12:43pm

Wed February 15, 2012
Asia

American-Born 'Linderella' Is The Pride Of China

Originally published on Wed February 15, 2012 5:55 pm

How do you say "Linsanity" in Chinese? Lin Shuhao feng.

And how do you quantify it? Jeremy Lin has more than a million followers so far on the Chinese version of Twitter.

The legend of Lin, the Asian-American point guard for the New York Knicks whose success story draws comparisons to a fairy tale, continues to grow. On Tuesday night, he scored 27 points, including the winning shot, in the Knicks' victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Lin has been a sensation in the U.S., but he has also become a point of pride in China. Although Lin was born in America, many Chinese basketball fans are now claiming him as their own.

'His Ancestry Is Chinese'

At a gym in Shanghai this week, basketball players say they've been awed by Lin's performance in the past week and a half.

Wang Qi plays at the court regularly. He says that when Lin scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday, he became a believer.

"I never imagined he could score so many points in a game against the Lakers," says Wang, who works for a local university. "He is China's pride."

It's a cold, rainy night at the court, a four-story walk-up with graffiti-scrawled walls and open windows. Wang is playing half-court in a burgundy sweater and jeans.

During a break between games, Wang says he doesn't see Lin as American.

"What country is he from? He's Chinese," Wang says. "His ancestry is Chinese."

Actually, Lin grew up in California and attended Harvard. Even Lin's parents aren't from mainland China, but from the island of Taiwan, a de facto independent country that China claims as its own.

But Wang won't budge on his adopted basketball star.

"Although he was born in the U.S., he doesn't represent America," Wang says. "He represents the Chinese. His skin is the skin of the yellow people."

The reference to skin color is offensive in English, but Chinese say it in Mandarin all the time.

Yang Yi, deputy chief editor of China's most popular sports newspaper, Titan Sports, says his sports blog is loaded with comments from basketball fans who see themselves in Lin.

"They only see Lin's face, a Chinese face, and Lin Shuhao, a Chinese name, so they use this very Chinese way of thinking," Yang says. "They think: 'Why can't Lin play for the Chinese national basketball team? If he could play for China, how great would that be?' "

Comparisons To Yao Ming

Not everyone in China is consumed by the Knicks' new star. Back at the Shanghai basketball court, Li Mengyun is shooting baskets with his left hand while talking on a cellphone with his right.

When asked about Jeremy Lin, Wang replies, "I've heard of him, but I'm not very clear. Ever since Yao Ming retired, I haven't been paying as much attention to the NBA."

Yao Ming is a huge star in China, as well as the country's most successful NBA player. He retired last summer from the Houston Rockets after a series of injuries. China's millions of hard-core basketball fans were heartbroken.

Li, who sells iPhones for a living, says Yao is irreplaceable.

"Yao is very, very famous, you know. I think no Chinese player can play as well as him," Li says.

But Yang, the sports editor, says Lin could have more appeal over time. Until now, Chinese players in the NBA have been 7-foot-plus centers like Yao and Wang Zhizhi, who played for the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat.

Lin is a 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound guard — much easier for most Chinese players to relate to.

"Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi were excellent players, but fans can hardly learn their styles, because without Yao's stature, you can't learn his way of playing," says Yang. "But Lin is someone everybody can imitate."

Yang says Jeremy Lin has tremendous marketing potential in China. The NBA is working to add Knicks games to Chinese TV and websites. And Lin's No. 17 jersey has already sold out on China's e-commerce giant, Taobao.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF NBA GAME BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Tied at 87. Lin with the ball in his hands.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American point guard for the New York Knicks, the dream continued last night. He scored 27 points and made this winning shot to beat the Toronto Raptors.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBA GAME BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Lin for the win, got it.

BLOCK: Lin has been a sensation here in the U.S., but he's also become a point of pride in China. Although Lin was born in America, many Chinese basketball fans are now claiming him as their own. NPR's Frank Langfitt has our story from Shanghai.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: How do you say Linsanity in Chinese?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Lin Shuhao feng.

LANGFITT: And how do you quantify it? Lin has more than a million followers so far on the Chinese version of Twitter.

At a gym in Shanghai last night, basketball players say they've been awed by Lin's performance in the past week and a half.

Wang Qi plays here regularly. He says, when Lin scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles last Friday, he became a believer.

WANG QI: (Through Translator) I never imagined he could score so many points in a game against the Lakers. He is China's pride.

LANGFITT: It's a cold, rainy night. Wang is playing half court in a burgundy sweater and jeans. Wang, who works for a local university, says he doesn't see Lin as American.

QI: (Through Translator) What country is he from? He's Chinese. His ancestry is Chinese. He immigrated to the United States.

LANGFITT: Actually, Lin grew up in California and went to Harvard.

QI: (Foreign language spoken).

LANGFITT: I point out that even Lin's parents aren't from China, but from the island of Taiwan, a de facto independent country that China claims is its own. Wang fires back.

QI: (Through Translator) Although Lin was born in the U.S., he doesn't represent America. He represents the Chinese. His skin is the skin of the yellow people.

LANGFITT: The reference to skin color is offensive in English, but Chinese say it in Mandarin all the time.

Yang Yi is deputy chief editor of China's most popular sports newspaper. He says his sports blog is loaded with comments from basketball fans who see themselves in Lin.

YANG YI: (Through Translator) They only see Lin's face, a Chinese face, and Lin Shuhao, a Chinese name, so they use this very Chinese way of thinking. They think, why can't Lin play for the Chinese national basketball team? If he could play for China, how great would that be?

LANGFITT: Not everyone is consumed by the Knicks' new star. Back at the Shanghai basketball court, Li Mengyun is shooting baskets with his left hand while talking on his cell phone with his right. I asked him about Jeremy Lin.

LI MENGYUN: (Through Translator) I've heard of him, but I don't know much about him. Ever since Yao Ming returned, I haven't been paying that much attention to the NBA.

LANGFITT: Yao Ming is a huge star here and China's most successful NBA player. He retired last summer from the Houston Rockets after a series of injuries. China's millions of hard core basketball fans were heartbroken.

Li, who sells iPhones for a living, says Yao is irreplaceable.

MENGYUN: Yao is very, very famous, you know. I think no Chinese can play as well as him.

LANGFITT: But Yang, the sports editor, says Lin could have more appeal over time. Until now, Chinese players in the NBA have been seven foot-plus centers, like Yao and Wang Zhizhi, who played for the Mavericks and the Heat. Lin is a six foot three inch, 200 pound guard, much easier for most Chinese players to relate to.

YI: (Through Translator) Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi were excellent players, but fans could hardly learn their styles because, without Yao's stature, you can't learn his way of playing. But Lin is somebody everybody can imitate.

LANGFITT: Yang says Jeremy Lin has tremendous marketing potential here. The NBA is working to add Knicks games to Chinese TV and websites and Lin's number 17 jersey has already sold out on China's eCommerce giant, Taobao.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.