TAIPEI, Taiwan – Indiana coach Frank Vogel gazed out from behind a table at the dozens of TV cameras and microphones that were crammed into the small conference room and stated the obvious.
“We expect a very, very one-side crowd with Jeremy Lin and quite honestly it should be that way,” he said. “He’s a terrific young man, a good ambassador for our game and we’re going to do our very best to try to limit him on the court and shoot the crowd out of the game.”
Good luck with that, Pacers.
If there was any notion that the fever pitch of Linsanity had broken, it was dispelled when hundreds of fans to see Lin and his Rockets teammates arrive in his family’s ancestral home.
It was mere hours later when Lin, teammate Dwight Howard and coach Kevin McHale were right back in the spotlight facing an intense, enthusiastic grilling and a parsing of every on-court move by the Taiwanese media.
That was in light of Lin coming off the bench in Thursday night’s win over the Pacers. It was merely a continuing part of McHale’s previously stated plan to alternate Lin and Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup all through the preseason.
“I wouldn’t get too excited about who gets to start a preseason game,” McHale said. “But I found out it means something.”
Yes, every turn of the head, every smile or raised an eyebrow means something in this nation or more than 23 million with a thriving economy, where Lin’s “Cinderella” rush to stardom has become its greatest sports export.
For Lin, born in Los Angeles and raised in Palo Alto, Calif., it is an opportunity to show his teammates on the Rockets the roots of his family, whether that is taking them shrimp fishing, to the colorful Shilin night market, to the famous skyscraper Taipei 101 or to his favorite karaoke bar. It’s also a chance for him to again touch base with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and extended family.
Away from the media horde in a quiet conversation, Lin spoke of the significance of being the unofficial host for the NBA’s second game in Taiwan and first with and Asian star.
“I think in some ways it’s a celebration of some sorts to come back to the place where my parents were born and raised,” Lin said. “Bringing the game of basketball here is a tremendous opportunity. I’m just going to try to enjoy it, embracing it.”
Lin first visited Taiwan when he was in his middle school years, but has been back at least seven or eight times since the outbreak of Linsanity in early 2012.
“I think it’s more calm now,” he said. “In many ways it’s a lot more normal. I guess people will always remember me by that time when everything was blowing up big. But I don’t think the craziness or hysteria is anywhere near what it used to be.”
Lin admits that his relatives in Taipei have experienced both sides of being close to his celebrity.
“They are definitely happy for me, but I think they’ve all gotten a little taste of what it’s like to be in that much of a spotlight and to have that much attention and the burden and responsibility that comes with it,” he said. “They’ve been able to see a lot of that and they even get harassed at times. So they’ve seen the whole spectrum and maybe don’t like everything about it.
“Look, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining at all. I think it’s a tremendous platform, a tremendous blessing. Is it perfect? Is everything easy? No. But I’m very thankful for it. All of it, the fan support and all the rest. I mean, who doesn’t want the fan support like this? It’s amazing, definitely a blessing.”
His biographical movie, “Linsanity”, will have its premiere in Taiwan this weekend while the NBA is in town. Lin said his family is happy with the finished product, believing it shows an accurate representation of his story, one where he straddles the Pacific as a bridge between two cultures.
“I always viewed myself as Asian-American,” Lin said. “Even though I grew up in America, I grew up with a lot of Asian culture, the Asian values, the Asian thought process due to the way my parents raised me. Even going to an all Asian church and having a lot of Asian friends, I didn’t see myself ever as strictly American.
“Sure, I would rather be remembered more for my basketball than for my race, but having them together isn’t a bad thing.”
He knows the judgments that were made and the stereotypes that were at least part of his winding trail from California high school star, to Harvard, to the NBA Development League, to being cut by Golden State and Houston before finally catching that lightning in a bottle in New York.
“I’m not sure what everybody else was thinking from the outside looking in,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t expect it or maybe they didn’t see it coming, which is fine. I think race is only one element of the entire picture. Given my skill set or my background or what I’ve done, I think it still would have come out of nowhere.
“I think this, my story, is hopefully one small step in the right direction in terms of challenging the notion of what an Asian-American or an Asian basketball player looks like. I think it’s all progress, it’s all a process. As long as we’re progress in the right way, as long as we’re moving towards where we want to go that’s all we can ask for really.
“I want to be a basketball player, the best one that I can be. I would love for all the Asian fans and people who support me to love the game as much as I do. This has been a great ride for me and the experience of being back in Taiwan to share my game, my league, my team with my family is maybe a great way to wrap up this part of the story before moving onto the next part. That’s trying to win a championship.”