Long before Jeremy Lin made a name for himself in the NBA and ushered in the era of “Linsanity” on the court, he was just hoping to make his hoop dreams come true.
And he couldn’t have done that without a special sacrifice his mother made.
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Lin paid a video visit to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Tuesday and opened up about the path both his parents took to help get him where he is today — a path filled with sacrifices that started before he was born.
“My dad’s siblings all kind of gave up further education and immediately like went to work and get jobs,” he said of his relatives back in Taiwan. “They were pooling together that money to be able to send my dad over here to get an education.”
It was after his father, Gie-Ming, arrived in the United States, in the 1970s, that he met a fellow Taiwanese emigrant at Old Dominion University in Virginia named Shirley.
“It was a really tough life for them in terms of trying to learn the language,” Lin explained.
But they made the most of it, marrying each other and starting a family of their own.
Still, while things improved, they never became easy.
“The craziest story is just that when I graduated from Harvard, I went to decide to pursue professional basketball,” Lin said. “My mom at that time knew I wasn’t eating until I was full because I was trying to save money for us — because of the tuition and everything.”
But his mother couldn’t let that continue.
“She said, ‘I’m going to give you two years to chase your basketball dream. Don’t worry about the money. I’ve got some money,’” he recalled her saying.
That support was the boost he needed to become the basketball star he always had the potential to be. But he didn’t know the full story behind that boost.
“She didn’t tell me until a few years ago that that money came out of her 401(k),” he added. “She didn’t tell me at the time, because she knew that maybe I wouldn’t accept it, or she just did what an amazing mother would do. And so that was just kind of a glimpse into the sacrifice that it took from my parents to be able to give me and my brothers a chance.”
But while his parents provided him with opportunities, they couldn’t shield him from painful realities he was exposed to on and off the court in the form of racism.
“When I was in sixth grade, we were playing in a basketball game, and we were playing against some people from Southern California,” the 32-year-old told DeGeneres. “That’s when they were kind of like, ‘Go back to China! You’re a Chinese import,’ and other stuff like that. ... I always felt like on the court, it didn’t matter — like color didn’t matter, skin didn’t matter. It was just about who could play and who couldn’t. ... I was taken a little bit aback and was just like, ‘Oh, wow. People do still see me differently, even in the middle of a basketball game.’”
Sadly, the recent rise in hate crimes and deadly violence against members of the AAPI community has only served as a reminder that many still look and act through that lens of racism. But even now, Lin remains optimistic about the future for Asian Americans.
Because, despite the “systemic and multigenerational” challenges that play a part in the anti-Asian hate the world is witnessing, Lin balances “understanding what we’re up against” with "the hope of seeing so many people actually mobilizing” to make a difference.