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Jeremy Lin and New York Knicks Part Ways: Why it Means So Much to Asian Americans

The story is everywhere now -- Jeremy Lin is no longer a Knick.

Blame James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks. Many have. On the other side, maybe Jeremy Lin shouldn't have re-negotiated his contract offer to make it so expensive for the Knicks to match. However this has played out, and however Linsanity continues, the story will now take place in Houston rather than New York.

Will Jeremy Lin get more shots and a better opportunity to develop outside of the shadow of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire? Perhaps. Is it stupid for the Knicks and MSG to turn their back on the young phenom when the company has gained $600 million in value since Jeremy Lin became the starter on the Knicks? Signs point to "yes." And were there not a number of possibilities that the Knicks could have figured out to work around paying a luxury tax on Lin if he ultimately did not work out for the team? There were several.

But what's done is done, and frankly, what upsets me the most aren't the basketball reasons. As an Asian-American, Jeremy Lin could have done more for Asian-America being a member of the Knicks than on just about any other team in the NBA. Unfortunately, that's a narrative we'll likely never see again, and America is worse off for it.

It's difficult trying to explain this outside of the scope of Asian-America. Questions about why there hasn't been a romantic leading role for an Asian-American male, or why there isn't a prominent lead actor of Asian-American ethnicity aren't questions that appear a lot in mainstream circles. Stereotypes that Asian males are somehow less masculine aren't things that most people have to deal with. Most people don't see that we're living in a country where only one percent of corporate board members are Asian-American. But I do. And these are questions and concerns that rack my brain enough as an Asian-American that I feel a social obligation to at least say something about it rather than to let them go unnoticed.

Which is one of the reasons Linsanity was so extraordinary.

No matter where one went, it was almost impossible to not notice what was going on with Lin and the Knicks. Jeremy Lin was playing at a high level on one of the biggest market teams in the biggest city in the country. The networks didn't need to change their schedule to accommodate Linsanity; with the Knicks playing in a large market, a third of its games were already being nationally televised, allowing for Linsanity to break out over games that were already planned for national broadcast. Call it East Coast Bias or whatever you may, but two of Lin's biggest games -- his 38 point outburst against the Lakers and his 28 points and 14 assists against the Mavs -- were both nationally televised games. To compare, Houston didn't have a single aired on ESPN, ABC, or TNT in that same two-week span.

It's hard to imagine Linsanity happening anywhere else but New York. It's the largest city in the nation, it's multi-cultural, and it has a level of exposure that few other cities are exposed to not just in this country, but the world. If it can break into the mainstream in NYC, then it's almost inevitable that it will be exposed to the rest of the United States. Even if Jeremy Lin breaks out in Houston next season, the amount of focus and attention from changing a zip code will be enough that his relevance will have lessened. Will dedicated basketball fans notice? Of course. This, however, is about the mainstream.

And that's the point I'm getting at. To break into the mainstream, the level of exposure has to be there. People don't quote "Call Me Maybe" because a couple hipsters talked about it while drinking kombucha at a Whole Foods. People quote it because Justin Bieber tweeted it out to 25 million people, a meme followed, and because it's on every pop radio station in the world.

When the level of exposure was so high during the peak of Jeremy Lin's run with the Knicks, it meant that we as Americans had to talk about it. There he was, on newspapers, television, and radio, and the conversation was not only about his incredible run, but how someone like him could have been overlooked by so many. Along the way, a discussion began about his race and his nationality, but not in a way that was obtrusive. Instead, it was organic, as was the gradual acceptance of his ability to play the game.

Perhaps the most telling moment -- and the one example that really captures this the most -- was the "Chink in the Armor" comment, which was not written with any malcontent, but rather a lack of understanding of context. It's difficult to blame a lack of understanding on any one person because the United States is so diverse and spread apart, but what happened did create a nationwide commentary that was seen and discussed on a level that few issues regarding Asian-Americans and race have in recent years. Awareness that it's even an issue at all doesn't happen unless the conversation begins, and it's questionable whether or not we make it to the conversation outside of the vacuum that created Linsanity.

Does that conversation happen had he stayed a Rocket, or even a Warrior? Probably not, or at the very least, not at the same level.

As a basketball player, it's understandable that Jeremy Lin would want to keep the focus on basketball. He's earned that, and it's unfair to expect him to play the role of ambassador. The beauty of him being in New York is that he wouldn't have to; there is enough in print and press on New York as it is that he or any other person wouldn't have to force the issue. One could make the argument that the impact of those weeks in February may have been enough to raise awareness, and he's already earned plenty of fans as well as detractors to validate that what he this this past season was discussion worthy. It's amazing in and of itself that his move to the Rockets could take attention away from Dwight Howard's free agent drama.

Nonetheless, there will always be a part of me that wonders how the story would have continued, not to mention what the effects on Asian-America might have been, had the Knicks given him the opportunity to stay in New York.

Brandon Tomyoy is a part-time writer and podcaster for The No-Look PassYou can follow him on Twitter: @dingyu.

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