Cover Jeremy Lin is working to provide equitable access to opportunities such as language learning and sports for the youth.

On a mission to dismantle barriers, Jeremy Lin extends a hand to young children through education, sports, and more

Jeremy Lin is recounting the moments when he felt misunderstood as an Asian who happens to be really, really good at basketball. “There's just so many opportunities when I felt like everyone's looking at me, but no one really understands me,” he shares. “They are either jumping to conclusions or they're making fun of me or they just judge me based on my skin colour, but no one's actually getting to know me.” 

The NBA champ is in California visiting his parents and brothers. A basketball hoop stands in the distance and behind it, the sun casts its late-afternoon light, which hides Lin’s face in shadow. He continues, “And when I play well: ‘He’s not that good. We're still not going to give him an opportunity. We’re not going to help him.’ Or when I wouldn't play well: ‘See, I told you. He's just horrible. He's not good enough.’ [They were] just very quick to count me out…”

Looking back at Linsanity

Lin’s abbreviated origin story goes like this: A college basketball player from Harvard University, the point guard is overlooked in the 2010 NBA draft. He plays the NBA Summer League for the Dallas Mavericks, which leads to a stint with the Golden State Warriors, before being signed with the New York Knicks in December 2011, where "Linsanity" soon happens.

In February 2012—after warming the bench in previous games—Lin finds himself on the court, scoring 25 points and helping the Knicks bag a victory against the New Jersey Nets, the start of the team’s seven-game winning streak. This is followed by more double-digit performances and career highs. He racks up 38 points in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) and later finishes with 27 points, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer, in a win against the Toronto Raptors.

In the blink of an eye, he becomes the most famous basketball player in the world. And with that comes even more expectation for the Asian American making waves in the NBA. Pundits scrutinize his rapid success. Fans and naysayers alike pore over his every move. Many more things happen, but he eventually exits the Knicks and goes on to play for the Houston Rockets, L.A. Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, and Atlanta Hawks. In 2019, while with the Toronto Raptors, Lin gets a championship ring. 

Lin says he was able to lift himself up from moments of uncertainty with the help of a solid support system, which includes his parents, two brothers, and mentors such as coaches from elementary and middle schools. “There's just so much good happening around me,” he shares. “There'll be the right, one person here, the right, one person there that, even if 50 people would make fun of me or not believe in me, the fact that I had one or two really changed my life.”

Creating equitable access to education

Now 33, the former NBA star is paying the kindness he received forward. Through several projects, including the Jeremy Lin Foundation, a basketball program in Toronto, and a partnership with digital language platform LingoAce as its global ambassador, Lin extends a hand to kids and teens who feel unseen or unheard just as he did.

He says, “What's amazing about digital learning is access to different types of things that you wouldn't be able to if you're only confined to being in-person.” For Lin, education technology’s ability to connect student and teacher regardless of location and share the infinite possibilities of education with more people is something special.

“It’s something that I think LingoAce really perfected,” he continues, noting how the Singapore-based company has created an effective virtual learning experience, one that leverages animation, gamification, and AI in Chinese- and English-language lessons for K-12 learners. Lin also lauds LingoAce’s one-on-one virtual setup and digital content, which are a far cry from the “very dry” online learning he encountered in high school, where PowerPoint and audio recordings were used.

Finding different paths to success

While Lin is an advocate of learning, he also recognises the validity of unconventional paths beyond formal education. What does he think of young people who feel higher education is unneeded in a world where social media can provide tremendous success? “I think it depends where you're at, who you are, and what you're trying to do.” 

“The whole point of a university or college degree or any education is to prepare you for the next step. And so, if you can be prepared for the next step without doing that, then I personally am all for it,” he explains.

Still, Lin does not discount the advantages of having a university degree, especially a Harvard degree, which brings with it prestige and access. And while the athlete wasn’t able to apply his Harvard education as a professional basketball player, he mentions how it has been valuable off court, where he continues to learn.

Lin shares how his economics major and sociology minor have helped him understand impoverished communities: how one community escapes the poverty cycle, while another is stuck in a negative loop. “And so these are things that I was really interested in school and will definitely help me down the road, especially when I retire,” he says.

The athlete has, in fact, been helping in-need groups through the Jeremy Lin Foundation, which he established in 2011 to support low-income AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) communities and cross-racial youth. The non-profit organisation addresses barriers such as education, food insecurity, and mental health, as well as finds solutions for racial injustice, notably raising awareness about anti-Asian racism during the pandemic through its Be The Light program.

Building bridges between communities

Recently, Lin announced his newest project, a basketball school for children aged three to 16, that is set to launch across Toronto. The school is in sync with his foundation and edtech endeavours, in how it provides children equitable access to positive life opportunities. “I'm not passionate only about helping the next generation become great basketball players; I hope the next generation can become great people,” he says of the sports program. “I think they can learn a lot of lessons through basketball, and that includes communication, leadership, being able to serve people, humility, confidence, perseverance—life and character lessons that the next generation will need.”

For the relentless changemaker (Lin admits he can be a high-achieving perfectionist and is a goal-oriented person), there are more things to do and even more people to reach out to. “If you look around, there are just so many groups of people that are marginalised or unseen or feel invisible or don't have the opportunities,” he says when asked about what moves him to look outward. “What can we do to be a part of that solution?”

Up next, Lin is working toward the advancement and adoption of cross-racial solidarity. “I'm really looking to build bridges to unite communities,” he says. To make a significant breakthrough, Lin calls on Asians, African Americans, and other groups to look beyond their circles and band together. Without unity, “everything that we're pushing for will be handicapped and will only go so far,” he points out.

“That's a big part, you know,” Lin reflects. “Building bridges can be between the rich and the poor, the east and the west, students and athletes, parents and children, immigrants and non-immigrants. There are so many bridges that we are trying to build. And that's just what I'm really looking forward to.”

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