Leon Yen used social media last week to ask if any of his friends in Toronto’s Taiwanese community would like to go cheer on New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin when he plays the Raptors on Tuesday.
Responses came in rapid-fire fashion. Before he knew it, Yen was arranging tickets for a group of nearly 300, ranging from student groups to professionals.
Yen wasn’t surprised by the response. He has watched the social networks swell with comments from Canadians of Taiwanese descent during an amazing five-game win streak sparked by the American-born player. Yen says his friends have been gathering at his house to watch Knicks games. Even non-sports fans are tuned into Lin.
“I’m sure 20 [per cent to]30 per cent of the people coming to the game with our group have never watched an NBA game before,” said Yen, an engineer at Rogers Communications Inc., who is also vice-president external of the Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto (TCAT).
“But they just want to see it for themselves and support him. He’s like us, his parents are from Taiwan, just like mine. They moved to North America just like my family did. He reminds us and encourages us to work hard.”
It’s not the first time TCAT has organized a meet-up to watch Lin. Last season, when he was a bench player for the Golden State Warriors, they brought a group of more than 70 to cheer him on. This year, they will be dressed in red and white in the 300 level of the Air Canada Centre, and plan to wave both Taiwanese and Canadian flags.
“It’s been amazing. I thought he was a backup guard at best, and now look at his incredible five-game run,” said Haris Shih, who will attend the game along with members of the Republic of China Student Association at the University of Toronto.
“I didn’t realize his skill level was so high, and now it’s incredible to watch him grasp this opportunity. I log online every day to read about him.”
Tuesday’s game is likely to be the Raptors’ second full house of the 2011-12 season, according to team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
“An Asian player proving to everybody what he can do has been amazing,” said engineering student Tim Cheng, who’ll be watching the game with a large group at Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub on the U of T campus. “He’s humble, and he’s a Christian, too, which is also a big part of his popularity right now. I feel like God is using him to deliver his teachings.”
Lin’s story is intriguing: A 6-foot-3 guard, lightly recruited out of high school, who played at a non-traditional basketball college (Harvard University). He was not drafted into the NBA, has been passed over and undervalued. He signed with his hometown Warriors, bounced up and down to the D-League, only to be waived after 29 games in the 2010-11 season. Claimed and quickly released by the Houston Rockets, Lin next landed in New York – and in the world spotlight.
In his first four games as an NBA starter, Lin, 23, is averaging 27.2 points and 8.2 assists.
“A lot of parents from Taiwan push their kids to get into good schools and get good grades, and we relate to that,” Yen said. “And then Jeremy Lin graduated from Harvard and we see that his parents supported him pursuing his dream of being a professional basketball player rather than a career on Wall Street or something.
“He’s really one of a kind and we’re excited to watch him.”
MSG gets boost
Jeremy Lin is doing more than generating excitement and wins for the New York Knicks. The 23-year-old point guard has also added nearly $300-million (U.S.) to the value of the NBA team’s owner, The Madison Square Garden Co.
Since Lin began his remarkable streak on Feb. 4, the share price of MSG has jumped roughly 10 per cent on Nasdaq. The shares closed at $32.32 on Monday, up nearly 4 per cent from the previous day’s close. The stock traded as high as $33.11 on Monday, the highest price since MSG went public in 2010, after being spun off from Cablevision Systems Corp.
MSG is also getting a lift from another professional sports team the company owns: the New York Rangers. The Rangers are currently leading the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
- Paul Waldie
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Lin's parents had moved to Canada. This online version has been corrected to state that Lin's family in fact moved to North America.