Members of Toronto's Asian community who went to the Air Canada centre on Tuesday to cheer on New York Knicks' point guard Jeremy Lin — rather than the hometown Raptors — saw first-hand that so-called Lin-sanity is more than just hype.
Lin won the game, hitting a three-pointer with less than a second remaining and provoking a large cheer from the crowd despite handing Toronto its 21st loss.
The 23-year-old point guard, born in Los Angeles to Taiwanese-born parents, is the talk of basketball and a source of inspiration for Asian fans, who haven’t had an NBA star they could call their own since retired centre Yao Ming made his debut in 2002.
Cut by two NBA teams and considered a long shot to stay on the Knicks roster even a few weeks ago, Lin’s red-hot play has kept him on the court.
A series of scorching performances had helped Lin earn NBA player of the week honours. He has now led his team to six straight victories.
In each of those performances, Lin scored more than 20 points, including a 38-point game against the Lakers on Friday. He scored 27 points against the Raptors.
But beyond the score sheet, Lin’s rise is earning praise from Asian hoops fans who love the game but see few players who share their heritage wearing an NBA uniform.
"Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch two weeks ago and now he’s on the front page of every newspaper in the United States," said Metro Morning host Matt Galloway.
Galloway interviewed Canadian Chinese Youth Athletics Association president Clement Chu on Tuesday's show.
Chu said Lin’s effect on the sport has already been massive because Lin, at 200 pounds and six feet, five inches tall, has achieved NBA success largely on the strength of his smart play.
"Basketball is the No. 1 sport for Chinese youth across the world but what Jeremy Lin does is allow them to have a role model, someone who can make it to the next level," he said.
Chu said that unlike Yao, Lin is an athlete with whom most Asians can identify.
"Yao was the first one who had mainstream success," said Chu. "But how identifiable a young person could be to someone who’s seven-foot-five and who's bred and raised to play basketball overseas compared to a guy who’s grown up in California who has his own blogging site … who’s only about six-foot-three and 200 pounds. That’s something that’s a little more attainable for someone who is a local youth.
'A face that's identifiable'
"It’s a face that’s identifiable," said Chu. "It’s like before how you didn’t see anchor people of colour on the news. This is something that’s exciting and different in the community."
At a pickup game in a Toronto basketball court, Leon Yen of the Toronto's Taiwanese Canadian Association said Lin reminds him of another point guard well known to Canadians.
"Lin is smart, he plays smart," said Yen. "He knows when to do the right thing, like Steve Nash. Think of him like a younger Steve Nash. When I see him play, he reminds me of Nash in his earlier days."
Yen organized a group purchase of 300 tickets for Tuesday’s game. He and his pack of fellow Lin fans planned to organize cheers for their favourite point guard and even to paint their faces with Canadian and Taiwanese flags.
"This is quite big," said Leon before the game. "Because his parents are from Taiwan, we are proud of him. I can see us in him."
For his part Lin, a devout Christian, said earlier Tuesday that his rapid success is a "miracle from God."
"If you look back at my story, it doesn't matter where you look, God's fingerprints are all over the place," he said. "There's a lot of things that had to happen that I just couldn't control and you can try to call it coincidence but at the end of the day there's about 20 or 30 things when you combine them all that had to happen at the right time for me to be here. That's why I call it a miracle."