My team and I had just arrived at our away game, one of many we played in the New York-New Jersey area. We were in the locker room. “Hurry up and change. Be on the court in five minutes to warm up and stretch,” said our coach. My teammates and I quickly changed into our jerseys and shorts and put on our indoor basketball shoes.
As we ran into the gym, we saw that the bleachers were packed with kids of all ages. As soon as I touched the courts, I heard one kid in the crowd yell, “the Asian does not belong. He probably can’t play anyway.” I laughed it off with my teammates.
But the comments didn’t stop. I heard many kids yell from the bleachers: “Chinaman!” “Chinky!” “Yellow!” I saw kids in the stands pushing their skin back from their face, mocking my eyes. I tried to ignore it. “Lay-up lines, then jumpers, my coach said after we stretched.”
I was the first one on the line to take a lay-up and I heard, “You can’t do that in the game, Chinaman. Warm that bench up.” One coach said, “Don’t worry about them. Play your game and your play will shut them up.”
I shook it off. After our lay-up line was over, it was jump shots. I was first again. I made it again and I heard, “Ching Chong.”
I was not the only one being called racist slurs. Once other teammates began shooting jump shots, kids in the crowd yelled, “slave!” and “Black boy!”
I whispered to my teammates, “I hate these damn kids.”
“Forget them, bro. Let’s show them what’s up on the court,” one said.
Crowds at away games can be brutal because they try to mentally attack the visiting team. They try to get into our heads so we lose focus. So this was not the first time my teammates and I had encountered racist taunts. I was often targeted as the sole Asian American. Kids yelled from the bleachers or from the sidelines when we were warming up, “Chink, you cannot play,” or “Fake Jeremy Lin.” Other kids on our team are Black, as is one of our coaches.
Although we assumed we weren’t the only kids that got called racist slurs at basketball games, it didn’t make it any easier for us to endure.
Losing Our Cool
A couple of weeks into the season, just like any away game, as soon as we stepped onto the court, racist comments like “Blacky” or “Hey, Mr. Yao Ming” started. And just like any away game, we all did our best to ignore them and focus on what was happening within the 94 by 50 feet of the basketball court.
We started off strong. Our defense was lockdown and our offense was smooth. We were undefeated. We just wanted to get this win and leave. The other team was aggressive and tried to rough us up. They constantly committed hard fouls and dirty plays. We complained to the referees, but they kept saying, “I did not see it. I will take a look next time.” Although we were winning 24-18, we were getting fed up with our opponent and the crowd’s slurs: “Stick to math. Basketball is not for you.” “Ape, don’t go too wild in this game.” “Hey you monkey, miss that shot for me.”
The second quarter began, and my teammates and I also committed hard fouls to show the other team we were unafraid. We could hear the crowd’s racist comments: “Can I pick up my laundry at your laundromat?” “I would like to order takeout please.” “How’s the plantation going?”
At halftime, we went to our locker room. We were all pissed and tired although we were still on top 38-34. My coaches tried to keep us calm: “Control the game, guys. Keep it going and don’t let them play with your emotions!”
Once the third quarter started, we were motivated to get this W. We came out hot and went up 44-34. Then one of my teammates went up for a layup and an opposing player pushed him hard to the floor. The crowd cheered. My teammate went up towards him and said, “Don’t foul me that hard again or else!”
They started punching each other. Then the security guards broke up the fight. The fight seemed to bring out the worst racist comments from those in the crowd. “Slave boy, pack your bags and go back to Africa!” Both players were ejected.
It’s Up to Us to Stop It
The game continued, but we lost our flow. We lost 70-75. We shook hands in an orderly line after the game, but it was not easy to do that after what happened. We were disappointed with our first loss of the season, but there was an issue that was bigger than basketball: racism and discrimination.
Following the game, our team captain called a meeting in the locker room with both coaches and the team. One of my teammates said, “I feel powerless that I can never shut them up or speak up.” I said, “We’ve been through this since we’ve been playing competitive basketball. It is up to us to come up with ways to stop it.”
Everyone expressed how they felt and then we came up with a plan that we all agreed on: Before each game, both at home and away, one of our coaches would ask the referees, security guards, and other staff not to allow racist remarks from either players or spectators. If they hear such comments, he suggested they issue one warning. If the remarks don’t stop the individual has to leave the gym or the player is ejected from the game.
A lot of my teammates thought change would be immediate but I knew it would be gradual. At first, both kids in the stands and players ignored our new rules and were thrown out for their continuous remarks.
But over the course of last season, the fear of getting kicked out of the game and the understanding that what they were saying is racist began to sink in. Now, crowds come to watch our games and cheer the team they want to win. Opposing players are now focused more on playing the game we all love.
I am proud of myself and my teammates that we spoke up. We can’t end racism everywhere, but at least we were able to end it on our basketball court.