Jeremy Lin knows what it’s like to face racism on the basketball court. There is the institutional kind — “this Asian kid can’t play college/NBA basketball, he’s not athletic enough” — and the more direct kind, such as when Lin was playing for Harvard and a Cornell defender kept calling him “chink” while guarding him.
So when he heard the story of Nathan Stockman and Bobby Jefferson II, two Cincinnati-area high school players who faced racist taunts at a Catholic league game, he reached out to them (along with some help from the restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s). Lin had the pair come to Atlanta, got them and their family seats for a Hawks game, and met with them before the game. He also went to dinner with them at P.F. Chang’s the night before, as detailed in a fantastic story by Josh Martin at CloseUp360.
“For me, it’s a little bit difficult seeing them before or after the game because you can be so focused or fixated, or the game just ended or you’re at the arena and there’s just so many people and it can get so busy,” Jeremy tells CloseUp360. “So I wanted to really properly meet them and their families, and just have more of a chance to dialogue.”
Stockman is South Korean by birth and adopted by a family in Cincinnati, and Jefferson is African-American. They were the only minorities on their team at St. Xavier High School. In a high school game during Stockman’s junior and Jefferson’s senior season against Elder High School (at Elder), the pair heard organized, loud racist taunts from the student body:
Stockman heard chants of “P.F. Chang’s, they said. 10 can’t see. 10 plays chess.”
Jefferson, who was confronted by a policeman before he was about to step on the court and had the ball slapped out of his hands by the officer, heard: “Bobby sells crack, they said. Bobby smokes meth. Bobby’s on welfare. Bobby can’t read.”
Bobby graduated from St. Xavier with honors and is now an Ivy-League freshman at Dartmouth.
Their story became big news in Cincinnati, a city that has had to deal with racial issues in recent years. The CloseUp360 story details how what happened that night eventually reached the ears of Lin, who wanted to reach out to them. He liked how they had used the insults as motivation (Stockman put the P.F. Chang’s logo on his shoes the next season).
“That’s been something for me as well where, in the past, it’s been, like, ‘Oh, you think I’m this or that, or you call me this or that,’” Jeremy says. “I’m going to turn that negative energy and use it as fuel and motivation…
“The thing I always say is if you allow them to throw you off your track and get distracted and get overly angry or upset, then they’ve won,” Jeremy says. “That’s their goal. So make sure that you don’t compound their mistake by adding your mistake onto it. If you learn how to deal with it the right way, you can use it as a positive for yourself and you can actually better yourself and motivate yourself, and inspire yourself through something that they’ve meant to be harmful for you.”
It’s a great life lesson.
And it’s a reminder that Lin is far more than just a basketball player, he’s a leader and icon in a way few athletes have ever needed to or risen up to be.