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Jeremy Lin, Linsanity and the Asian-American identity

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The other night on PIX11, during a season preview, Jeremy Lin was asked if Linsanity was played out or will it return to New York. Lin, ever the diplomat, responded, “I think I’m grateful for the experience. I mean, do I like it when everyone calls to me or refers to me or only thinks of me as that, I’d say it’s not my preference.”

It’s something Lin has spoken about in virtually every interview since he announced his signing with the Nets on July 1, something he doesn’t seem to relish discussing (but knowing his return to New York would require it.)

Andrew Keh covered the Nets and the NBA for more than two years. In a front page New York Times essay, he takes the issue of Lin, Linsanity and Asian-American identity deeper ... what it all means to the larger society.

On the eve of the Nets first game with Lin as their leader, Keh explains what he believes Lin means when he tries to balance the magic that happened on the Garden floor with racist ugliness: Treat me like an individual, don't be lazy and stereotype me. Learn to know me, don't pigeon hole me.

Keh examines how easy the sterotypes burst forward back then, where every kid in the vicinity of a basketball went from being “Yao Ming” to being “Jeremy Lin.”

While Keh acknowledges “nicknames on a court, of course, can be wielded with affection or respect, and rhetorical sparring can be one of basketball’s auxiliary pleasures,” sometimes it’s not done in fun. It’s done to diminish.

He cites the racist attacks Lin has heard at NBA arenas, where he’s been called “chicken lo mein.” He doesn’t cite what Jason Whitlock tweeted at the height of Linsanity or what an ESPN headline writer penned a few days later. Both apologized but only under pressure.

Keh cites a conversation he had with an unidentified Nets player two years ago.

I walked into the Nets’ locker room in Houston as they dressed to play the Rockets. Lin was on the injured list for Houston that night. Seeing me, one Nets player could not resist: “I thought Jeremy Lin was out tonight,” he said, feigning surprise.

I gave the player an incredulous stare. He broke the silence. “You aren’t going to tweet about that are you?” he said, suddenly serious.

Bottom line for Keh is that the downside of Linsanity, what Keh calls “society’s lazy word association game,” is likely to remain with us.

Respite from this, realistically, feels far-off.

So you stare ahead. You laugh things off. You don’t lash out because do you really want to spend your days lashing out?

You wait for another Yao Ming, another Jeremy Lin, and another, and another, until maybe the names begin to lose their meaning.

Starting Wednesday in Boston, another chapter of this will begin to play out. Expect Lin to address the issue when it arises in much more depth than when he was last in New York, a 23-year-old swept up in a moment of magic. He won’t let it pass. Good for us.