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Is Basketball's Jeremy Lin the Light of Taiwan?

From a benchwarmer to an NBA basketball player who led the New York Knicks to seven consecutive victories in February 2012, Jeremy Lin's inspiring Cinderella story has incited “Linsanity” in the United States and Taiwan. It has also occupied the pages of every major American newspaper, and indeed swept the world. (Update: Lin was removed from the court in late March to recover from a knee injury)

Jeremy Lin's past life, his religious faith, his experience studying at Harvard University, his status as an Asian American and other such points of interest have been closely examined by the media. The outstanding performance of Lin also caused American society to critically examine the issue of racial discrimination in the NBA.

Jeremy Lin. From Wikipedia (CC: SA 2.0)

Jeremy Lin's parents are immigrants from Taiwan. With his father's encouragement, he fell in love with basketball and represented his high school and university competitively, achieving quite good results. However, Jeremy Lin's road to professional basketball was in no way smooth. Lin had been passed over twice in two NBA drafts, signed with the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, and was later let go by both teams before he was signed by the New York Knicks.

An unlikely rise to fame

However, the contract Lin signed with the Knicks was a non-guaranteed “probationary contract”. As a result, he didn't want to rashly enter into a long-term lease in New York. So, fellow Knicks player and good friend Landry Fields let Lin sleep on his sofa temporarily. After Jeremy Lin's rise to fame, that sofa was held up by the media as a “magic couch.”

At the time, even with a star line-up, the New York Knicks were unable to effectively integrate their team, resulting in just 8 wins in 23 games. As a result, there was speculation that if the Knicks lost again to the New Jersey Nets on February 4, the Knicks would fall below the Nets in the rankings, and coach Mike D'Antoni would be in danger of being fired. However, in the February 4 game against the Nets, D'Antoni took a shot in the dark by sending benchwarmer Jeremy Lin onto the field. Lin then scored 25 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds, helping the Knicks to victory. This game released Jeremy Lin from the worry of being dropped, and allowed him to smoothly obtain a guaranteed contract. Because of his dazzling performance in the game, Lin was consistently placed in the starting line-up in subsequent games, repeatedly breaking his personal best and leading the Knicks to an impressive seven consecutive victories.

The outstanding performance of Asian American Jeremy Lin has also caused all areas of American society to critically examine the issue of racial discrimination in the NBA. Few NBA players have received higher education or are devout Christians. Add to that the fact that Asian people are often subject to racial discrimination in the sporting field, and this is another reason for Jeremy Lin's explosion in popularity. Before Jeremy Lin became famous, spectators would reportedly sometimes call out discriminatory remarks like “Go back where you came from!” In a match against Connecticut when Lin was studying at Harvard, the first time he stepped up to the free throw line, a bigoted basketball fan yelled “Won ton soup!” from the stands. However, Jeremy Lin broke the stereotype, proving with his abilities that he could hold a place in the NBA, which is largely dominated by African American players.

“The light of Taiwan”

Jeremy Lin's meteoric rise to fame and explosion in popularity raised a wave of ‘Linsanity’ among the Taiwanese people, and made him the pride of Taiwan. All major newspapers have extravagantly portrayed him as “the light of Taiwan.”

However, “piet” on the forum Mobile 01 sparked heated online discussion after reposting an article [zh] by Tsinghua University physics professor Wang Daowei: “Nothing simple about Jeremy's parents” [zh]. Wang Daowei believes that Taiwanese parents don't encourage their children to pursue their dreams in life, but rather make them follow a less risky path:

与别人一样拼明星学校、选热门科系与作别人羡慕的职业。这样的想法虽是出自于父母亲的“善意”,但却根深蒂固于我们社会,成为台湾教育改革始终无法成功的根本原因。事实上,这也是正是林书豪的家庭教育(而非学校教育)与我们最大的不同之处。因为有这样的父母,也才能造就林书豪在NBA的杰出表现。

Strive to get into a famous university like everyone else, choose popular subjects and the kind of profession everyone envies. Although this kind of thinking comes from parents’ “best intentions”, it is also deeply rooted in our society, and is the fundamental reason that reform of Taiwanese education has not succeeded. In reality, this is the biggest difference between Jeremy Lin's education at home (not at school) and ours. Only because he had such parents was Jeremy Lin able to achieve his remarkable performance in the NBA.

According to Taiwanese blogger Heiyu (‘Black Rain’), Jeremy Lin is “the light of America” [zh].

林书豪生在美国、长在美国,他从小对自己的认知就是一个美国人。不管是他的教育过程或篮球实力训练过程,都是美国这个大环境造就的结果,这跟中国、台湾、或韩国哪有关系呢?…..

林书豪的成就,是美国这个国家的成就。我们该学习的,是如何让台湾下一代对运动有兴趣的孩子们能够拥有相似够水准的训练、发展、与求职环境,而非抱着捡便宜的心态,到处想沾其他国家的光芒。

Jeremy Lin was born in America, grew up in America, has seen himself as American since he was a child. Whether it's his education or his basketball training, his results were all brought about in an American environment. How does this have anything to do with China, Taiwan or Korea? …
Jeremy Lin's accomplishments are the accomplishments of America. What we should learn from this is how to give the next generation of Taiwanese children who are interested in sport access to a similarly adequate standard of training, development and employment environment. We shouldn't take an opportunistic attitude, trying to bask in another country's glory.

Additionally, some bloggers think it's unimportant whether Jeremy Lin is “the light of Taiwan.” Study Success Blog believes that in comparison, the much more important question is why Jeremy Lin achieved such a remarkable performance. [zh]:

和自己多少有一点关连的人(不管是民族、读过的学校、甚至是头发颜色)、有了杰出的表现时,会觉得与有荣焉也是正常的,除非是深山独居者或精神病患之类的,脱离正常的心理现象。所以血统什么的,我的看法是根本就无所谓,沾光就沾光,这不是理所当然吗?

When someone connected to you to some degree (whether by race, a school you went to, even hair colour) achieves something remarkable, it's normal to feel a sense of shared pride, unless you're a mountain-dwelling hermit or mentally ill or something, unaffected by normal psychological phenomena. So, blood relations and so on, in my view it just doesn't matter, if you want to bask in reflected glory, go ahead, isn't that perfectly normal?

Online discussion on popular BBS forum PTT has also been intense. “Safelove's” claim that Jeremy Lin is a disgrace to Taiwanese basketball [zh] and is not the light of Taiwan, received a heated response.

林书豪今天在NBA有多成功,就代表台湾篮球界有多失败,我们篮球打输人最大的藉口就是基因。但林书豪告诉我们基因不是问题,环境和教育才是。我们这么多专打球不念书的体保生 结果不如一个哈佛大学的高材生。

Every success Jeremy Lin achieves in the NBA today represents a failure of Taiwanese basketball. Our biggest excuse for losing in basketball is genetics. But Jeremy Lin tells us that genes aren't the problem, environment and education are. We have so many sporting students who only play basketball and don't study, and the results can't equal a single academically talented Harvard student.

What do you think? What thoughts do you have on the Jeremy Lin phenomenon? We welcome you to share them with us.

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