INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Jeremy Lin Suits Up As a Laker

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GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTONBy  GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

Yes, that Freeway Series much-desired by denizens of Los Angeles and Orange counties has fallen apart like the bun of a soggy Dodger dog. While sad for baseball fans, it’s a new day and a new NBA season — and now we can finally see Jeremy Lin (not to mention a couple of dudes named Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash) in Laker purple and gold.

The same night the Dodgers lost Game 3 of their series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Lakers played their first preseason game against the Denver Nuggets, winning 98-95.

The answer (so far) to the Lakers’ 48.5-million-dollar question, which saw Bryant get a huge payday as his career winds down, is that he looked pretty normal, considering the knee injury that limited his playing time last season, which came after rupturing his Achilles tendon. He took it easy, scoring 13 points. Nash, meantime, bad back and all, managed to contribute 11 points and didn’t need to leave the court on a stretcher. Each of the superstars played about 20 minutes.

Lin, meantime, scored just a point, making one of three free throws and missing six field goal attempts in his 27 minutes. Lin, however, had a team-leading 10 assists. (The players with the next-highest number of assists were, of course, Bryant and Nash, with five apiece.) One of the game’s highlights was Lin’s alley-oop pass to teammate Ed Davis for a slam dunk. (You can see this pretty play at http://tinyurl.com/lado7tz).

With regard to the regular season, what might this first preseason game herald for Lin? There’s nowhere to go but up. Whether he starts or comes off the bench as a sixth man, I have to think that Lin’s play will improve immensely as his confidence and comfort level with his teammates grow.

That Jeremy Lin exists and plays professional, American sports is huge. Over the past 20 years, Asian Americans have been fortunate to see a huge influx of Asian sports talent.

There is a direct line from current-day South Korean national and Dodger pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu that goes back to Japanese national and Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo. We’ve all been happy to root for Filipino pugilist Manny Pacquiao and gentle giant Yao Ming, formerly of the Houston Rockets.

I submit, however, that it was a vicarious support, because as much as we liked the aforementioned athletes and their ilk, the fact is that they weren’t Americans. They didn’t grow up here. They weren’t nurtured here, and they didn’t speak like Americans.

Jeremy Lin, however, represents a paradigm shift. When he and Linsanity exploded onto the scene in early 2012, the mainstream was as confused as it was delighted. Yes, his saga was one of the best real-life Cinderella stories ever, but not only was it “Who is this guy?,” it was also “What is this guy?” in terms of how to describe him.

As soon as he opened his mouth, it was clear he was from here — but that face! Asian? What kind of Asian? Chinese? Taiwanese? Chinese American? Taiwanese American? Taiwanese Chinese? Taiwanese Chinese American?! Or is it Chinese Taiwanese American?! Asian American, too?! It was one of those existential questions that American-born and raised Asians had been dealing with since getting the umbilical snipped. We could relate.

Sports talk radio, newspapers, Web pundits and the masses, all of which seemingly had never had to confront this question before, suddenly did. Lin was the breakthrough. Who and what is this guy, indeed.

Lin went from obscurity and unknown quantity to fame and familiarity. He went from Knick to Rocket to Laker. The first two of those three didn’t know how to deal with what they had. Now, as a Laker, he finally has that chance.

Los Angeles is the perfect fit for Lin. Not only is it a basketball city historically, it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world. Though he was raised in the Bay Area, he was born in Torrance, making him a hometown boy. His ethnic Chinese background will draw that demographic, his Asian heritage will attract the larger Asian American fan base, and his crossover appeal will bring fans who are white, black and Latino.

Christians, too, will be following this devout one’s on-court actions. Ivy League college alumni will also be happy one of their own is so high-profile. Even non-basketball fans of every stripe will take notice.

After so many recent gambles and moves that failed to pay off, in signing Lin the Lakers management may have finally made a move that works. Jeremy Lin has confounded — in a good way — so many doubters and naysayers. I’m confident that despite a low-scoring debut as a Laker, once the preseason begins and if he stays healthy, he’ll finally become the player he has the potential to become — and if he can’t get it done in Los Angeles, I don’t know where better it could happen.

OAA Bazaar & Fundraiser Dept.: On Sunday, Oct. 12, the Okinawa Association of America is having its annual bazaar from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 16500 S. Western Ave. in Gardena. Why do I mention it? It’s not just because I lived on Okinawa for many years as a youth — it turns out my son will be performing an Okinawan dance called “Ashibina” along with his Japanese Immersion Program classmates from El Marino Language School in Culver City. Leading them will be their former third-grade teacher, Alice Horiba. I’ve seen these kids perform and it’s fantastic! Go to www.oaamensore.org/ for details.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2014 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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  1. I like your articles about J Lin not only because my whole family is Lin fan, we also enjoy reading your articles. Your points of view with subtle humor is quite enchanting. Thank you. My nephews & niece have a good role model in J Lin, as Asian in America, the young guys often lost directions. If Jeremy is not so passion about play ball plus his strong believe in God to guide his destiny, he will not be here today, Linsanity will not been born. His story is almost equal to the rise of President Obama.

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