Asian-American Players Show Their Love of the Game

“Keep moving the ball,” Chris Chin said.

“When somebody’s driving to the middle,” Dennis Liew added, “cut in from the side so you have a chance at a rebound.”

Over the next two periods, the Rockits closed the gap on Hard Work, scoring 8 straight points during one stretch, but they lost, 40-33.

As N.B.A. players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James prepared for the All-Star Game in Orlando, Fla., players like Patrick Lee, Serena Poon and Patricia Tiu played in a series of games at the Joseph T. St. Lawrence Complex, where men’s and women’s teams from the East Coast had gathered.

It may have taken the rapid rise of point guard to familiarize the wider basketball world with the idea of a Taiwanese-American point guard, but thriving Asian-American leagues have existed across the country for years.

The tournament included teams from New York, New Jersey, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia. In addition to the Rockits and Hard Work, there were the Hurricanes, the Suns, the Sabres and the Scarlet Knights. One team called itself Fastball. Another used the name Hype Beast.

Mike Mon, the coach of Fastball, from Washington, said that Asian-American teams began organizing leagues in various cities decades ago when they had difficulty finding spots in existing leagues. The Asian-American leagues continued, he said, partly because the players shared a heritage.

“Nobody in this gym sees you for your skin color or hair color,” said Mon, an official with the North American Chinese Basketball Association. “Every single one of these guys at some point has dealt with the fact that he has been the only Asian player on the court.”

Poon, a 33-year-old forward and guard from Manhattan’s Chinatown who was playing for one of two women’s Rockits teams, said that Asian-American leagues provided “a sense of camaraderie.”

The games took place on three courts separated by blue plastic dividers. The players darted from hoop to hoop as walkers and joggers circled overhead on an elevated track and racquetball players occasionally stopped to watch.

A scattering of parents and friends watched the games from folding chairs or low plastic risers, but mostly the players were their own audience, watching one another’s games and taking turns keeping score.

One of those players, Lee, a 26-year-old point guard for the Rockits, said he had grown up rooting for players like John Starks and Charles Oakley.

The amount of attention focused on Lin sometimes felt odd, Lee said, as if Lin were now a standard bearer for all Asian-American players. But, Lee added, he counted himself among the growing number of fans partly because Lin had become a symbol.

“We all root for him because he is the eye-opener for the whole world,” Lee said. “He always has the ball in his hand; he’s the one pushing the offense and making things happen.”

Kevin Low, who coached the women’s Rockits teams, said that there were about a half-dozen Asian-American basketball organizations based in Manhattan’s Chinatown and that they were highly competitive, with some coaches attending high school games to scout players with Asian names.

By early afternoon, the Rockits team with Liew and Lee had lost both of its games. But the women’s team with Poon and Tiu, a 19-year-old point guard who played at Molloy College on Long Island, was undefeated.

Later in the afternoon, the Rockits men’s team lost, 37-33, to another Philadelphia team, the Suns. Across the gym, the women’s team lost to its Suns counterpart, 35-30.

Among the Rockits was Michelle Lam, 17, who wore an orange Knicks T-shirt bearing the number 17 and Lin’s name as she watched a game.

Lam said she was wearing the shirt for the first time.

“It’s Jeremy Lin,” she said in a tone that suggested no further explanation was needed. “He’s Chinese and he stands out.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.