Story and media by Bing Wu
When Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks suddenly and unexpectedly emerged as a star, in Flushing, the Queens neighborhood that is home to the city’s second-largest Chinese population, “Linsanity” was a phenomenon the residents embraced.
Restaurants were filled with patrons cheering him on, the area’s basketball courts were filled with more Asian players than usual, and those who have never watched an NBA game suddenly became fans.
To the people of Flushing, Lin — whose quick rise to fame was cut short by a knee injury — brought out passion, pride and a fair measure of hype.
“My father, he never watched basketball before, now he started watching,” says Steve Lam, a Knicks fan even before Lin. “Now it’s just more exciting, I’m more looking forward to every Knicks game.”
As much as the excitement he brought to the community, Lin brought controversies as well. People on the street argued over Lin’s ethnicity.
The Chinese said Lin was Chinese, but the Taiwanese said that since his parents were from Taiwan, so he should be considered Taiwanese. And then the conversation would then turn into a larger debate about whether Taiwan is a part of China.
On YouTube, videos like “Jeremy Lin – Taiwanese Pride” or “Asian Pride” attracted tons of comments.
For many fans, that Lin attended Harvard was secondary. He was the underdog. More than that, he looked different from everyone else on the court, yet seemed so comfortable and confident.
Many people in Flushing’s Asian community admired such a confidence, whether it was found in the younger generation or the older generation. They all understood how difficult it is to be different.
“Lin is for real!” says Ming Wong, a 24-year-old college student who has been a fan of basketball for more than 12 years. “To perform well for one game is easy, a lot of players have those days, but to perform well continuously is hard, especially under such a huge public attention and pressure, you have to be mentally strong to do that.”
People just loved watching Lin; whenever the Knicks played, the sports bars and restaurants in Flushing were packed. Watching Lin with families and friends became a must-do thing.
Dante Claure, the manager of Applebee’s in Flushing Sky View Center mall, spent $5,000 just to make a Chinese version of his menu to accommodate the new wave of customers who were mainly there to watch Lin.
“It’s definitely worth it,” he said. “When people started to notice Jeremy Lin, they started coming here little by little, and when he became famous, suddenly we were a full house.”
Those who couldn’t make it to the bars and restaurants watched games at home with their families. “We don’t have cable before, but after Jeremy Lin, we just install it and watch him,” said Li.
Unfortunately, “Linsanity” was cut short by a knee injury, and the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, losing four games to one to the Miami Heat, as Lin sat on the bench in street clothes.
As much as the fans want Lin to be back to the Knicks next season, nothing is certain in this world of professional basketball. But wherever Lin goes, the community’s love for him will follow.