He’s not quite a local boy made good, but he’ll do: NBA sensation Jeremy Lin, born and bred in the US, is inspiring a feverish following in his ancestral home of Taiwan, a society craving true heroes.
Lin, born 23 years ago in the US to Taiwanese parents, speaks Mandarin only haltingly, but his triumphs with the New York Knicks are being hailed as grounds for nationwide celebration.
“Lin-Sanity: Coming from behind to score five wins in a row,” the Chinese-language United Daily News roared across its front page after another successful weekend for Lin, the first US-born NBA player of Taiwanese descent.
Both the print and electronic media have pulled out all the stops to add to the adulation of the 191cm tall Harvard graduate, citing every new achievement with relish.
The joy knew no bounds after point guard Lin’s career-high 38 points over the weekend led the Knicks to victory, outshining LA Lakers’ superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant.
“Hao the god: writing a New York legend,” the Chinese-language China Times said, coining a nickname based on the basketball prodigy’s Chinese name, Lin Shu-hao.
Sports journalists have gone into overdrive to unveil new tidbits of Lin-ology, interviewing relatives in central Taiwan and excavating long-forgotten examples of academic work that got him into Harvard.
The Lin craze has also set off new interest in basketball, which in Taiwan has a semi-professional league, with thousands of players now heading for the courts in their precious spare time.
Even for members of Taiwan’s seven-team basketball league, Lin’s story is an inspiration.
“The past record suggests it’s nearly impossible for Chinese players to survive in the NBA, unless you’re 229cm [tall] like Yao Ming,” said Michael Lee, deputy secretary-general to the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association.
“It’s dominated by Westerners, and especially African-Americans, but Lin has overcome his natural restrictions and played smart as a point guard,” Lee said.
Lin was undrafted after playing at Harvard University and cut in December by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, but when he got his opportunity with the injury-hit Knicks, he grasped it with both hands.
Yueh Ying-li, a member of the Taipei-based Dacin Tigers, said he was moved by Lin’s determination and rigorous preparations, which paid off handsomely when he made it into the Knicks rotation this month.
“Chance favors the prepared mind,” he said.
Hung Chia-chun, a 16-year-old Taipei student, hailed Lin as a star in the mould of Yani Tseng, the world’s No. 1 female golfer, and Wang Chen-ming, formerly the New York Yankees’ ace pitcher.
“He’s another glory of Taiwan,” Hung said.
Over the past 10 days, Lin stories have competed for attention with another major story involving a young celebrity, who has been in the public eye for very different reasons.
Makiyo, a Taiwanese-Japanese singing starlet known for her hard partying, has been indicted for involvement in the beating of a Taipei taxi driver, setting off a bout of national soul-searching about the lack of civility in popular culture.
By contrast, Lin is a positive role model and despite his tenuous links to Taiwan, he is a point of pride in a nation which struggles for international recognition, according to a political science professor, Hsu Yung-ming.
“Taiwan has few stories with which to impress international society,” said Hsu, of Taipei’s Soochow University.