LeBron James. Kevin Durant. Steph Curry. Jeremy Lin. All of these players have one thing in common. Not all of them have won a title, or an MVP award, or even currently have an NBA roster spot—what these players have in common is that they each have their own signature sneaker.
Having a signature shoe is one of the most prestigious accomplishments for a professional basketball player. At the age of 32, Santa Cruz Warriors guard Jeremy Lin is one of the select few who can claim that honor.
Lin’s first shoe, the JLin One, is made by the Chinese athletic wear brand Xtep. Signing Lin was the company’s first foray into basketball.
“For me, that was really, really intriguing,” Lin told B/R Kicks in January, “to be able to create something brand new.”
Lin is not the first American player to sign a shoe deal with a Chinese company. Notably, Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson signed with Anta back in 2015. However, Lin is the first Asian American to ever have a signature shoe, and he also claims to be the oldest.
The main colorway for the JLin One, “Water,” is a light blue design that represents walking on water, according to Lin, who is a devout Christian.
“You know, the game has brought me to my knees so many times, so many times,” Lin said in a promo for his shoes, “and God always gives me the strength to get back up.”
The kicks sold out in less than a day when they released back in November, proving that Lin still has a strong following nine years after Linsanity.
“Nothing Stops Me” is the slogan for Lin and Xtep’s partnership, and it’s easy to understand why. Lin was not highly recruited coming out of high school. After graduating from Harvard, he went undrafted in 2010. After initially struggling to hold a roster spot, he exploded onto the NBA scene by famously leading the Knicks on a hot streak in 2012, a phase known around the world as “Linsanity.” He even made Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. After spending the next several seasons bouncing around the league, he became an NBA champion as a bench contributor with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
Still, his on-court profile is a far cry from those of the bona fide stars who also have their initials on a pair of sneakers. Lin has never been selected to an All-Star team, and he has a career average of less than 12 points per game. That’s not to say that Lin hasn’t garnered some incredible accomplishments in his career. On the contrary, he’s proven time and time again that he can be a valuable piece of any roster, and it wouldn’t be a bad bet to say he makes another one before he retires. His box score impact isn’t at the same level as the other players with signature shoes, but his value goes beyond the numbers.
The NBA is extremely popular in China, and it knows this (as became evident after the Daryl Morey controversy two years ago). Lin’s popularity in the country makes the Xtep match a logical one. But Jeremy Lin, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, is not just an inspirational figure to basketball fans in Asia, but to Asian American fans in particular.
The last Asian player to generate as much buzz in the NBA was Hall of Famer Yao Ming, but their respective paths to the NBA couldn’t be more different. Despite leading his high school to a California Division II championship and being named player of the year as a senior, Lin didn’t receive a single D1 scholarship offer. After proving himself again for four years at Harvard, no NBA teams were willing to invest a draft pick in him. Lin’s low draft stock was likely a product of the assumption that Asian Americans can’t play basketball at the professional level.
Yao, on the other hand, is the son of two professional basketball players, stands seven-and-a-half feet tall (compared to Lin’s 6’3”), and developed his game in China where his ethnicity was not an obstacle. He was spared the full brunt of the discrimination faced by Lin, and in the 2002 NBA Draft, he was drafted with the first overall pick.
While certainly following in Yao’s footsteps, Lin’s story of resilience and success despite unlikely odds is truly unique. Lin’s success has brought representation of Asian Americans to the NBA and has shown a generation of kids that their dreams are not off-limits.
The release of Jeremy Lin’s first signature sneaker is long overdue for one of the most important Asian American athletes of the 21st century. Currently playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League in his eleventh year as a pro, he’ll have to once again prove himself worthy of an NBA roster spot, but given his track record and recent performances, there’s a great chance he’ll do just that.