By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. In this edition, Jeremy Lin wins a championship, Rui Hachimura is a lottery pick, and Naomi Osaka hopes to right herself.
Lin wins a championship
Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Jon Stockton have zero.
Jeremy Lin has one.
When the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA Championship last month, Lin became the first Asian American to win an NBA title. The distinction was not lost on Lin. In an Instagram post, he posted a photo of himself with the Larry O’Brien trophy and his parents. In the post, he stated, “First Asian-Amercan ever to be an NBA champ!! Promise Ill (sic) never stop reppin Asians with everything I have! GOD established my step after step after step, allowing me to be 9 inches taller and over 70 lbs more than my parents…While others mocked, my family supported me all the way through.”
During the playoffs, he wore clothes that celebrated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. What has begun as a mini-runway show for NBA fashion, the players’ walk from the team bus to the locker room has been used by players to display what they are wearing, just like an awards show. Photos from the walk show up on the trendiest websites and social media feeds. Lin wore Asian American designers. He wore a black T-shirt with the message, “Phenomenally Asian.” Aafter another game, he wore a t-shirt the message, “It’s an Honor Just to be Asian,” a phrase made famous by actress Sandra Oh after she won an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama.
The story of winning a ring meant a lot to fans of Lin and young Asian basketball players. In a New York Times story, Alex Wong wrote, “It has been about Asian representation and visibility, rarely recognized or seen in organized basketball, especially at the NBA level.”
Lin was not part of the Raptors’ winning formula to dethrone the Warriors from its reign of NBA titles. That was Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard. In fact, Lin barely got off the bench to play in the six games of the finals. He played just one minute in Game 3 of Golden State’s blowout victory over the Raptors. He played a total of five minutes in the preceding conference finals against the Bucks. Though relegated to just a reserve, Lin still deserves the accolades of a champion.
Far from the days of Linsanity with the Knicks, Lin has been a journeyman in the NBA. He started the season with the Atlanta Hawks, a team rebuilding with no chance of making the NBA playoffs, and ended the year with the eventual NBA champs. Lin’s basketball career is far from complete, but with a ring, he’s solidified himself in NBA history and Asian American basketball fans’ hearts.
Hachimura becomes first Japanese-born player drafted in NBA first round
The NBA draft took place in late June and as expected, Gonzaga University’s Rui Hachimura was drafted in the first round, making history. Hachimura was the ninth pick in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards.
He is the first Japanese-born player to ever be drafted in the first round. The 6’8”, 230-pound forward declared for the draft early as a junior and skipping his senior year in college. This year was the best of his college basketball career, as he had career highs in field goal percentage, scoring, and rebounding.
Hachimura’s mother is Japanese and his father is from the West African nation of Benin. In honor of both cultures, the inside of his suit had one side paying tribute to Japanese culture and the other side in homage to Benin. He did not start playing basketball until he was 13 years old and received nominal interest from colleges to play. Once at Gonzaga, Hachimura played sparingly during his freshman year when the Zags made it to the Final Four.
However, during the next two years, Hachimura developed into a force on the court and transformed himself into an All-American. Off the court, Hachimura entered college knowing little English, which made it hard to communicate.
But he devoted himself to learning and becoming fluent.
Similar to Lin when he first entered the league, Hachimura is becoming a big star overseas. During the NBA Draft, Hachimura generated over 11,000 social media mentions after he was drafted by the Wizards, with 5,000 of those mentions generated by users in Japan.
The Wizards are a team that is rebuilding, but have players that can help Hachimura as he matures into becoming a central part of the team.
Osaka hits slump
Naomi Osaka was upset in the first round of the Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament, on the opening day of play. The losses are accumulating for the 21-year-old who was the number 2 seeded player in the tournament. She had already lost her number 1 ranking in the world and has been reeling since winning the U.S. Open and Australian Open in the fall of 2018 and January 2019, respectively.
But she left her coach and team after winning the Australian Open earlier this year. Since then, she’s had a mediocre record of 13-7. Despite the skid, she does not attribute it to the change in coach and team.
Since defeating Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, Osaka has become a tennis superstar garnering a lot of attention in a short amount of time. Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, is still young and shy by nature. All is not lost, although for Osaka, there is not an apparent answer to her decline in play.
There is some speculation that the pressure of being a top-ranked player, now playing at the center of attention instead of on the fringes of the tournament, is getting to her. While this may be true, it might just take some time for her to adjust to the limelight. There is the positive spin of looking at Serena Williams’ career trajectory. In 1999, she won her first major at the U.S. Open. Williams did not win another until 2002. But, after that, she won four out of five majors.
While Osaka probably wishes that she doesn’t have to wait three years for another major title, there is hope for a turnaround.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.