Jeremy Lin has dealt with racist remarks as an Asian American in the NBA, but he said nothing compares to what he repeatedly experienced while playing in college.
Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, said he heard deplorable racial slurs hurled at him from fans, opposing players and even an opposing coach during his four years at Harvard while playing on the road from 2006 to '10.
"The worst was at Cornell, when I was being called a c---k," the Brooklyn Nets point guard said in an interview on his teammate's podcast, "Outside Shot with Randy Foye." "That's when it happened. I don't know ... that game, I ended up playing terrible and getting a couple of charges and doing real out-of-character stuff. My teammate told my coaches [that] they were calling Jeremy a c---k the whole first half. I didn't say anything, because when that stuff happens, I kind of just, I go and bottle up -- where I go into turtle mode and don't say anything and just internalize everything."
Lin told Foye that one fan at Georgetown shouted negative Asian stereotypes at him, such as "chicken fried rice" and "beef lo mein" and "beef and broccoli" throughout the entire game. And when Harvard visited Yale one time, Lin said fans heckled his appearance, specifically his eyes.
"They were like, 'Hey! Can you even see the scoreboard with those eyes?'" Lin recalled.
Lin said one opposing coach also used an offensive slur to Asian Americans while referring to Lin as the coach argued with a referee. And even if officials heard what was being said, Lin said nothing was ever done about it.
"In Vermont -- I remember, because I had my hands up while the Vermont player was shooting free throws -- their coach was like, 'Hey ref! You can't let that Oriental do that!' I was like, What is going on here? I have been called a c---k by players in front of the refs; the refs heard it, because they were yelling it, [like,] 'Yeah, get that out, c---k!' And the ref heard it, looked at both of us and didn't do anything.
"It's crazy. My teammate started yelling at the ref, 'You just heard it, it was impossible for you not to hear that. How could you not do something?' And the ref just pretended like nothing happened. That was when I was like, Yo, this [kind of racism and prejudice] is a beast. So, when I got to the NBA, I thought this is going to be way worse. But it is way better. Everybody is way more under control."
Lin said that when he now hears something offensive from a heckler, the Nets point guard doesn't allow it to affect him the way it did in college at times.
"To this day in the NBA, there are still some times where there are still some fans that will say smaller stuff, and that is not a big deal," Lin said. "But that motivates me in a different way."
Lin said that when his career exploded overnight and "Linsanity" was born during his brief tear with the New York Knicks in 2012, he didn't know how to cope with the sudden fame or the unexpected responsibility that came with being a new Asian American role model.
Lin told Foye that his biggest regret during Linsanity was not enjoying the moment more.
"I had set the record for the most points ever scored by any player in their first five starts, but I didn't look like anybody they had ever seen," Lin said. "All anybody ever knew about Asian players were 7-foot centers from China. ... It scared me.
"My biggest regret is I never really soaked it in or appreciated it. I was so scared, and then I was so focused on -- all right, they think this, so I got to be that, and next year I got to play even better; and then it was on to the next goal, and I was never really able to slow down and appreciate it."
In the NBA, Lin also talked about how he faced a different type of prejudice during the draft process -- overcoming stereotypes that came with being a rare Asian American point guard.
"The biggest thing about me was no one had ever seen a player like me in terms of just my natural appearance," said Lin, who went undrafted. "So coming out of college, everybody who criticized me was like, He is too weak and not fast enough and not athletic enough. And if you look at the combine stuff, me and John Wall were tied for first in the fastest sprint. So my speed and the stats were there, but every time they would write about me, they would say he is not going to be fast enough, he is not going to be strong enough, he is not athletic enough.
"And then when I finally started to play and they would watch me, they would be like, 'Oh man, he is deceptively athletic. He is deceptively quick.' So I was fighting that narrative the whole time. It is funny, too, when I first got into the league, I couldn't shoot. I hit one 3-pointer my whole rookie year. One. But everybody was chasing me off the line because they assumed he's got to be a shooter. He can't be a driver. It wasn't until the scouting report went out on me that I was pretty fast."
Now more mature and in a more comfortable place in his life, Lin, 28, has fully embraced his role within the Asian community and looks forward to challenging all stereotypes and racial prejudice that come his way. Lin just finished the first season of a three-year, $36 million deal he signed with the Nets.
"Back then [during Linsanity] it was like, every question [was] like, 'Jeremy, what it is like to be Asian in the NBA?'" Lin said. "Everything was about being Asian in the NBA. At a point, I was like, 'Man, just stop talking to me about being Asian.' And everyone would refer to me like, 'Linsanity!' 'Linsanity!' I was like, 'Dude, just stop calling me that name.' It became a huge burden, because I felt like I had to be this phenomenon for everybody else.
"And now when I say badge of honor, it's like, this is cool: I rep for all the Asians, I rep for all the Harvard dudes, I rep for the Cali guys, I rep for the underdogs. I take pride in it. It is not a burden to me anymore. I am not scared anymore. I appreciate it and want to help and challenge the world, stereotypes and everything. Back then, I didn't understand it; and it came so fast, I didn't really know what was going on."