The Jeremy Lin craze in China

My ESPN New York colleague Robin Lundberg hit the streets of Chinatown on Monday to check on Lin-sanity. Today, I hit the streets -- via an interview, that is -- of Shanghai to see how Lin-sane it's gotten over there. Though Lin is an American of Taiwanese descent, he's been a big hit in China.

I spoke with Tony Pan, Senior Creative Manager of Shanghai Hoop Sports Media Co., which runs hoopCHINA, the No. 1 sports website in the country, to get the Lin-side scoop.

Here are some interesting excerpts from our conversation:

Zwerling: What's the Lin vibe where you are?

Pan: We are in Shanghai (Yao Ming's city) and people are talking about a "New Yao" playing the point-guard position, getting NBA respect and winning big games. And it's not only fans. Even those who don't actually follow sports news know his name. Basketball fans are talking a lot about Jeremy over the last week. There are thousands of new topics on hoopCHINA with Jeremy's Chinese name. People talk about his chance to play in the All-Star rookie game and compare his game with Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Ricky Rubio, while wondering whether he will play for China's national team in the future.

Zwerling: Speaking of Yao, has he commented on Lin's sudden success?

Pan: A Chinese media report said that Yao thought of recruiting Lin to his CBA team in Shanghai last summer. Yao has a close connection with Lin, who phones him after every game. Yao told China's sports newspaper named "Titan Weekly" this last week: "I really feel happy for Jeremy Lin, scoring 28 points [against the Jazz on Feb. 6] and leading the team to the win. This is not the first time he did this, and I believe this won't be the last."

Zwerling: What's the Lin talk like in Shanghai? What kinds of things are you hearing?

Pan: Lin's story is big for the kids, like a Cinderella fairy tale. They talk about him in school and on the streets. They say things like, "A Chinese-American player kicked Kobe Bryant's a-- last night, outscoring him and hitting a career-high in points." Or things like, "Lin made an Allen Iverson-style ankle break crossover on Luke Ridnour" and "Lin is still winning games with 20-plus point contributions."

Zwerling: Are Lin jerseys flying off the racks?

Pan: Yes, Lin jerseys are sold out, and very few of them can be found in China's NBA stores. Fans are choosing the NBA Store online or asking their friends in the states to buy Lin's jersey for them.

Zwerling: How are people there watching Knicks games?

Pan: Right now, our national TV hasn't had a quick enough response to changing their schedule, but I guess they will this month. So we only get a few TV broadcasts. People watch NBA games in their office through the Internet mostly during weekdays (text broadcast and online broadcast). They will watch through TV on weekends at home. Most of Lin's games are 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. in China, which is too early for bars. Maybe some clever bar manager will choose weekend games though.

Zwerling: What are your thoughts on Lin as a player?

Pan: Jeremy Lin doesn't have overwhelming physical athleticism, but he knows how to use his height, strength and intelligence to compete with fast guards. Since New York has Baron Davis and he is quickly recovering from his injury, I guess Lin's minutes will be cut down to 25 to 30 minutes in the near future, but he'll still contribute fire and dishes off the bench. His overnight success reminds me of Russell Westbrook's 2007-08 season at UCLA. He was under the radar in high school and during his freshman season in college. It was there where he was determined to help his team when they lacked their leader, Darren Collison, who was the Bruins' starting point guard but missed the first six games with an injury. Russell started instead. Both Jeremy and Russell lack consistent long-range shooting, but they both love to drive to the hoop for the layup or dunk, or assist teammates. But Lin's story is bigger because he is in a bigger market, New York City.

Here's a run through five key numbers of Lin's impact in China, as provided by Pan (from last week through Monday):

  1. There were about 1,500 new topics on hoopCHINA with Lin's Chinese name.

  2. Fans searched Lin's Chinese name 20 times more (1,992 percent) than they did a week ago, as well as 50 times more (5,099 percent) than a month ago.

  3. Media reports mentioned Lin's Chinese name 23 times more (2,289 percent) than they did a week ago, as well as nine times more (903 percent) than they did a month ago.

  4. Lin's Chinese name was hotter than any other athlete's in China. For example, on Feb. 11, Lin was searched 726,878 times, more than Bryant (14,521), Rubio (5,028) and LeBron James (3,016).

  5. Knicks games became the hottest in China, although few of them have been broadcast on China's national TV. Fans watch Lin's game online or simply by looking at the box score. Lin's performance against Bryant and the Lakers on Feb. 10 was talked about and shared more than 500,000 times during the game (in only three hours) on hoopCHINA -- more than Yao's regular-season games two years ago.

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