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The cultural impact of Linsanity

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Writing for the Undefeated, Alex Wong takes a look back at the phenomenon of Linsanity through a different prism: how putting Jeremy Lin on the cover of Sports Illustrated (twice) impacted the Asian-American community.

Wong tells the story primarily through the experiences of Pablo Torres, the Filipino-American SI writer who wrote the cover stories and shared the experience of seeing a young Asian-American explode on the national scene. The covers proved iconic, a touchstone for the Asian experience in the United States. Linsanity as a cultural moment is hard to minimize, even five years on.

Wong writes of the first cover...

When the cover hit newsstands, it immediately became a huge source of pride for Asian-Americans. “One of the things that Asian-Americans have dealt with from the outset of when we started immigrating to the United States are stereotypes,” said Paul Okada, co-founder of fan site JeremyLin.net. “Just to see an Asian-American on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It shows that we shouldn’t be stereotyped, that Asian-Americans can do a lot of different things. It’s not just math and science. That was meaningful.”

Then, as the tempo built and the Garden levitated on a nightly basis, SI wanted another cover on Lin, one more about possibilities beyond the court. “This was actually historic,” Torre said. Putting an NBA player on the cover two straight weeks only happened during the Finals. It was unprecedented.

Phil Yu, founder of the website Angry Asian Man, who is not an avid sports viewer, still felt the need to rush out and get both issues.“That was like getting an Oscar,” Yu said. “It was the cherry on top. Like this is official now. It’s SI official.

It was, as Wong quotes Ursala Liang, an Asian-American writer, describing the covers as a “different kind of visibility” for young Asian-Americans.

“Your parents need to see that it’s possible. People don’t need to know about sports to be able to walk by a grocery store aisle and see [Jeremy] on a cover. That’s a different type of visibility.”

Five years is a long time and nothing Lin has done has equaled —or is likely to ever equal— the phenomenal quality of an Asian-American kid taking over New York. For Nets fans, Linsanity was about the rivalry with the Knicks and how Deron Williams was at first befuddled by Lin, then figured out how to dominate him.

But for a whole segment of the population, it is a cultural touchtone that can never be dismissed as a series of basketball games. It changed their lives.