Although Jeremy Lin is proud of helping pave the way for a basketball renaissance at Harvard, there was one aspect of his Ivy League experience he didn’t enjoy.
The racism he endured in college was far worse than anything he has faced in the NBA.
In an interview with Brooklyn Nets teammate Randy Foye on the “Outside Shot” podcast, Lin detailed some of the denigrating comments he heard while starring for Harvard from 2006-10. The worst he experienced came at Cornell, which at the time was the Ivy League’s top program.
“I was getting called a c—k,” Lin said. “That game, I ended up playing terrible and I ended up getting a couple of charges and doing real out-of-character stuff. My teammate went and 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 it up or I go into turtle mode and don’t say anything and just internalize everything.”
Lin was a target for racism because even then he was basketball’s most prominent Asian-American player. Before Linsanity helped Lin carve out a lengthy NBA career, he averaged 16.4 points and 4.4 assists as a senior for a 21-win Harvard team that helped change the perception of what the school could accomplish in college basketball.
At Yale, Lin said a fan scream, “Can you even see the scoreboard with those eyes?” At Georgetown, Lin said someone seated courtside heckled him the whole game by shouting “chicken fried rice,” “beef lo mein” or “beef and broccoli.” At Vermont, Lin said it was an opposing coach who used an offensive slur.
“I had my hands up when the Vermont player was shooting free throws, and their coach was like, ‘Hey ref, you can’t let that Oriental do that,'” Lin said. “I was like, what’s going on here? I’ve been called a c— by other players in front of the refs, and the refs heard it, looked at both of us and didn’t do anything. It’s crazy. My teammate started yelling at the ref and was like, ‘You just heard that. It’s impossible for you not to have heard that. How could you not do something?’ The ref just pretended like nothing happened.”
Lin believes his appearance plays a role in how he is perceived as a player too.
Even though his quickness blowing by opposing defenders and driving to the basket was his greatest strength coming out of Harvard, draft gurus would question whether he was fast enough or athletic enough to make it in the NBA. Even opposing players would assume he was a shooter and attempt to run him off the 3-point line until the scouting report on how to guard him finally started to spread through the league.
The pleasant surprise for Lin in the NBA has been that crowds have not been as overtly racist as they were in college.
“When I got to the NBA, I thought this is going to be way worse, but it’s not,” Lin said. “It’s way better.
“The NBA crowd is a lot better than the college crowd. The college crowd goes crazy, man. Some of the stuff they say is crazy. In college, it’s all students and they’re all drunk. They were saying all kinds of stuff.”