Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fresh Off The Boat vs. Gilmore Girls: Asian American Families



With the long-awaited premiere of Fresh Off The Boat this past week, a lot has been written about the first Asian American family to be on primetime TV since 1994, when Margaret Cho's All-American Girl infamously debuted. But I was way too young, thankfully, to know or care about All-American Girl when it first came out.

Instead, later on, I had another TV Asian American family to try to relate to: Lane Kim and her mother on Gilmore Girls. And as much as I love that show, I have to say how much I've always cringed at how the Kims were portrayed. Mother Kim, pressed to stand as the lone symbol of Asianness, alternates between antagonist and butt of joke. Consequently, Lane's character arc seems to be her quest to ward off everything that is represented as Korean in the show. And when Lane has to travel to Korea, it is treated as an unfathomable horror. Instead, what she wants to do is rock out to Dead Kennedys and touch the heads of blond-haired boys. In other words, she wants to be "American," forever divergent from "Asian," and never the twain shall meet.

Oh the joys of being Asian American. Also, where is Mr. Kim?
Not to say that these feelings are inaccurate, as it is practically a rite of passage for young Asian Americans to, at some point in our lives, feel angry at the fact that our parents need us to translate everything, or that we can't eat certain foods around our "American" friends, or that we have to go to <insert ethnicity> school and <insert ethnicity> church on the weekends. Some of us eventually learn how to reconcile our identities and some of us don't. In Gilmore Girls, there's actually a very rich and complex subplot in the later half of the first season where Lane unexpectedly falls for Henry, a Korean American classmate of Rory's. She dismisses him on-sight at first just because he too is Korean (a classic Asian American move), but to her utmost horror, she finds that she likes him despite the fact that he's what her mother would like. This says a lot about the conflicting identity issues within Lane and makes her a much more layered character.

The only problem is that this storyline is never pursued much further and just peters out, never to be examined again. Soon, it's back to the same old one-sided angle where Asian culture is this constant impediment to becoming American, where rock music and the Lorelai/Rory tag-team are both a figurative and literal refuge from having to be Asian. And it's not as though identity clash is a worthless topic that should not be explored. Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese deals with this exact same issue as well. But at the end of that story, there is a reconciliation where the protagonist finally feels comfortable enough with himself to befriend the Other Asian Kid in school whom he had previously avoided. In contrast, with Gilmore Girls, I don't know if such a comparable event happens. Culminating with her wedding (replete with her oh-so-kooky relatives from Korea), Lane seems to succeed more via escape than through reconciliation.

A painful scene from "American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang

Maybe one will reflexively argue that a show like Gilmore Girls shouldn't bear these burdens: "Lorelai's parents were controlling and Taylor Doose was a nutcase too, so why can't Mrs. Kim be the same?" Sure, except the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore or Taylor haven't been absent from TV for 2 decades.

In stark contrast to Gilmore Girls, the family in Fresh Off The Boat is tight-knit and loving, despite their peculiarities. At the end of the pilot, the Huangs have expressed the utmost solidarity for each other and they proudly walk off together with the vow that they'll always look out for one another. In his book and in his public talks, Eddie Huang heavily emphasizes that singular moment when he first brought his traditional Chinese lunch to school and the embarrassment he suffered. But instead of adapting himself to become more "American"—like, for example, learning to make a better hamburger or creating some East-West fusion cuisine—he learns to unapologetically embrace his "stinky" lunch. And now, well, the joke's on his bullies because everybody loves that food now.

One may argue that Eddie's love of hip-hop is the same thing as Lane's love of rock. But the key difference is that hip-hop is never presented as the antithesis to Eddie's Asian Americanness. In fact, his parents even sometimes gamely try to adopt some of his lingo. More importantly, the whole reason Eddie becomes enamored with hip-hop is that it's his only means of articulating what it's like to be Asian American, which is to say, to be non-White. In contrast, Lane's passion for rock is pitted against her Asian American identity as an incompatible force, as her way of expressing how she's not like all those other Asians who exist in her world. Whereas Eddie's exuberance for hip-hop is his way of asserting his unique racial identity, Lane's affinity for rock just ends up neatly fitting her in the pre-existing mold of Lorelai.

The Huangs are going to do it their way

Eddie Huang has railed against how ABC has bowdlerized his life story. And yes, I too would like to see the HBO version with the Psycho Gangster Dad from real life. But this family-friendly version of his life story also presents something that I've never seen in American pop culture before: a warm and loving Asian American family. No abusive parents, no maudlin story of having to sell body parts to escape from Asia, no loveless marriage because Asians can't be romantic... This is all the more galling when you consider the fact that Asian Americans are stereotypically thought of as the Model Minority with strong "family values." I guess not in TV-land. It wasn't until Lost that we saw that rare depiction of an Asian couple in a complex relationship. Fresh Off The Boat goes one step further by giving such a couple a family of their own. This is a huge step forward.

And in the end, it is those seemingly incongruous aspects—the Defiantly Asian element wrapped up in a Wholesome Asian family—that are so refreshingly powerful and resonant in Fresh Off The Boat. No longer is your Asian American family something you have to overcome or escape from. Instead, they're the ones who'll have your back as you teach all the fools to appreciate your "stinky" lunch.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Are you from North or South?



Note: I do not support censorhip, especially censorship predicated on terrorism, in any way. This article is not a commentary on Sony's decision to cancel the release of the movie. Instead, it's a commentary on the movie itself, as well as Americans' perceptions of the two Koreas.

"Are you from North or South?"

I've been asked this question many times in my life, and I know that a lot of other Koreans have too. Personally, I try not to take offense because I give people the benefit of the doubt that they are just being curious without malicious intent. Kind of like when they ask me where I'm "from." Sure, I might think that they're being laughably ignorant in thinking that the Korean peninsula is something like California: "NorKor or SoKor?" But on the list of things that you could say to me based on ethnicity/race, it's not that high on the Totem Pole of Racist Bullshit.

It is, however, alarming that a lot of people see someone like me and think that I have as good a chance of being a North Korean as I would a South Korean. It seems that—going just by name, appearance, and/or general ethnicity—a South Korean like me could very well be a North Korean in the eyes of many. I see it happen all the time, especially in international sports. Whenever the World Cup happens, there will inevitably be an announcer for a (supposedly) world-class broadcasting organization who makes a mistake about the Koreas. For example, in a 2010 World Cup match between South Korea and Argentina, a German announcer said that the Koreans were 10cm shorter on average than the Argentinians. Actually, the average height of the South Korean team was significantly higher than that of Argentina's. He probably meant the North Korean team (though he would've also been wrong on that account, since North Korea and Argentina had the same average heights). Later, when FC Barcelona swung by Seoul on its Asia tour, Dani Alves complimented the South Korean national team for having played quite well when they had played Brazil in the 2010 World Cup. Except that it had been North Korea who played them, not South Korea.

North. South. Interchangeable.

At first glance, can most people tell whether this is the South or North Korean football team?

And that's my issue with The Interview and Kim Jong Il/Kim Jong Un jokes. A lot of the ire directed at North Korea could easily be redirected, either intentionally or not, against South Korea. Yes, I know that most people are specifically directing their ridicule at one particular repugnant leader and one particular backwards country. But Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un are also the most famous Koreans in the world. Sure, Kim Yuna is the most dominant figure skater of all time, Park Chan Wook is one of the premier auteur filmmakers in the world, and Ban Ki Moon is the UN Secretary General. But none of them have anywhere near the "Q-rating" of the Kim dictators, at least in America. There's no other Korean, living or dead, about whom Hollywood would make a movie.

Just as a refresher, remember what happened with Red Dawn? There were plenty of people who left the theaters being angry at "Asians," not just "North Koreans." In the end, do people really know how to tell the difference between Kim Jong Un and Park Geun Hye? Can they tell the difference between Pyeongchang and Pyongyang? Do they even care to?

If I told people on the street that this was the North Korean Prime Minister, how many would rightfully call me out for being a dumbass?
I haven't seen The Interview and will probably never get to (even if I wanted to). But apparently, there's a scene where Kim Jong Un cries and then craps his pants. And there's a North Korean female character who falls for the Seth Rogen character for some reason and has sex with him. And there's a lot of bad accents and mock Korean spoken by the two White male lead characters. Who wants to bet that there's a small dick joke somewhere there as well?

Neutering and ridiculing of an Asian man? Obligatory sexual relationship between White guy and Asian woman? Ching-chong and switched Ls and Rs? This just sounds like the Hangover movies.  There would at least be some value in all this if the North Korean regime wasn't already a joke in every country not called North Korea. And guess which country will end up being the one country that won't possibly be able to see this movie on a wide scale?

Say I go watch this movie and people in the audience laugh uproariously (hypothetically speaking, since the movie has gotten terrible reviews). When they laugh, what should I, and other Koreans, think? Should I trust that they're laughing at just Kim Jong Un? Or are they laughing at him and his cronies? Or at his whole country? Or Koreans or Asians in general? Should I laugh louder than everyone else to prove that despite how I look, I am most definitely one of the good guys?

Pardon me if I seem a little paranoid. But you know, I just think of all the times I've been asked:

"Are you from North or South?"


Monday, November 24, 2014

My Love From Another Star: American Cast



Apparently, ABC is going to make an American version of the superhit Korean drama, My Love From Another Star. I've already kind of reviewed the drama before (verdict: very good). If you want a quick synopsis, it's essentially a romantic comedy that asks what would happen if a Superman (who chooses to hide his powers) and a famous actress fell in love. If you're a fan of Korean dramas, go see it.

Generally speaking, American remakes of Korean entertainment have been reliably putrid (e.g. My Sassy Girl, The Lakehouse, Oldboy), so I don't have high hopes for this one. Nor will I be disappointed when, inevitably, all the things that made the original popular are lost in translation and the end product is a bland rom com. Besides, with sites like Viki and DramaFever, anyone can go directly to the source and cut out the American remake middleman, (subtitles included for all the non-Korean speakers).

But it'd still be fun to speculate as to what the ideal American cast would be. So here are my choices.

The Jun Ji Hyun Character




The JJH character is the biggest celebrity in her country. If there's a huge Chanel billboard in Times Square, then she's on it. If there's a hit TV show or movie, then she's the star. She is beautiful and always has a parade of suitors that she has fend off. And she knows all this, meaning she has a very, ahem, healthy ego and won't hesitate to tell you about it. But she's not perfect. She has a bad temper and is easily irritated because she's very used to getting what she wants. She's been in show business all her life, so she's not all that knowledgeable or curious about the world outside her spotlight, which often results in her exposing her ignorance. This doesn't mean that she's a bad or dumb person, though. In fact, she has strong principles and never fails to stand up for those whom she loves. She's just been in a pretty toxic industry for too long and doesn't have many people whom she trusts, including her own mother.



In casting the JJH character, two things are most important: she has to be believable as a beautiful superstar actress, and she has to be funny. She has to simultaneously be able to be strong and ditzy, without being annoying. If I were in charge, I'd cast Lizzy Caplan. She's obviously gorgeous, she can do comedy (Janis Ian from Mean Girls!), and she can pull off "attitude." Also, she is around the same age as JJH. She's established her prime time TV credentials with Masters of Sex, so she'd fit right in with another TV series.


The Kim Soo Hyun Character




The KSH character is actually centuries old, so he's more intelligent and experienced than any human being alive. Plus, he has Superman-like powers, everything from super-strength to super-speed to time-stopping. Problem is that he's learned over the many years that revealing his powers will only bring pain and suffering not only to him, but to those around him. So he has chosen to hide his abilities and bide his time on Earth until he can return to his home planet. As a result, he has also chosen not to establish any meaningful relationships. As a professor at a university, his youthful appearance, due to a slower aging process, also works against him as it causes others to not take him as seriously as they should. Including the JJH character.



For the KSH character, the actor needs to be able to play the straight man since the JJH character will be initiating most of the comedy. He has an affected sense of detachment that is often betrayed by how easily he's flustered, especially in emotional situations. I think Nicholas Hoult would work. He's already played "bespectacled brainiac" as Hank McCoy in the X-Men movies, so we'd buy him as a young clean-cut professor type. He's done comedy before in About A Boy, which was a fantastic movie, as well as TV with Skins. And the age gap between him and Lizzy Caplan would be almost exactly that of KSH and JJH. This perceived age gap is very important because it's a crucial element to the comedy between JJH and KSH. In the beginning, JJH treats KSH like a junior, which he clearly looks like. Of course, he is extremely annoyed by this since he is hundreds of years older than she is, but has to play along in order to maintain his cover.

***

It feels almost impossible to expect the American remake to capture what made the original so popular. Trying to successfully translating certain cultural norms (e.g. Korean celebrity culture, formal vs. informal speech, references to other dramas, the whole chicken and beer thing) might as well be a pipe dream. Moreover, a famous actress like JJH already has an established reputation among Asian audiences, so she could play with or against type for (meta) comedic effect. In an international remake, that's much harder to duplicate.

So in hopes of getting you more acclimated to the original, I'll end this post with a music video of the show, even though it makes it seem like a pure melodrama when it's more of a comedy (at least in the beginning). Enjoy!





Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gilmore Girls has male fans too!



To all male fans of Gilmore Girls: I am one of you!

In the past few weeks, the internet has had a mobgasm over the fact that Gilmore Girls is coming to Netflix. A library's worth of articles and tweets have been created to commemorate this historic event. But speaking of tweets, here is a blatantly prejudiced one:


Hey! Levels of testosterone and Gilmore Girls fandom are not an inversely proportional relationship! Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean that I can't fall in love with impossibly charming mother-daughter duos, encyclopedic carpet bombardments of cultural references, and heartwarming Carole King theme songs played over images of sepia-toned foliage.

And I'm not some bandwagon jumper. Starting way back in my early high school years, I've been telling people that I like this show. Yes, some people snickered at me. Some even outright laughed. But I just had to be true to myself. Plus, I had some covert allies around the school as word was that my 10th grade English teacher, who was an ex-football player and looked like a nose tackle, watched it religiously.

Yet I never watched the show regularly. In fact, I barely followed any shows at that age, even though I watched a fair amount of TV. Perhaps being deprived of cable for most of my childhood and thus having to live off of syndicated reruns on basic channels made me afraid of commitment when it came to TV shows.

Syndicated Simpsons reruns... Where would I be without you?



Anyway, so I would just catch Gilmore Girls reruns whenever I stumbled upon them, which meant my chronological grasp of the show was often messed up. Look at Rory making out with some guy named Dean. Now, she's in college and wondering what to do with her life. Oh wait, now she's back in prep school and fighting with Paris while her mom is going out with her English teacher. And where did this Jess guy come from all of a sudden?

But I still really liked the show, even though there were significant gaps in my understanding of the overall narrative. Why? Well, there were lots of other reasons. Okay okay, let's the obvious out of the way and say that Lorelai Gilmore is the MILF to end all MILFs. She's funny, she's irreverent, she's got an attitude that'll cut you down while she has the sweetest smile on her face, and yeah, she's really hot too.

♫ And here's to you, Ms. Gilmore... 



All right, requisite fanboying over. The show can also be very educational because of its mad index of references. I learned who Nikolai Gogol was because of an episode I watched! It's amazing what TV can teach you. For example, you can get a Ebertesque level of film knowledge just by learning many of the movie references in The Simpsons.

The show is also funny in way that's more subtle than a traditional sitcom but not as cynically smug as modern non-sitcom-coms. There are so many crazy people in town who would be murder-inducing in real life but are great comic relief in little morsels, like Michel and Taylor and Miss Patty. Also, in retrospect, it's really funny watching Melissa McCarthy play all nice and sweet as the adorable chef, Sookie.

The show's location was also a main factor. Stars Hollow makes small New England towns seem like the coolest place ever. And why not? The trees are colourful, the townsfolk are earthy and quirky (and not in a forced Zach Braffian kind of way), and it's so cozy that it's like living in a little Lego set full of factory-inked smiles. Okay, maybe in real life, that town would be a drab grey for 10 months out of the year, the townsfolk may be provincial and possibly racist, and the small community may get suffocatingly gossipy a la The Scarlet Letter. But it looked so good on TV!

Stage 4 bibliophilia

And then there was Rory. I thought that she was the kind of girl I would want for a girlfriend. By "kind of girl," I don't mean in terms of looks. Rather, I mean someone who was bookish and smart, but also full of heart and feelings. Rory was an academic superstar, but she also had romantic persuasions too, like when she stopped wanting to go to Chilton because she met Dean. Plus, her character was just a few years older than me, so when she was fretting about college admissions, that was something I could immediately relate to. Maybe I too would get to study in New England and meet someone like her in class...

So many other reasons too! The whole Gilmore family reconciliation saga that slowly developed throughout the series was wonderful, and I think everybody (especially young people) can relate to having to not only deal with parents' expectations but also coming to terms with their point of view. Hey, maybe mom and dad aren't that way just because they're jerks who want to sabotage you. Maybe they're human too and they're the way they are because they have had their own disappointments and unfulfilled desires to deal with.

Oh she could be so mean. Or so sweet.

Seven seasons is a daunting challenge for any TV viewer to try to tackle, and perhaps that's why I have been reluctant to go from start to finish with Gilmore Girls. But this could be the perfect opportunity to catch up on a show that I've really liked and admired but never properly watched.

So let's all of us guy fans of this show NOT sit on the sidelines on this joyous occasion. Proclaim your love too!


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Maze Runner: Continuing the Successful Trend of Diversity in Entertainment?



A weekend ago, The Maze Runner managed to avoid the non-Hunger Games YA movie franchise curse of sucking. It was released to decent reviews and opened at #1 in the box office not only in the U.S. but also in over 50 other countries. Unlike, say, His Dark Materials, this series won't be a stillborn franchise as it has been given the green light to expand into further sequels. All in all, not bad for a movie without a recognizable star and whose source material wasn't a household name.

Also this past Thursday, Shonda Rhimes' new TV show, How To Get Away With Murder, drew in 14 million viewers for its series premiere. A couple of weeks ago, the Idris Elba movie No Good Deed opened atop the box office despite some terrible reviews. And this weekend, the Denzel Washington vehicle The Equalizer has won the box office.

What do all these very successful movies and TV shows have in common? A very diverse cast. 

Shonda Rhimes is my hero, especially for representing Philly in "How To Get Away With Murder"


There were severable reasons that I wanted to see The Maze Runner. First, the concept of a killer mystery maze was damn cool, and as one of my primal fears is death by crushing, many of the action sequences in the trailer inherently gripped me. Seriously, death by crushing: worst death ever. 

Second, Kaya Scodelario was in it. Effy! I watched the entire first season of Skins just for you! And you only showed up in the beginning and at the end! And you barely spoke! 

Effy!

Cool action sequences. Pretty girl. All standard and understandable reasons to go see a movie, right?

But I also went to see The Maze Runner for a guy: the character of Minho, to be more specific. Having never read the books, I didn't know that he even existed. So when I first saw the trailer, I was shocked to see an Asian male character featured prominently in the cast. Upon further research, I found out that he was actually an important character who got to do really cool things. 

There doesn't seem to be any data out right now that verifies that one of the key reasons that this movie succeeded was that a lot of movie goers felt as I did, but if we look at the bigger picture of recent trends (e.g. Kevin Hart is just raking it in!) as well as academic studies that show that diversity is good business, it seems to be a no-brainer that having solid non-White characters in a good movie will only help its prospects. 

Rufio! Rufio! Roooo! Feeeeee! Ohhhhhhhh!
And yeah, The Maze Runner is an entertaining movie that effectively mashes up Lord of the Flies, Peter Pan, and Lost. The audience is just thrown into the confusing and nightmarish world of the maze, which helps us identify with the bewildered protagonist, Thomas (played by Dylan O'Brien). You keep watching the movie because you want to know who built this monstrosity and for what reason. 

Ki Hong Lee as Minho
Minho turns out to be an awesome character as well (as verified by the two female friends with whom I went to see the movie). The other characters are engaging and complex enough, including the leader Alby and his right-hand man, Newt (aka the little lovesick boy from Love Actually who still looks exactly the same except he's twice as tall now). Even the resident bully, Gally, makes a lot of sense if you really think about what he says.

The moral argument for diversity was always the easy argument to make. From an artistic angle, a creative work still has some obligation to be rooted in reality. That's why we rightly snort in derision at Mary Sue stories in which a thinly-veiled author avatar smites all his enemies with ease, always has the pithy one-liner comeback in every single situation, and has conventionally beautiful girls fall in love with him for no discernible reason. So if your story takes place in multicultural location like Los Angeles or New York City, or in a non-Western setting like Ancient China, it's probably best not to always shoehorn in a White male hero into the middle of the story. There's also the socio-political angle that recognizes that having one's story told is a right and that by denying some groups the opportunity to share their narratives, we are effectively treating them as second-class citizens.

Middle Easterners are such a diverse people. This is what Persians look like when they're heroes.




And this is what Persians look like when they're villains.
More often than not, however, the defenders of the status quo use the economic argument to stifle debate. The rather bizarre and offensive rationale is that Americans (mainly White Americans) just aren't willing to identify and empathize with any character outside of their own racial group. Even though native Beijingers could cry at the hardships of a turn-of-the-century Philadelphian debutante in Titanic and Ghanians could root for a British schoolwizard in the Harry Potter movies, Americans just don't want to see Black or Asian or Latino characters. This is an attitude that I've harshly criticized before.

Well, what if that argument no longer stands? What if it's not just morally beneficial to be inclusive in storytelling, but also economically as well? Will we finally see more changes? I definitely think so, and I think these changes are happening now. But I would also be interested in hearing what the new excuses against diversity will be and whether they will have any influence.

Some may ask: What does it matter? Some may even accuse people like me of being the racist ones for being so concerned about race. Shouldn't we all just be "color-blind" and appreciate a character for her character, and a story for its story?

That sounds all well and good, until you realize that we still live in a world where someone like Mae Jemison never believed that she could be an astronaut until she saw Uhuru in Star Trek. Or where a young Barack Obama, as someone who didn't exactly look like George Washington, never realized the potential for a prominent career in public service until he saw Sen. Daniel Inouye in the Watergate hearings.

Representation matters. And in a society where people are still superficially classified and pre-judged by their race and gender, it really matters.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Jeremy Lin: A Brief History of Post-Linsanity, Part II


Continued from Part I.

Jeremy Lin's first year as an NBA starter was full of ups and downs. He did answer the most pressing question of whether he actually belonged in the league: YES. But how good could he be? While he did show that he could still replicate Linsanity-like games, he also had games in which he could be very ineffective and invisible. The arc of his season was trending very positively until a terrible playoff debut (for the whole team) and an injury ended his year on a sour note.

In the offseason, the Rockets signed Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers, and Patrick Beverley—with a reputation for being a defensive maven—was eventually named the new starting point guard.

What would Lin's second season have in store?


11) A blazing hot start and potential Sixth Man of the Year

Lin actually ended up starting the 4 of the first 5 games of the season due to Beverley injuring his ribs in the opener. The Rockets got off to a promising 3-0 start before hitting a wall against their first true test against the Los Angeles Clippers. In that game, Chris Paul scored 23 points and dished out 17 assists. Lin put up respectable numbers but was no match. This perhaps reinforced the narrative that while Lin wasn't a bad player, he just wasn't the PG to take the Rockets to the top.

However, with Beverley and Harden rotating in and out of the lineup due to injuries, Lin still got plenty of minutes and starts. Against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 11 and the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 13, he put up 31 and 34 points, respectively. It was the first back-to-back 30-point games in his career.

A few nights later, in what was becoming a common occurrence, Lin balled against the Knicks, putting up 21 points. At about 15 games into the season, Lin was averaging somewhere around 18 points with a PER of approximately 18 as well. He was also shooting a ridiculously high percentage from 3-point range. Though most people knew that he probably couldn't keep it up, it was a very promising indication that Lin could become a deadly weapon for a contending Rockets team.

Luckily, I was there in person to see Lin drop 34 points and 11 assists against the Sixers


12) Injuries

Unfortunately, Lin ran into a series of niggling injury problems that derailed his momentum. He missed about 1.5 weeks in late November and early December, then another week in mid-December. Though Lin had been an ironman the prior season (playoffs notwithstanding), his explosive style of play had always worried observers about his longevity. Those fears were perhaps becoming more true.

He recovered with a 20-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks a few days before Christmas to show everyone that he was back.

A drive-and-dunk is usually a pretty good way to alleviate injury worries


13) Thunderous Disaster

On January 16, 2014, the Rockets set an unwanted record by following up a 73-point first half with a 19-point second half. It was the worst halftime collapse in NBA history. Even worse, it came against the Thunder, which was the type of elite team that the Rockets had to beat regularly if they wanted to be a serious contender. On Dec. 29, they had already lost to the Thunder, so this loss was doubly tough.

Even worse for Lin, he played very poorly in both games (though to be fair, almost all other Rockets players did as well). It once again fed into the belief that Lin wasn't the PG that the Rockets needed to compete in the cutthroat Western Conference.

This tweet was TCR

14) Filling in for Harden whenever needed

Harden not only dominated the ball, but he also dominated minutes. Naturally, this resulted in a lot of wear-and-tear on his body, and in the 2013-14 regular season, there would be runs of games where he would be out. In those instances, Lin reliably stepped up and even if he didn't put up gaudy stats, he usually ran the offense effectively and the team won.

The most important instance of this occurred was on Jan. 28 and 29, when the Rockets had a back-to-back against two fierce rivals, the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks. Harden was out with an injured thumb, but the Rockets coped without their superstar and won two key games in a tough situation.

Lin had 18 points and 8 assists against the Spurs on Jan. 28, 2014.


15) Triple double 

Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lin became the first player since Brian Shaw in 1995 to collect a triple double while playing fewer than 30 minutes. Rod Strickland and Russell Westbrook are the other players in NBA history to have accomplished this feat. There's nobody else besides this quartet.

Yes, it was the pre-LeLove Cavs, but a triple double, especially off the bench and in less than 30 minutes of playing time, is still a really difficult thing to pull off. There's a reason that so few players in the history of the NBA have accomplished it.


Lin recorded 15 points, 10 assists, and 11 rebounds against the Cavaliers on Feb. 1, 2014.


16) Inconsistent minutes

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, after his triple double performance, Lin saw his minutes fluctuate wildly for the rest of the season. Some games, he would only play 15 minutes, while in others, he'd get up to 35 minutes. His field goal attempts usually remained in the single digits as well. This was in stark contrast to the prior season when he'd average 30+ minutes with double digit field goal attempts. Uncoincidentally, he played much better in March/April of 2013 than in March/April of 2014.

Lin remaining on the bench was becoming more and more of a common sight

17) Securing home court in first round

Lin had one more big game left in the regular season, though. On March 9, 2014, he had a classic Linsanity game against the Rockets' likely first round playoff opponent, the Portland Trailblazers. In the game, he went to the free throw line 12 times, a telltale indicator of his Linsanity-like attacking mindset. It had been nearly 2 months since he'd been to the charity stripe 10+ times.

More importantly, it likely secured home court advantage for the Rockets in the first round by giving them breathing room for 4th seed in the West.

Lin put up 26 points against the Trail Blazers on March 9, 2014.


18) Playoffs!

Expectations were much bigger for the Rockets in the 2014 playoffs than the 2013 version. This team could no longer be happy just to be there; they were expected to at least seriously challenge for the conference finals. Their first round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers was viewed as a favourable one, as the Blazers were young, inexperienced, and defensively challenged. Plus, they weren't the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, or the Los Angeles Clippers, who were all teams that gave the Rockets a lot of trouble.

Then LaMarcus Aldridge happened. And just as importantly, James Harden didn't.

LMA put up consecutive 40+ points against the Rockets in Games 1 and 2, completely destroying their home court advantage. Meanwhile, Harden became a liability on both offence (by jacking up inefficient long-range jump shots) and defense (by being himself).

Lin had a good Game 1 by exploding in the late stages of the game. He was the engine of his team's offence in overtime, and he had what would've been the game-winning basket in the last minute had it not been for the Rockets' inability to play close-out defense.

Lin also had a decent Game 3, where he crucially recovered a teammate's turnover in overtime and slung a kick-out pass to Troy Daniels for the game-winning shot.

Sadly, Lin gave much ammo for his critics in the closing minutes of Game 4. The Rockets had the lead with very little time remaining, and Lin rebounded the ball. He tried to dribble out of the backcourt, but he didn't see Mo Williams on his tail and eventually lost the ball. The Blazers missed their next shot, got the offensive rebound, and then hit a 3. They would eventually go on to win the game.

For most of Lin's critics on fan forums, this was the last straw. Never mind the fact that Harden had been arguably the worst starting player in the entire playoffs (let alone the worst star player). Or that Chandler Parsons had apparently forgotten how to shoot a 3-pointer at the worst time possible. Or that Kevin McHale let LMA torch the Rockets for 2 straight games before making adjustments by putting Omer Asik on him. No, to these people, the series had been lost on that single turnover by Lin. Never mind the fact that the Rockets had overtime to make up for his mistake, or that Patrick Beverley also turned the ball over on the last play of the game where they had a chance to tie.

No, it was all Jeremy's fault.

Fittingly, Lin would quickly recover with a stellar Game 5. With Beverley out injured and Harden still in a disastrous funk, Lin had to carry the team to victory with a 21 point, 4 assist performance. His team at least avoided elimination on home court.

The Rockets would've taken the Blazers to a Game 7 and a potential to pull off a rarely-seen comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, were it not for Damian Lillard's magnificent last minute buzzer beater. Predictably, the defensive lapse that allowed one of the league's best 3-point shooters to get so wide open was caused by Harden and Parsons, the two key Rockets players who just had not shown up for most of the series.


Lin finally had a signature playoff performance by putting up 21 points and 4 assists against
the Blazers in an elimination game on April 30, 2014.


19) On the way out of Texas

When the Rockets lost in 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013, there was reason to be optimistic; when the Rockets lost in 6 against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2014, there was reason to panic.

Despite the addition of Dwight Howard and the further development of the rest of its players, the team had done no better than before. The fanbase clamoured for another star player, and the management seemed to agree. With Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh becoming free agents, the team legitimately dreamed of a Big Three of their own.

This almost certainly meant that Lin was going to be traded. With his $8 million salary cap taking up space, especially compared to Patrick Beverley's minuscule contract, Lin just wasn't in the future plans of his team anymore. First, Omer Asik got traded to the New Orleans Hornets. Then the Lin-Melo Jersey Fiasco happened, which was another development in the curious entanglement of the careers of Lin and Carmelo Anthony. Then the rumours started to solidify: Lin was going to the Philadelphia 76ers or the Milwaukee Bucks, or the...

The writing is on the wall when this happens




20) Landing in Los Angeles as a Laker

On July 13, 2014, Lin was officially traded to the Lakers for basically nothing. The Rockets desperately needed the cap space to sign Chris Bosh, and the Los Angeles Lakers had the cap space to sign him. Plus, they needed a point guard with only the deteriorating Steve Nash, the limited Kendall Marshall, and the rookie Jordan Clarkson on board.

Lin is probably not a spiteful person, but on some level, he must have enjoyed the absolute disaster that befell the Rockets after his trade. Bosh ended up staying with the Miami Heat, which meant that the Rockets had made a "catastrophic trade" by dealing away one of their key players for cap space that no longer had a superstar to fill it. To make things worse, Chandler Parsons was offered a max deal by hated rivals, the Dallas Mavericks. Without Bosh in tow, the Rockets weren't willing to invest in Parsons, and they allowed him to walk for nothing. Daryl Morey, the Rockets' GM who is frequently hailed as a genius among dumb jocks, was tagged for once as the biggest loser of the offseason.

As for what awaits Lin as a Laker, things seem mostly positive. The press coverage has been quite flattering as most sportswriters and commentators seem to recognize that he had two productive years in Houston. The new Laker coach Byron Scott also seems to appreciate Lin's strengths and qualities. There is also a chance for Lin to learn from one of the greatest PGs of all time in Steve Nash, as well as the likelihood of major minutes due to a lack of experience and depth at that position. And while there is always the threat of incurring the wrath of the Black Mamba, Lin is a better player than the likes of Smush Parker or Kwame Brown (not to mention the fact that Kobe Bryant has probably mellowed out a bit with age).

Lin appears to have landed in the most ideal situation possible, and chances are greater than not that he will have a career year. There is a strong chance that he won't remain a Laker after this year, but Lin has previously shown that he doesn't need to stay in a place for very long to make a lasting impact.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jeremy Lin: A Brief History of Post-Linsanity, Part I


Confession: Since Jeremy Lin was signed by the Houston Rockets as a Restricted Free Agent, I have watched almost every game he has played in. I have also spent a lot of time perusing fan forums to get an accurate gauge on the perception of the overall narrative of his career.

People paid a lot of attention to Linsanity, but not so much to Lin's career afterwards. Maybe it's because he hasn't been shattering records as a Rocket as he did as a Knick. Maybe it's because Houston is a less exciting market than New York City. Maybe it's because people's attention spans are short, and they maxed out a lifetime's worth of Jeremy Lin interest in a blazing short-lived supernova.

Whatever the reasons are, a lack of attention means a lack of knowledge. Now that Lin has been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, some may wonder what happened in Houston. Some may think that he turned out to be a flash-in-the-pan bust who eventually got exposed. Others may think that he's a star player who was smothered by an immature offensive system that took away his best skills.

As someone who has closely followed the post-Linsanity era, I will try to set the record straight in the following timeline.


1) Offseason Drama

There is still a lot of confusion as to how the "divorce" between Lin and the New York Knicks came about. It went something like this: (1) Lin was a Restricted Free Agent, meaning that the Knicks could match any offer that another team gave Lin, and Lin would have to stay with the Knicks; (2) Knicks could've made an offer right at the start and locked Lin up, but they told him to go see what he could find on the open market; (3) Rockets offered him what was effectively a 3-year $20 million offer, which the Knicks said they would match; (4) the Rockets desperately needed a point guard as they had allowed Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic to walk recently, so they changed the offer to a 3-year $25 million offer with a "poison pill" backloaded contract that would really screw the Knicks in the final year; (5) Knicks refused to match and thus, Lin became a Rocket.

Carmelo Anthony's now-infamous remarks about it being a "ridiculous contract" are now well-documented. Statements like that certainly didn't help the suspicions that the Melo-dominated Knicks weren't too ecstatic about the rise of Lin on what was supposed to be Melo's team.

Now that Lin's future was set, several questions were set to be resolved by next season. Was he overpaid? Was Linsanity a total fluke? Would the Knicks be vindicated in their unpopular decision to let him go? Could he really be an offensive focal point with a barebones Rockets team whose best player was Kevin Martin?

Then everything changed with the James Harden trade.

Few people actually know the truth behind the how or why of Lin's departure from the Knicks





2) A Promising Debut

Nobody knew how good the Rockets would be. Nobody knew if James Harden was worth superstar money. Nobody knew if Jeremy Lin even belonged in the NBA.

Those questions were quickly answered within the first two games of the 2012-13 regular season after the Rockets blew away the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks. James Harden went absolutely mad, exploding for 37 and 45 points, respectively. A mere Sixth Man, he was not.

As for Lin, he did very well too. In his first game against Detroit, he recorded 12 pts, 8 assists, and 4 steals. In his second game against Atlanta, he notched 21 points, 7 assists, and 12 rebounds.

Such explosive debuts had some sports publications wondering if the Harden-Lin backcourt could be the best in the NBA.


Lin nearly got a triple double against the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 11, 2012.


3) November slump, Toney Douglas Factor

Unfortunately for Lin, his November went into a bit of a tailspin, and many of his stat lines in the last 3 weeks of that month were unflattering with lots of games where he only scored in the single digits. Perhaps the lowest point came on Nov. 16 when the Rockets lost to emerging rivals, the Portland Trail Blazers, in overtime. Despite putting up a double-double with 11 points and 11 assists, Lin saw much of his closing time minutes given to Toney Douglas. Yes, the same Toney Douglas that was once on Deadspin's Shit List.

It was the first signs that perhaps Lin didn't have the trust of head coach Kevin McHale and the rest of his staff, which would ignite perpetual combustible debates on fan forums.

From the start, Lin never seemed to fully have the trust or support of head coach Kevin McHale




4) First game against New York Knicks

Lin's shaky start to his post-Linsanity career wasn't helped by the fact that the Knicks seemed to be thriving without him. The Knicks were 8-2 by the time they came to Houston to play the Rockets, including victories over the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers. Raymond Felton, the guy they brought in to replace Lin, was doing pretty well despite worries over fitness and character issues that saw him depart acrimoniously from Portland the season before. At this point, it kind of seemed as though the Knicks had clearly made the right decision to not re-sign Lin.

Lin had a lot riding on this game. If he put up another bad stat line, it would simply further fuel the blossoming narrative that he wasn't very good and that the Knicks were better off without him.

He finished the night with 13 points, 3 assists, and 7 rebounds, which weren't amazing numbers but were still respectable. More importantly, his team won. Lin didn't show much nerves either, knocking down 50% of his field goals and nailing some of the jump shots that hadn't been falling for him recently.


Lin got an important psychological victory over the New York Knicks on Nov. 23, 2012.


5) Linsanity Redux vs. San Antonio Spurs

While some of the skeptics may have been willing to concede that Lin was at least a serviceable player in the NBA, very few would've said that he could ever again be the offensive force that he was as a Knick.

Those doubts were answered after Lin went crazy for 38 points against the none-too-slouchy San Antonio Spurs. In what would become a familiar refrain in his career as a Rocket, Lin exploded because Harden was not completely dominating the ball; in this case, he was out injured.

However, the Rockets lost, which put a damper on Lin's resurgent night. Still, it was a reassuring sign that he had genuine untapped offensive potential. Also, Tony Parker said that Lin reminded him of when he was younger, and that Lin was just a reliable jump shot away from being a good PG. I always thought that Parker was a stand-up dude for saying such nice things about a young player on a rival team.


Lin equalled his career high in points against the Spurs on Dec. 10, 2012.


6) First return to Madison Square Garden

Lin's first return to MSG was bound to be full of uncertainty and emotion. How would he be received? There were lots of Knicks fans who thought that he had ditched the team for more money, when the truth was that he never had an offer from the Knicks in the first place. The Knicks were still red-hot at this point with an 18-5 record, and they were surely looking for revenge for their loss in Houston earlier.

After Lin put up 22 points and 9 assists, it was becoming more and more apparent that he had a knack for rising up in the big games.

It was also pretty sweet how in the pre-game introductions, the Knicks fans cheered the former Knick.

Lin put up 22 points and 9 assists in his first return to MSG on Dec. 17, 2012.


7) Patrick Beverley arrives in Houston

In early January, the Rockets acquired Patrick Beverley from Europe. He was a former Eurocup MVP with Spartak St. Petersburg. A little while later, Toney Douglas would be traded to the Sacramento Kings, making Beverley the main backup to Lin.

On fan forums, Lin's critics had the curious tendency of overhyping any Rockets PG who wasn't Lin. In the preseason, D-Leaguer Scott Machado was their favourite. Then it became Toney Douglas. Now, it became Beverley.

It unfortunately and unfairly set up Lin and Beverley as enemies among fans, which was a shame because the two players had a great friendship and played very well when on the court together. Bev's defensive tenacity and Lin's offensive aggressiveness made them a very good backcourt.

Patrick Beverley would eventually distinguish himself as a feisty defender, most notoriously injuring Russell Westbrook in the 2013 playoffs

8) Games against the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder

Fact is that the Western Conference is just loaded, so any wins against rival teams are doubly precious. In 2012-13, the Rockets were a fringe playoff team, but it was still clear that with a few upgrades, they could potentially join the heavyweight contenders. Wins against elite teams like the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder made those notions even more tantalizingly real.

In these two big wins, Lin had 28 points and 9 assists (against Golden State), and 29 points and 7 assists (against OKC).


Lin's best game in his first season as a Rocket was against OKC on March 20, 2012.


9) Post-All Star break success

After the All-Star Break on February 17, 2013, Lin settled into a nice groove and finished off the season in very good form. He averaged around 16 points and 6 assists, which were excellent stats for a PG in his first year as a starter. His 3pt% was also edging close to 40%, which was crucial because Houston's offense required good shooters to space the floor. Were it not for a particularly ugly week from March 22-29 in which Lin could barely score, he would've had even better stats.

Lin had a superb April, which led to high expectations for the playoffs

10) Playoff debut disaster and injury

After Lin's extended run of good play in the second half of the season and the Rockets' unexpected playoff charge, there were high hopes. Sure, the Rockets were probably not going to get past the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, but they were probably going to put up a good fight and their young players were going to make a name for themselves.

Game 1 was an unparalleled disaster for the Rockets. They lost by 29 points. Harden shot 6-19, and Lin didn't do much better at 1-7.

Lin wouldn't get much of a chance to redeem himself in Game 2 as not only was Beverley chosen to start over him, but he also suffered a chest injury and had to leave the game at halftime. He had been playing decently up to that point, however, with 7 points on 3-7 shooting.

The Rockets eventually lost in 6 games, which was a pretty decent result. But as for Lin, he couldn't contribute much with his injury and had to sit out a couple of games. He was brought in for Game 6, but he was nowhere near his usual self and played poorly. Beverley, on the other hand, played quite well as a starter, showing an offensive skill-set that few thought he had.

Lin's injury was frustrating for everybody, especially since he had played so well in the prior months





11) Preseason and loss of starting position

Though the 2013 playoffs couldn't have been called a disappointment for the Rockets, there was the sense that this was a team rapidly on the rise that had taken the Oklahoma City Thunder to 6 games, albeit without Russell Westbrook, and as such, it could've done a bit more. With James Harden firmly established as a superstar, and with Chandler Parsons now commonly viewed as a rising star, some Rockets fans looked for position upgrades.

Given the persistent doubts about Lin's "true" ability as well his no-show in the playoffs, the PG position was thought to be wide open. Patrick Beverley had acquitted himself well in the brief time he was a starter, and some Rockets fans felt that they had finally found the "3-and-D" PG needed to play with the ball-dominant Harden.

Kevin McHale remained non-committal during the preseason, saying that he had "two starting point guards." This did not bode well for Lin, who had started all games for the Rockets the previous season. Eventually, Beverley was chosen to be the starter. The popular opinion was that it was because he was a better fit due to his defense and 3-point shooting skills, as opposed to him being an overall better player.

A bright spot for Lin was during the Rockets' excursion to Taiwan. In his ancestral home country and against the then-elite Pacers, he put on quite a show.

Oh yeah, and the Dwight Howard thing happened.


Skip to 4:35 for the chase-down block on Danny Granger.

Go to Part II here!


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