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Yao went on to score 19 or more points 268 times in his eight-year NBA All-Star career, and Barkley kissed a donkey on national television.

Lin was similarly underestimated. He led his high school team to a state championship, but was ignored by every Division I college team except Harvard. He was cut by two NBA teams and could barely get on the floor in practice, until the injury-riddled Knicks handed him the ball almost in desperation. Now Lin owns an NBA record for most points in the first five games as a starter since 1976.

So when someone labels Lin “deceptively athletic” even though he has a typical point-guard build, or when his teammate Tyson Chandler says, perhaps jokingly, that he didn’t know the 6-foot-3 (1.91-meter) Lin could dunk, some see stereotypes afoot.

That was a point made by Knicks superfan Spike Lee. Brainstorming a slew of Lin nicknames, he gleefully tweeted, “Jeremy `Stop Asian Profile’ Lin.”

“The word athlete is really not associated with people of Asian descent,” said Helen Zia, author of “Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People.”

Zia said Asians were first viewed in America as “coolies,” laboring on railroads, laundry or in restaurants. Then they were a stealthy and diabolical wartime enemy, then rivals stealing American jobs with cheap labor. Today the labor stereotype has transferred to another arena, with Asians viewed as math-and-science robots toiling over books and computer screens.

Zia calls Lin’s rise in a game as athletic as basketball “stunning” and “a real turning point.”

Nobody deliberately excluded Lin because of his ethnicity, Zia said: “That’s not the point. The pervasive and insidious nature of racism keeps us from seeing what’s right in front of us.”

Lin has declined to dwell on racial issues, but he did tweet that when he first joined the Knicks, “Every time I try to get into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I’m a trainer.”

There have been countless Asian-based puns, like the New York Post’s “Amasian” headline. Boxing champ Floyd Mayweather tweeted that Lin was getting attention just because he’s Asian. And Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock tweeted a cruelly racist remark about Lin’s manhood. (Whitlock later apologized.)

It didn’t work with Lin. Women were in the stands this week with “Be My Va-LIN-tine” signs. Websites were matchmaking Lin with women of all ethnicities. A YouTube video shows an Asian girl dumping her white boyfriend for an Asian man after watching Lin on the court.

“He’s giving Asian men some swag,” said Jeffrey Ng, founder and creative director of the Staple Design clothing and creative agency in New York City.

When Ng started selling hip-hop apparel 15 years ago, there were no Asian-Americans in his business. Meeting with clients, “I always felt this, like, why are you here? No matter how good my clothing was, I had to first answer the question of, why are you in this room?”

Lin had to work twice as hard to overcome that first question of, `Why are you on this court?’”

Peter Kim, an actor in Los Angeles, said Lin’s success could open up more opportunities in his business, which puts few Asians in leading or romantic roles.

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