in a way that few other things can.
If you grew up in NY in the 80s, then you’ll remember the year the Mets won the World Series in 1986, even if you didn’t care about baseball. The ’86 season was magical and the post-season playoffs were dramatic. That month of baseball in the Fall of ’86 is one of my fondest memories growing up. My family and I would sit in our basement family room glued to the TV as we watched the post-season unfold and the Mets win another series, and another, until they became World Champions in dramatic fashion. Truth be told, there wasn’t much bonding within our family back in those days, but we bonded and cheered over baseball.
I became particularly obsessive with basketball back in the late 90s during my grad school years. I was back in NY and the Knicks were surging. I’ll even admit that I scheduled my social life around Knicks games. Back in the days before Youtube, DVR or TiVO, if you wanted to watch the game, you had to catch it on live TV (well, I guess you could have programmed your VCR, but ours was rather wanky and never recorded things right). I was the worst kind of basketball fan too in that I would get too emotionally invested in the outcomes of the game. If the game itself was close, it would stress me out to the point that sometimes it would get too unbearable and I would have to turn it off. But after the Knicks started dismantling the core players that I fell in love with after losing in the finals in 1999, I fell out of love with basketball. The celebrity status of some of the players got too ridiculous, the money involved in sports were outrageous and the Knicks fell into a decade slumber.
So it came as a surprise when last season my interest in the Knicks got piqued again when I kept hearing about that Asian American player, Jeremy Lin. I know, I know, Lindsanity blah blah blah, but you have to understand even if you aren’t a sports fan, that those few months of basketball and the craziness surrounding it last year were unprecedented and remarkable, not only for what he did for basketball and a beat down Knicks franchise, but what he did for the economics of sports, for the city, and what he did for other Asians. It’s like the city woke up; basketball was exciting again and we had something to cheer about. Why was it such a big deal? The truth is, we don’t have a lot of Asian American role models in mainstream popular culture, in sports or really…anywhere. We didn’t have them growing up and we still don’t really have them now 20-30 years later. I mean think about it, and then think about how true that still is. So yeah, when an Asian American kid, and one who arguably fits into the typical Asian stereotype makes waves in pro sports, news and the media and becomes a household name to the point of oversaturation, you can bet that every Asian American person in the country is going to take notice because it just doesn’t happen very often.
A lot has been written over the past year about Jeremy’s rise (and “fall”) and some of the discrimination that he dealt with in his young career. My friends and I almost became like protective mother hens as we couldn’t quite imagine the pressure, the criticism and unrealistic expectations that was suddenly placed on his shoulders at such a young age as he became an icon for a whole race, but that’s what happens when there are so few before you. When the Knicks didn’t resign him because of off season contract follies, I was fuming for weeks. But you know, I’m a Knicks fan first, even though they are a team that hands its fans heartbreak over and over again and so I eventually moved on. A year later, we’re watching our team advance in the playoffs for the first time since I was last captivated by basketball 14 years ago, but I doubt that I would have been back to following basketball this closely if it wasn’t for the Lin story. I have to credit him for making me care about basketball again. And now we watch games as a family every night that games are on, sometimes watching live NBA games too at the newly built Barclay Center nearby (but we’ll never be Nets fans. Sports loyalty is weird and complicated like that), high-fiving and yelling at the TV just like I did with my family when I was a kid.