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Jeremy Lin asks Taiwan media to give his family space

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin looks on against the Dallas Mavericks in the second half of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Feb. 19, 2012.

Adam Hunger /Reuters/Adam Hunger /Reuters

After another dominant night on the basketball court that added to his growing legend – and his legion of fans – on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, Jeremy Lin had a message for the media in Taiwan: cool it.

Next up for a talking-to might be the official media across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China, who have been trying to claim a chunk of New York Knicks star for the People's Republic. "Linsanity" – which has generated something close to pure joy among Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians – now threatens to get pulled into old arguments about nationhood and identity in the land of his ancestors.

That Mr. Lin, a 23-year-old who has relatives in Taiwan but grew up in Northern California, needs to worry about the media an ocean away only speaks to how far and how fast "linfengkuang" – as Linsanity is pronounced here – has travelled since he was first inserted into the Knicks' starting lineup eight magical games ago.

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"The special request I have is for the media back in Taiwan to give [my family]space, because they can't even go to work without being bombarded, without people following them," Mr. Lin said after sinking 28 points and adding 14 assists to lead the Knicks over the visiting Dallas Mavericks. " I want people to respect their privacy."

A few days before Mr. Lin spoke out, his grandmother and uncle had so many reporters camped outside their home on the outskirts of Taipei that they fled to their ancestral village in the south of the island, only to have reporters follow them there, too.

China's official Xinhua newswire went one better, suggesting there were "increasing calls" for Lin Shuhao, Mr. Lin's Chinese name, to give up his U.S. citizenship and become a Chinese citizen in time to play for the national team at this year's London Olympics.

"Lin's wonderful performance is making the calls for him to join the Chinese national basketball team louder and louder," Xinhua reported, although it seemed to be raising the idea itself. "If this call is to become a reality, it requires… that Lin Shuhao to make up his mind and seize the opportunity."

(China doesn't allow dual nationals. Another problem: his relatives have made it clear in media interviews that they are proudly Taiwanese, something that wouldn't sit well in Beijing, where Taiwan is considered to be no more than a breakaway province. He has more distant roots in China's coastal Zhejiang province.)

The Xinhua article sparked a firestorm of ridicule on the Chinese Internet, with many users wondering why Mr. Lin would give up the chance to play for the American team in order to wear the colours of a country that he has only briefly visited. "He is American, an authentically American. Don't judge the nationality by skin colour and blood lines," was one common sentiment. Others questioned whether the Mr. Lin would have become a star if he'd been raised in China.

Mr. Lin's overt Christianity is another issue for a basketball-crazed mainland looking for a star to replace Yao Ming, the 7-foot-6 national treasure who was forced by injuries to retire last year at the age of 30. The 6-foot-3 Mr. Lin's habit of praising his "lord and saviour, Jesus Christ" for his three-point shots doesn't easily fit into the Communist Party's narrative.

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(The state-run CCTV television network, which has a national monopoly on NBA games, has thus far refrained from adding extra Knicks broadcasts to its schedule. The network blames time differences, but some basketball fans here suspect the real block is the prospect of Mr. Lin talking Jesus while the crowd waves Taiwanese flags.)

Politics aside, Linsanity continues to spread unabated. The Internet address was being auctioned Monday via a Chinese e-mail address. The seller claimed that Mr. Lin was "the world's fastest growing brand name" and that a website bearing his Chinese name was therefore worth $14-million (U.S.).

Meanwhile, Mr. Lin's account on Weibo, China's Twitter-style microblogging site, has rapidly accumulated 1.85 million followers, up from a tenth of that at the start of February.

But China still seems to prefer that its stars be more strictly Chinese. Yi Jianlian, a Chinese-born forward on the Dallas Mavericks (who is little-known outside China and Dallas), has 6.6 million Weibo followers.

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