Monday, March 5, 2012

Before JLin there was . . . Michael Chang (according to ESPN)

Great article which makes a comparison that we raised from the start.


  1. "There have been other men with Asian American ancestry to make a name for themselves in the sports world since Chang -- Tiger Woods, Hines Ward, Rex Walters and Apolo Anton Ohno. However, because of their bi-racial heritage, the Asian American community could not claim them as theirs alone."

    I think this article fails to point out that not only could the Asian American community NOT claim them as their own, the athletes had no interest in presenting themselves as Asian american. Tiger Woods comes to mind immediately. Many Asian American groups attempted to give him awards, but he flat out refused to accept them. However, I distinctly recall him appearing on the cover Jet/Ebony magazines.

    Same with Hines Ward, before he won a Super Bowl, the closest thing he came to acknowledging his Asian heritage was a tattoo written in Korean. He never attempted to represent his Asian side, despite the fact he was raised by his Korean mother. In addition, he decided to cash in on his Super Bowl appearance by coming to Korea and doing a bunch of stupid commercials.(I saw a bunch of them because I live in Korea). While he was on he was on his media tour here, he claimed to be proud of his Korean heritage.....

    Truth is a lot of these biracial athletes pass the eye test, which is to say that at first glance you would never guess that they had an asian parent. People claim that Rex Walters was an asian american nba player. While not false, he never really presented himself that way, by either himself, the league, marketers etc.

    I love the Lin story..a lot. However, there's a part of me that thinks that the only reason why he's getting this opportunity(other than you know..actual skill) is because the mainstream (read: white/black) market is completely tapped out and marketers/businesses are looking for a new revenue source. And why not? Asian American men have one of the highest income rates of any groups in the US.

    1. In all fairness, Hines Ward was going through identity issues, as he faced hardships himself with acceptance from both Blacks and Koreans. He even went out and said he was ashamed of his Korean heritage specifically due to the fact that there was a racist mindset towards mixed Koreans probably due to the history or other reasons as to why his mom married his father that was in the military.

      The argument can also be made that Koreans might not have even cared about Hines Ward if he was famous to begin with especially since he doesn't look like the average Korean, but he already had a well documented crying party and story that was featured on ESPN.

      Tasha Reid aka Yoon Mie Rae, Korean/Black rapper, also has talked about her own hardships when it comes to Koreans judging her Black side.

  2. Not exactly Michael Chang. Tennis is an individual sport, basketball is a team sport. Whenever Michael Chang won or lost a tennis match, it was all on him. But when Lin wins or loses in the NBA, a lot of it depends on his teammates and the coaching staff. He, alone does not win the game.

    Therefore there are many factors that can help or hurt him. He alone is not the entire Knicks team.

  3. Michael Chang was a role model and his French Open remains an all-time classic, but unfortunately, while he had some success in his career, he didn't win another major.

    That basketball is a team sport sets Lin's story apart from Chang's story and distinguishes Lin's story from the social perspective. Tennis is an individual sport, so while Chang represented breakthrough individual Asian American athletic achievement, his wasn't a social achievement. The PG on a basketball team is the decision-maker and leader on the floor. The PG directs his teammates, controls the ball, matches up with the other team's leader, and often makes the game-deciding shots and passes. Lin's game-winning shot against the Raptors epitomized these qualities: overriding D'Antoni's play call, waving off Chandler's screen, telling his teammates to clear out, dribbling the clock down, backing down Calderon, and rising up to carry his team to the win.

    The PG has the defining characteristics of the alpha in the social hierarchy of men. In the major team sports, only QB and PG have that kind of highly visible social cache. For Asian Americans, we need to see ourselves as more than individual successes. We need to see Asian Americans as American leaders.

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  5. When Michael Chang shocked the tennis world by winning the French Open in 1989, that was a great story although I didn't know who he was before then. That's the same with Vania King. I didn't follow her until she won her first grand slam doubles title in 2010. However, I've been following every game, stats, blog on JLin since he signed with the Warriors. And then to witness his breakout game on Feb 4 (even though it was just following the realtime boxscore on Yahoo!), that was to me the greatest moment is sports history!

  6. Jeremy has a much harder path than Michael Chang. He is playing against freak athletes in a physical contact sport. It's not like golf, gymnastics, figure skating, table tennis, badminton, etc. that Asian athletes have been good at through constant practice and skill.

    Basketball is a brutal hands-on competition ... that requires not only coordination, but significant body size, muscle, and physical stamina.

    It's obvious why watching Lin play basketball is more awe inspiring than Chang playing tennis.

    I was too young to remember the 1989 French Open, but maybe it wasn't as huge back then, because of the lack of social media networks and the population of Asian Americans was smaller. He was treated as simply a great athlete who won in tennis .... that was it.

  7. I would not take any credit off Michael Chang. The man revolutionized the game of tennis. In a serve-and-volley era, Michael was one of the first, and definitely the most persistent, baseline player. Being 5-7, he was easily the least gifted player on the tour, yet he trained himself beyond watcher's imagination and turned himself into a fast running, ball-returning machine. Reebok ran a ad themed "I am a wall" for Michael for his perseverance on the court.

    Despite having to win only one grand slam tournament at Roland Garros, he was also the record holder for the most consecutive years with at least one tour championship. People criticizing Michael for having only 1 grand slam championship is like saying David Duval or Charles Barkley has never won a championship despite having some of the best records over a long period of years, and having to compete in the same era with Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan.

    Michael was never as big as Jeremy for the obvious reasons in social network and media. But as an Asian American he certainly broke the stereotype of what Asian athletes can or cannot do. Heck, when Leyton Hewitt came to scene in the turn of 2000, the media called him "the Michael Chang of the new millennium." Go ask any Asian tennis players in their 30s now and see who inspired them. Go ask any tennis player below 6 ft and see who do they model their game after. Michael Chang was monumental, his influence went BEYOND his Asian heritage. As a devoted Christian, Michael certainly played in His name, for all the people.

  8. Appreciate you guys reading the article. Love the feedback. There were several other angles I wish I could have explored, but didn't because I wanted to stay focused on the similar excitement that both Chang and Lin caused. Regardless of their sports being individual or team, it is rare that an Asian American male grabs headlines like this. The fact that it causes a swell of pride in the AA community was enough to make me want to write about it.

    If you have any questions or comments you want to direct straight to me you can find me on Twitter @kentonwong



    1. Kenton,

      I know there's behind-the-scenes politics where producers choose certain people to be on ESPN TV to discuss controversial topics. But I see you write a good article regarding Jeremy Lin, as an Asian-American and why it's important and I wonder why you weren't even picked to be on First Take to discuss the whole racial sensitivity issue with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless?

      Instead we get Lynn Hobbes. Someone should have told Stephen A. Smith that the reason why he may have not known certain things were offensive to Asians to begin with is because there aren't as nearly as many activists, such as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, in the past. Add it up to the fact that Asians in the media as a whole have generally been stereotyped and it's open season. Max Kellerman on 710 ESPN Los Angeles actually mentioned this on his show yet Lynn Hobbes can't even see it himself either.

      They should have had at least you on there, along with Lynn Hobbes.

  9. I mean a big part of the reason they had Lynn Hoppes on was because he had a very different opinion on Jeremy Lin. Lynn is entitled to his opinion, it just so happens that my opinion on the topic is pretty much the opposite.

    Lynn has probably been through some stuff that I haven't and vice-versa.