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True Story Blog

True Story—If Lin Can: How Jeremy Lin Inspired Asian Americans to Shoot for the Stars

Married to a big sports fan, I know how excited people get about March Madness. But I didn't know anything about "Linsanity" until I read the true story If Lin Can, written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huỳnh Kim Liên.


In February 2012, Jeremy Lin went from sitting on the bench to leading the Knick's victorious six games in a row. The frenzy over his meteoric rise to fame inspired the world and a whole generation of young Asian Americans. Told in second-person, If Lin Can is both a biography of a champion and a cheerleader for the reader.


Today author Richard Ho discusses creating this unique book.


Was there one aspect of Jeremy Lin's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you throughout the writing process?

There's a great anecdote about Lin sleeping on his teammate Landry Fields' couch during his first few weeks with the Knicks. His status with the team was so tenuous that he didn't even bother to get more permanent housing. Why rent an expensive New York City apartment when you might get cut any day? Of course, in the span of two weeks, Lin went from an unknown bench player to one of the most famous celebrities in the world. It's a classic rags-to-riches tale (or maybe couch-to-court?) that emphasizes both Lin's humble origins and the sheer unlikeliness of his rise.


What was the most challenging thing about creating this book?

Finding the proper balance between biographical snapshot and inspirational pep talk. This isn't a traditional biography that details Lin's entire life from birth to now and everything in between. Instead, I wanted to use Lin's story as a springboard to show how three young Asian American children are inspired by his sudden success. The challenge was to make sure that we were properly honoring Lin, while also emphasizing that his story is really every Asian kid's story.


While researching Lin, which fact surprised you?

How much racism he experienced as a player. I knew he dealt with taunts and jeers, but I never realized how pervasive it was. Growing up in the diversity of New York, I was a bit naïve to think that truly malicious racism was a thing of the past. Seeing the resurgence of anti-Asian sentiment in recent years, I realize how important it is for Asian children to have books like this, to reassure them that they're not alone.


What made you decide to use a second-person point of view? Did you write a draft in third-person at some point?

The manuscript was always written in second-person. I never tried a draft in third-person, because I wanted to speak directly to the Asian kids in the book—and to all Asian kids reading it.


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?

There are some biographies of Lin that I found helpful, of course. But since the focus was more on the impact of Linsanity than the granular details of Lin's life, the most helpful sources were actually video highlights of Knicks games. Watching those clips brought me back to the heady days of Linsanity, and they were a great source of inspiration while writing.


How did you select the timeframe for your book?

It was an easy choice to center the book on the two-week stretch of Linsanity in February 2012, and how watching Lin during this time inspires the three children to believe that their own dreams can come true. 


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?

Research is important in order to get the "who," "what," "where," and "when" down pat. But don't forget the "why." Why does this story need to be told? What makes it surprising or enlightening or inspiring? You're not just writing an historical account. Find the essence of the subject, the thing that makes it worth exploring, and build the story around that.


If you could pick the ideal place for a If Lin Can storywalk, where would it be?

Even though Lin is a California kid, his rise to stardom happened in New York. So I would say the streets of Manhattan, or maybe inside Madison Square Garden!


What other books would you recommend to readers who love If Lin Can?

For sports, and basketball in particular, there are a few recently or soon-to-be published picture books about Wataru Misaka, a Japanese American player who broke the color barrier in the NBA and also played for the Knicks. (Rising Above by Hayley Diep and Naomi Giddings is out now, and Wat Takes His Shot by Cheryl Kim and Nat Iwata will be out in June.) For Asian empowerment, I recommend the Eyes series (Eyes That Kiss in the Corners and Eyes That Speak to the Stars) by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho (no relation to either of them).




I recommend this pep-talk picture-book biography on four shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:

  • True Stories~Basketball
  • True Stories~Athletes
  • True Stories~Activists 
  • True Stories~Asian & AAPI Stories


To take a peek inside the book, checkout my Booktok.


Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for If Lin Can:

  • February 4: The New York Knicks played the New Jersey Nets on February 4, 2012. Lin scored 25 points and recorded 7 assists in a 99-92 Knicks win. That was the game that kicked off Linsanity.
  • March: March Madness
  • May: AANHPI Month
  • August 23 (1988): Jeremy Lin's birthday
  • November 6: National Basketball Day

Richard Ho has worked as a magazine journalist, a scriptwriter, an editor, and an author. His highly acclaimed picture books include Red RoverThe Lost Package, and Year of the Cat.

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