Dribble. Dribble. I glanced at the scoreboard. Fifteen seconds. I waited patiently. Dribble. Now eight seconds. It was time to make a move. I dribbled impetuously to my favorite spot on the court and pulled for the shot. This was the chance to prove myself; my moment to show the naysayers that even though no one was pulling for my success at the college level, I could rise to the challenge. This was the game winning shot: clunk, back to reality. If the ball had pierced the net, I would have been celebrated for my confident jump-shot, but it did not, and I was criticized for being different from the rest of the team, for being an Asian American.
Indeed, I am not a typical basketball player. I was born in Seoul, Korea. I love Hollywood movies and Korean dramas. I am the youngest in my family, but the first to touch a basketball, and the first to apply to law school. No one ever mentioned it openly, but I knew at a young age that playing basketball was going to be an uphill battle as an Asian American. Within the Los Angeles District, I was one of the very few Asian American high school basketball players amongst abundant African-American players. Whenever I stepped out of the locker room at an away game, people were amazed to see me in a uniform.
But within the team, my difference was appreciated. My teammates were eager to listen to my music, and eager to learn about my culture, but when the game started, they treated me as a teammate. From my perspective, they were also different, but I enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to interact with a community that was dissimilar to the one I was accustomed to at home. I was criticized harshly by the fans for my mistakes on the basketball court, but my teammates support kept me in the game and I emerged more resilient and determined to succeed. My experience as a basketball player has been tough, but it also gave me a noteworthy perspective on diversity. I learned that diversity is not about being different, but appreciating the differences, and having the urge and the capability to learn from those differences.
I love everything about basketball: the squeaking of the sneakers, the pick-and-roll, the feeling of finding an open teammate and surprising people with my agility and athleticism. 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. 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 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 in school? I went to the park with my basketball. When I was confronted with racial slurs, I put the ball in the hoop to ease my mind. Basketball has been a great equalizer because even though I was the only Asian American player in numerous teams throughout my career, within the team, my ethnicity did not matter. All the players had a different background with a different narrative of their own, but our teamwork and our common goal of winning kept us intact.
Especially in my 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 colorblind and the ball did not care who was dribbling it. I might have released some frustration in the locker room after the games, but my teammates were extremely supportive, and in the face of cynical spectators, I remained resilient. Rather than avoiding the hecklers by observing the game from the bench, I wanted to prove them wrong, and in the process, I developed the ability to transform their pessimism into a determined drive for success.
In the summer of 2007, I was faced with an obstacle of almost dropping out of college because of my family’s financial situation, but the characteristics I developed in basketball transpired directly into my life. After relegating to multiple jobs, my dad invested all of his savings to acquire an oil-painting business, but the acquisition was a mucky fraud. With no income, I was in fear that I might have to drop out of college, but basketball has taught me to be unbending in the face of adversity. I made numerous agonizing 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 overcome numerous challenges that I will face in the future.
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