TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — In achievement-oriented Taiwan, where studying is a pastime sport among young people, the outdoor complex of basketball courts near National Taiwan University 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 island of 23 million people 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 one of the least dynamic teams in the NBA and whose parents spent their formative years in the central Taiwanese county of Changhua.
Though Lin himself was born and raised in the United States, Taiwan is proud to claim him as its own, seeing in the Harvard graduate’s rapid rise from basketball obscurity to global stardom the same virtues they say propelled their island 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 1-on-1 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 appropriate career.
“I admit it,” said Wang, smiling broadly. “Banking is probably a better bet for us.”
But 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 3-4 times a week. “The main thing is he’s Asian. He doesn’t have the natural advantages of the black and white players in the NBA. But he practices so much, maybe 7-8 hours a day, just to improve his game.”
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.
But Lin’s achievement appears to be promoting an increased appreciation for the importance of sport in creating well-rounded individuals, even on bookish Taiwan.
Noting an upsurge in basketball interest — both in watching and playing — Mayor Eric Chu of the suburban cluster of Xinbei City near Taipei 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 Xinbei 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 students jumped up and down and clapped red noisemakers to cheer their hero on.
Another Lin convert is Taiwan President Ma ying-jeou, who invoked the star’s name to underscore the closeness of the island’s relations with the United States, while greeting a visiting 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.
That seems to be an understatement. On the day that Ma spoke, all four Taiwanese morning newspapers ran full color Page 1 photographs of Lin in action against the Dallas Mavericks, while TV news stations aired endless commentaries on his exploits.
While American publications have tried to outdo each other with Lin-based puns, their Taiwanese counterparts refer to him simply as the “Hao” kid, a play on words that exploits his second Chinese name, which means both “good” and “heroic.”