I love everything about basketball: the squeaking of the sneakers, the give-and-go, the pick-and-roll and the sound of the net when the ball pierces right through the hoop. When I tell people my passion for basketball with my reading glasses on, I can sense that some people still cannot look past my ethnicity. I can thoroughly visualize them creating images of me in my room, overly zealous, pounding the controller to NBA 2K11 on my PlayStation. Certainly, I am not a stellar performer like Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American who recently made it to the NBA, but I am assured of my ability as a ball player, and I counter the doubtful reactions with, “I start for Hampshire College.” Basketball is just a game or a form of entertainment for many people, but for me, basketball is my mentor.
I was born in Seoul, Korea, where basketball was only relevant to me by collecting Michael Jordan trading cards. When I was nine our family immigrated to Los Angeles where I was promptly presented with numerous obstacles, with no tools to overcome them. My parents, though well educated, had a tough time securing a job because of their lack of English. Learning English was indeed arduous, but for me, it was more burdensome to deal with others who habitually taunted me for speaking Konglish, a mixture of Korean and English. Not having rice and kimchi at the school cafeteria was also stunning but I did not want to deal with the raised eyebrows for bringing a sacked lunch tailored just for my taste. In the face of adversity, I withdrew myself from the society and became an idle bystander of my life. But my mind-set changed at the age of 11 when I found my vital support – basketball.
Whether I was simply dribbling the ball on the drive way or playing at the local league in Diamond Bar, basketball became my definitive sanctuary in my uncertain adolescent environment. Pushed beyond my limits by my parents to excel at school? I went to the park with my basketball. When I was called a C word that rhymes with ink, I put the ball in the hoop to ease my mind. Pressured by my friends to join a gang? I ignored their offer by playing basketball. Basketball is a great equalizer because even though I was the only Asian American player in numerous teams throughout my career, it did not matter.
All the players had a different background with a different narrative of their own, but our common goal of winning kept us intact. Especially in the high school team, I was the target of racial slurs and spiteful insults, all having to do with my Asian ethnicity, but the hoop was color blind and the ball did not care who was dribbling it. I might have released some frustration in the locker room after the game, but my teammates were extremely supportive and in the face of harsh spectators, I did not lose myself on the court. While playing basketball I learned to be the leader of my own life and not let external features beyond my control obstruct my perception of what is important in my life.
In the summer of 2007, only a month away from attending Hampshire College, another calamity swept through our family. After relegating to multiple jobs requiring him to work over 10 hours a day, my dad invested all of his money to acquire a wholesale oil-painting business, but the acquisition was a mucky fraud. The previous owner knew that my dad was an immigrant and that he was limited in English, so he modified the bank statements, inventory, and even customer records to sell his near bankrupt business. My dad was ashamed of signing the contract, the detrimental contract that took everything away from my family. With no income and no money in my parents’ savings account, I was in fear that I might have to drop out of college, but I was not ready to give up my dreams. Basketball has taught me to be unbending in the face of adversity. I made numerous phone calls to my relatives in Korea and the financial aid office at Hampshire College to secure just enough money to pay for my first tuition. It was discomforting, but I did not want my pride to impede my future.
As an immigrant and as an Asian American, many challenges have presented themselves throughout my life, but fortunately, the lessons that I learned through basketball has helped me seize the situation and conquer them through hard work and perseverance. My personal experience as an immigrant has been difficult, but the journey was enjoyable. I owe it all to basketball for instilling in me the desire and the passion to succeed, and I am positive these qualities will help me excel in the study of law.
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