Linsanity? Call it Linphomania.

Maybe they should take down all the “NO MSG” signs in Chinese restaurants around New York.

MSG officially stands for Madison Square Garden, and MSG is saying “YES!” in a big way to our new national Asian American hero, Jeremy Lin.

Playing in the NBA on a hapless Knicks team with all its injured millionaires on the bench, journeyman Lin came out of nowhere to right a fallen ship.

Now people are talking about the Knicks like they really are a team worth following (they’re not), and in one miraculous week, Lin has become a pop figure the likes of Bruce Lee.

Of course, he’s in New York, where the media can light up a ball of gas and extinguish it just as quickly. Lin was the right player at the right time. The team still isn’t championship calibre, but Lin is still Asian American.

And that is rightfully a big deal–and not just to Asian Americans who automatically identify with Lin’s hard-work, underdog path to the limelight.

I’m not making him into Martin Luther Lin or anything. But you must admit there just haven’t been many Asian American ballers on the hardwood. Maybe keeping stats. And there’s Eric Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach, the first Asian American (Filipino) coach. But players?

Surely, you know that the retired Yao Ming doesn’t count.

Yao’s Asian from China. So are all the other tall Asian ballers you’ve seen. Not Asian American. But you knew that, right?

Lin, born in Palo Alto, is Asian American. An ABC, American-born Chinese.

Just forcing people to make that distinction is more significant than how many points Lin has racked up.

Playing in New York, Lin has exposed the continued ignorance about Asian Americans in general.

When you’re an invisible group, people aren’t going to make a big deal about national origin, or ethnic origin.

But it’s more than just a technical difference. It says something about what and who Asian Americans are.

There have been Asian American players in the past; Lin’s not the first. In the 70s, Ray Townsend out of UCLA, who played for the Golden State Warriors, was the first American Filipino.

The first Asian American was actually Wataru Misaka, a Japanese American 5-foot,7-inch guard from Utah who played briefly in New York in 1947.

Misaka was the first non-white player in the NBA.

But history is lost in the mania. Linsanity means Lin is the most googled and tweeted Asian American on the planet. It’s more Linfomania, if not Linphomania.

Any love is usually diluted by just a dash of racism, if not out and out racism. Lin has acknowledged hearing taunts all the way back to his Harvard days when people would say, “Hey, the orchestra’s on the other side of campus,” or some such jabber.

These days he takes a slight from teammates like Carmelo Anthony, who tweeted that Lin was “Rudy.”

Rudy? The undersized Notre Damer who never really played but suited up on the team? Lin may be an underdog, but he’s a for real basketball talent who is more than just a “Rudy.”

Even the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) took African American sportswriter Jason Whitlock to task for a tweet on Feb. 10 after Lin lit up Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers for 38 points last week. Tweeted Whitlock: “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.”

Whitlock only displayed more ignorance on later:

“I get Linsanity. I’ve cried watching Tiger Woods win a major golf championship. Jeremy Lin, for now, is the Tiger Woods of the NBA. I suspect Lin makes Asian Americans feel the way I feel when I watch Tiger play golf.”

Earth to Whitlock. Don’t you know that Tiger is half-Asian American? We claim him too.

And while we’re on the subject of golf, I didn’t exactly see the media go gaga about Charlie Wi’s lead and ultimate fall to Phil Mickelson in last week’s AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Wi is Korean born, who went to Cal and lives in Southern California, though he still retains his Korean ties. Both Wi and Kevin Na, a Korean-born naturalized American, were both in the top 10 throughout the tournament, but neither could make a Richter scale move playing in Carmel.

Meanwhile Tiger, who finished behind Wi and Na, got all the attention, though it still wasn’t enough to stop the Lin buzz.

Pro golf just doesn’t have the heat like the NBA.

It would be great to get to the point where it doesn’t make a difference what race you are in this country. But with inequalities and disparities making a comeback with a vengeance in the parts of life that matter, we aren’t there yet.

So you have to celebrate these ethnic triumphs when you can. Will American-born Chinese Lin continue to do his thing at the same level? Those of us in Northern California who saw him with the Warriors have already had our mini-Linsanity last year. But we also got real, when Lin was cut from the team, and then moved through the D-League, then Houston, then on to the Knicks.

Still, last week was amazing for Lin. And on the big stage, he put every Asian American on the map with him. Just like Connie Chung did when she was on the network news. Just like Norm Mineta did when he rose in Congress and ultimately became a cabinet member in two administrations. Just like all the Asian Americans who are fortunate to break through and make us all a little less invisible.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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