TAIPEI, Taiwan – It was an afternoon that began with a greeting from Paul George.
Yet the 12,905 squealing, appreciative fans who came early and stayed on their feet often left the impression that John and Ringo were also inside Taipei Arena.
It might not have quite reached the level of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but Jeremy Lin’s return to his ancestral roots hit all the notes of cultural phenomenon, NBA star and real life dream come true.
They love you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
It was the return of Linsanity, all of the attendant pregame hype and palpable buzz in the air meeting up with a performance that delivered by the main attraction.
From the moment he scored the Rockets’ first basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to his exit midway through the fourth quarter of Houston’s 107-98 win over the Pacers, Lin was the focus of virtually all attention and idolatry.
When Lin left the game with 5:52 left to play with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, four assists, two rebounds and one monster block, teammate Francisco Garcia encouraged the throng to come to its feet and then he clamped Lin like a little brother in a headlock and patted his approval.
Lin stood in a back hallway smiling and shaking his head at the experience.
“It wasn’t like anything I’m normally accustomed to, going out there before the game for warmups and having everyone yelling,” he said. “Yeah, I was nervous. I haven’t felt that way before a game since probably the first time back to MSG last season.
“Really, it was everything I could have hoped for. (Asssistant coach) Chris Finch said, ‘It was like all your birthdays rolled into one. You got the 3s, the dunk, the block.’ I think he was right. I didn’t know how this was gonna go, but I definitely didn’t think it would go this good.”
Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Lin’s play was simply a continuation of the progress he’s made since the opening of training camp.
“He played very well,” McHale said. “The last week to 10 days he’s been very, very good in our games and our practices. I think he’s really comfortable with who he is. He’s in a good state of mind … Jeremy’s in really a good place. This is the way he’s been playing in practice.”
Nearly half the crowd wore some kind of NBA jersey or T-shirt and the lion’s share of those bore Lin’s name and number from various career incarnations. There were red Lin Rockets jerseys and white Lin Rockets jerseys. There were even a few with Lin’s name on the back of the throwback navy blue pajama-striped jerseys that Lin never wore. There were Lin jerseys from Harvard and his time with Golden State. And, of course, there were Lin’s jerseys from that magical five-week stretch of 2012 when Linsanity was born in York.
They screamed with delight when Lin came out of the tunnel and ran onto the court for pregame warmups nearly an hour before the opening tip and they roared in appreciation when he stepped into the spotlight and shined in front of an audience that included his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and thousands of other Taiwanese who claim him as their own.
“I have been an NBA fan for about 10 years,” said Taiwan native Tony Kuo, 25, who studied business at Michigan State. “The truth is the Pistons were always my favorite back, back from the days of their (2004) championship.
“But when Jeremy first came into the league with the Warriors and then he went to New York and did what he did, well, now he is my favorite and the Rockets are my team.
“I followed Jeremy when he was in Harvard and hoped that he would get a chance. But I wasn’t really sure if an Asian player could ever have the experience he did in New York.
“When Yao Ming played, he was famous here. But nothing like Lin. There is no question that Jeremy Lin is the No. 1 sports celebrity in Taiwan today. I can’t even think of anyone close enough to him to be No. 2.”
Kuo’s girlfriend, Ashley Wu, 29, said she never really took to the NBA when she was at Michigan State.
“I guess now I like the Rockets, but I went out and bought this Knicks shirt because the blue is a better color,” she said. “This is a really exciting and fun event and it’s fun to be here to support Lin and him,” she said, pointing at Kuo.
For the most part, it was fast-paced and seemed to be more intensely played for a preseason game with plenty of banging and with regulars getting a lot of minutes.
James Harden led the Rockets with 21 points. George had 19 to top the Pacers and George Hill had 17.
Nevertheless, according to how a script might have been written, Lin practically took the game into his hands in the first quarter and shaped it to fit the hype and his image. By the time the opening period was done, Lin had drilled a pair of 3-pointers, closed out a fast break with a crowd-pleasing dunk and then got a real rise from everyone when he chased down Indiana’s Danny Granger on a breakaway and used a sweeping swat of his arm to send the ball into the first row of seats.
“When I got that shot, just about all I could do was smile,” Lin said. “Not at him, but just the fact that it happened, because I’ve never done anything like that before in a real NBA game. Maybe in practice. So when I got that shot, I all could think was everything was going my way.”
Half a world away from where it was born, Linsanity was back. And, fittingly, at home.