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Why Jeremy Lin hopes for more than 'the next Jeremy Lin or Yao Ming'

Lin and actor Simu Liu talked Asian representation in sports at a charity game and pushed for athletes to be more than simply compared to other Asian players.
CCYAA Celebrity Classic featuring Simu Liu, Toronto, Canada - 09 Jul 2022
Simu Liu and Jeremy Lin at the CCYAA Celebrity Classic at the Goldring Centre at the University of Toronto on Saturday.George Pimentel / Shutterstock

Point guard Jeremy Lin teamed up with actor Simu Liu to headline a celebrity basketball game in Toronto over the weekend.

The second CCYAA Celebrity Classic, at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre, featured more than 20 Asian American and Canadian actors, musicians and influencers competing on opposing teams in support of Lin’s foundation and the Canadian Chinese Youth Athletic Association.

More than three years after he played for the Toronto Raptors and became the first Asian American to win an NBA championship, Lin walked the streets where he celebrated the first title in franchise history. He said it was an emotional experience that filled him with “a lot of love, reflection and gratitude.”

Lin talked about holding the door open and giving future athletes a chance to “be themselves” and form their own identities away from those of their predecessors. Instead of calling young Asian players “the next Jeremy Lin” or “Yao Ming,” he hopes there will be “so much representation that just because you’re Asian doesn’t mean you’re pigeonholed to the one Asian player.”

“Eventually, it won’t be such a novelty … and that’s a big part of trying to create opportunities for the next generation,” he said.

Lin said that after the 10th anniversary of his meteoric rise in the NBA, a period known as “Linsanity,” which created a sense of pride among the Asian diaspora, he thought about the “enriching” impact sports can have on younger generations and decided to launch a basketball school for children ages 3 to 16.

“Basketball has done more in terms of teaching me how to be a person than anything else,” Lin said, crediting the sport for helping him learn “communication, leadership, teamwork, resilience and perseverance” from an early age — all values he hopes to instill in young ballers of Asian descent.

Lin said he was particularly struck by the number of parents who brought their young children to catch a glimpse of the action, because being an Asian athlete or actor was “so far out of the realm of possibility” for him growing up.

Liu, who has become a leading advocate for Asian American representation in Hollywood, said people's sense of belonging is inextricably linked to how they are portrayed in the media. “I just think, ‘How incredible would it have been to have people to look up to aspirationally when I was younger?’ I’m very honored to be playing a part in that conversation now and, hopefully, in a way that holds the door open for others,” he said.

When you “have achieved some modicum of success, you can’t help but think about your roots and where you come from, and it gives me a lot of life to bring my friend Jeremy back here,” Liu said.

Clement Chu, a co-founder of the Canadian Chinese Youth Athletic Association, noted that the sport’s “accessibility” — the low costs and the prevalence of courts in gyms and parks and even on streets — is one of the main reasons basketball has grown in popularity with the Asian diaspora. “We have a lot of people we can look up to now that play basketball, and I think it’s something that definitely engages the community,” he said.