Basketball fans have been mesmerized over the past week by the surprise dominance of New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin, the first American-born player of Taiwanese descent.
And with good reason: Lin, 23, who was originally undrafted and was until recently a backup player for the Knicks, has been on an incredible run since he began starting on February 4, propelling the once terrible New York City team to six straight victories with an NBA record-setting more than 20 points per game and seven assists for his first five starts, including Tuesday night’s nail-biting win over the Toronto Raptors, in which Lin scored two three-pointers to tie and win the game with 0.5 seconds remaining.
Not surprisingly, the buzz around Jeremy Lin has taken over social media, with his official Twitter account gaining over 200,000 followers in the past week and various social media homages to him popping up, including “Linterest,” a parody of the new social network “Pinterest.”
On popular Chinese social network Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog, Lin has close to a million followers now.
As Kashmir Hill points out at Forbes, Jeremy Lin could also be one of the NBA’s first players to have attained stardom already having attained fluency in social media: Lin apparently blogged on Xanga when he was in high school, and has posted videos poking fun at himself and his Harvard education on his YouTube account.
The “Linsanity” has reportedly extended to Lin’s ancestral homeland of Taiwan, where dozens of fans gathered at a bar in Taipei on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. to watch the Knicks take on the Raptors in Toronto, claiming Lin as one of their own, The Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday.
Yet fans throughout the rest of mainland China are finding it hard-pressed to catch Lin on the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) sports channel. As UK-based newspaper the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, CCTV didn’t switch to the Knicks game live on Wednesday morning, despite the clamoring of many users on Sina Weibo. Instead, the network played a taped European soccer game.
The Financial Times speculates that CCTV was intentionally censoring the game due to Lin’s outspoken Christianity and/or the tendency of fans to wave Taiwanese flags in the crowd.
China of course has had an ongoing tenuous relationship with the island of Taiwan since 1949, when the government deposed by the Communist Revolution fled to Taiwan. Taiwan still considers itself an independent nation, while the mainland government considers it a province.
Lin’s faith is also a dicey subject: Although the Chinese Communist government is officially atheist, it has increasingly tolerated open displays of Christianity throughout the mainland since relaxing restrictions on religion in the 1970s. However, Chinese state media still attempts to downplay the role of religion in Lin’s life. As the FT reported, CCTV did air a segment about Lin on Monday featuring the brief comments of a New Yorker applauding Lin for his faith, only to have that line scrubbed by censors.
But the restrictions on CCTV may have less to do with Lin himself than a new edict from the government to limit foreign programming to 25 percent of total broadcasted content per day, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Outgoing President Hu Jinato last month penned an essay decrying the influence of foreign programming on Chinese culture, the paper reported.
At the same time, Chinese state censors evidently had no problem allowing Knicks games to be streamed by Sina, the Chinese company behind the micrblog. In fact, Sina, which has an agreement to stream NBA games on its website, reported record numbers for Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, in which Lin bested NBA star Kobe Bryant, Wall Street Journal China reported on Wednesday.
The Journal also noted Lin’s faith seems to be catching on with Chinese fans and could prove a marketing opportunity. Sina Weibo followers posted messages containing vaguely Christian lingo like “Amen,” and “God playing basketball.”
Plus, English-language news outlet China Daily has covered Lin extensively over the past week, publishing 16 articles on his rise, including a piece published Wednesday celebrating him as an icon for all of Asia.
Still, it will be worth watching the Chinese government’s reaction to Lin’s sharp rise to fame. All indications are that he’s here to stay. The next Knicks game, against the Sacramento Kings, is Wednesday night at 7:30 ET at Madison Square Garden.
Correction: This article originally incorrectly referred to the “Chinese monarchy” fleeing to Taiwan in the wake of the 1949 Communist Revolution. In fact, it was the Chinese republican government at the time. The story has since been corrected in copy. We regret the error.