BEIJING - His name is Jeremy Lin and he comes from California. He is 22, tall, good looking and has a degree from Harvard. Oh yes, and he plays basketball. The New York Knicks, a down-on-their-luck basketball franchise, can hardly believe their good fortune. This young man is magic, scoring more points in his first four starts than any NBA player since 1976. Shops can’t keep his T-shirts in stock. And in addition to leading the Knicks to seven straight wins, he's triggered an overnight global phenomenon known as “Linsanity.”

Now, as is the way of the world, everyone wants to be associated with such a handsome young athlete. But it is not just his American fans and sundry marketing types who are interested. Lin’s parents hail from Taiwan, so the Taiwanese population has taken him for one of their own. But right on time, mainland China is claiming dibs as well. “Taiwan belongs to us” some have said, “and so does Linsanity.”

It is true that since Yao Ming retired last year, Chinese basketball fans have not had a big NBA star to follow. So Linsanity’s number of followers on weibo.com, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, has soared by a million over the past week.

Meanwhile, back in Taiwan, the stations that transmit NBA games have seen their ratings soar 10 fold. In a typically Taiwanese development, the food stalls of Beidou, Lin’s father’s home town in South Taiwan, are selling their famous local meatball delicacy with the help of his fame.

The China-Taiwan Internet discussion over the origins of Jeremy Lin is a microcosm of the whole decades-long dispute between the two states. Ancestry is not taken lightly. The fact that his maternal grandmother was born in China is taken on the mainland as sufficient grounds for labeling this young American a Chinese. David Stern, the NBA commissioner, would probably also like to see him labeled as Chinese given the greater marketing opportunities available. After Yao Ming left the NBA, Chinese interest in American basketball went off a cliff. Here’s a chance to get it back.

And how does Jeremy Lin look at his own origins? With such rich pickings to be made from endorsements, it’s unlikely that he’ll be coming down firmly on either side of the court on this question of identity.

Read the original article in full in Chinese 

Photo - eric molina

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