In achievement-oriented Taiwan, where studying seems to be the preferred pastime activity among young people, the outdoor complex of basketball courts near National Taiwan University (NTU) is normally a pretty lonely place, more used to hosting raindrops and discarded food wrappers than pivoting feet and jump shots.
All that is starting to change as the nation enters its fourth week of “Linsanity,” the worldwide phenomenon following the improbable success of New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin, whose talent has helped energize the team and whose parents spent their formative years in Changhua County.
Though Lin himself was born and raised in the US, Taiwanese are proud to claim him as their own, seeing in the Harvard graduate’s rapid rise from basketball obscurity to global stardom the same virtues they say propelled their country from agricultural backwater to high-tech powerhouse: hard work, devotion to family and modesty.
On a recent weekday afternoon, the NTU basketball complex featured a spirited one-on-one matchup between Jake Chang and Spencer Wang, two 19-year-old economics students who share a dream of playing in the NBA, even if their modest size and less-than-lightning speed suggest their studies will lead to a more conventional career.
“I admit it,” Wang said, smiling broadly. “Banking is probably a better bet for us.”
However, that doesn’t diminish Lin’s importance to them or their regard for his accomplishments on the biggest basketball stage in the world.
“Lin really inspires me to be a better player,” said Wang, who hits the NTU courts three to four times a week. “The main thing is he’s Asian.”
Adds Chang: “How can you not be inspired by Lin? He wasn’t very famous, but he worked hard in the offseason and now he’s a star.”
Their comments underscore the durability of the “no shortcuts to success” ethos on Taiwan, a vital cog in the global information technology industry, where parents of third-graders routinely exchange tips on how best to approach their children’s math homework.
However, Lin’s achievement appears to be promoting an increased appreciation for the importance of sport in creating well-rounded individuals, even in bookish Taiwan.
Noting an upsurge in basketball interest — both in watching and playing — New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu ordered officials to replenish missing nets at community and school basketball courts and to ensure that night lighting at outdoor facilities was working properly.
“Jeremy Lin’s success tells Taiwanese parents that good players can be good students too,” he said.
His message may be getting through. On Tuesday morning, 4,000 New Taipei City high school students were allowed time off from classes to see a televised broadcast of the Knicks game against the New Jersey Nets — a contest the Knicks lost after Lin fouled out.
“The students pleaded and I agreed to do this on an experimental basis,” explained principal Wang Chi-kuang, as his charges jumped up and down and clapped red noisemakers to cheer their hero on.
Another Lin convert is President Ma Ying-jeou, who invoked the star’s name to underscore the closeness of the country’s relations with the US, while greeting a visiting US congressional delegation on Tuesday morning.
“We are both democracies, we are both concerned with human rights and peace and we both appreciate the basketball skills of Jeremy Lin,” Ma said.