Linsanity is back. Asian American star Jeremy Lin has lit up Chinese Taipei’s P. LEAGUE+ since joining the Kaohsiung 17LIVE Steelers in January, almost single-handedly dragging the team off the bottom of the standings and into playoffs contention. Record-breaking scoring and assists tallies, a string of player of the week awards, and games against his brother playing for New Taipei Kings have electrified fans.
Sure, the stage is not as vaunted as the NBA, where Lin’s incredible performances for the New York Knicks in the 2012 season became a sports cultural phenomenon – “Linsanity” – that put the star on the cover of Time magazine. And Lin’s NBA career has virtually collapsed since.
But, for now, basketball audiences in Chinese Taipei and beyond, and Jeremy Lin fans around the world, will care little. The performances are too good. The story is too good. We’re going Linsane again.
It’s a cliché to refer to an athlete’s career as a “roller coaster” journey. But few have experienced such wild swings of fortune as Jeremy Lin.
Lin grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the child of Taiwanese immigrant parents. He failed to secure an athletic college scholarship, but Harvard University and Brown University were the only schools to guarantee him a spot in the team. However, Ivy League schools do not offer sports scholarships. Lin joined the Harvard Crimson and became a three-time all-conference player in the Ivy League in NCAA Division One.
Lin was undrafted by NBA teams in 2010. He eventually got a start in his pro career with the Golden State Warriors, playing 29 games for the team in 2010-11, but he was demoted to the D-League throughout the season.
In 2011-12, the point guard caught a break in New York, despite being nearly cut by the team. Due to the Knicks’ injuries mounting in mid-season, Lin found his way into the starting lineup. His addition kicked off a seven-game winning streak, helping the team make the 2012 playoffs. In the 25 games Lin started for the Knicks, the then-23-year-old averaged 18.2 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2 steals a game.
Lin’s performances were labelled by fans and media as “Linsanity”, an idea that blew up into a wider cultural phenomenon.
“I was literally the most popular person on the planet,” Lin reminisced in an interview in October 2022. “I was the most Google-searched. I was the most searched, most talked-about, most popular person of that year. And it was a lot, it was overwhelming.”
By year-end, Lin had appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine and was named in the Time 100 as one of the most influential people in the world. He garnered praise from fellow professionals including the late Kobe Bryant.
“Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed,” Bryant said after Lin scored a career-high 38 points in a Knicks’ victory against the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, Linsanity proved to be a high-water mark for Lin’s NBA career. He left the Knicks as a restricted free agent and signed a three-year contract with the Houston Rockets in 2012-13. He then made stops with the Los Angeles Lakers, in 2014-15, and the Charlotte Hornets, in 2015-16, before finding a home with the Brooklyn Nets in 2016-17. An injury-plagued season caused him to play in only 36 games. In 2017-18, a ruptured patella tendon cost him the entire season.
In 2018-19, Lin had a stint with the Atlanta Hawks before landing with the Toronto Raptors. He played as the third-string point guard and won the NBA Championship, becoming the first Asian American to win an NBA title.
His contribution was not enough for a new contract, and he became a free agent that summer. However, no team would give him a shot and he remained unsigned.
Speaking at a seminar in Chinese Taipei in summer 2019, Lin said: “Man, it is hard, life is hard. In English there is a saying, and it says that ‘once you hit rock bottom, the only way is up’. But rock bottom just seems to be getting more and more rock bottom for me. I feel like in some ways the NBA has just given up on me.
“If I had a son, I don’t want him to make the NBA. You won’t have to deal with fame. You won’t have to deal with living your life and having all your failures on display to the whole world.”
Revival in Asia
Offers to play in the NBA had dried up, so Lin took his talents to the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), signing with the Beijing Ducks in August 2019.
Lin’s time in the Chinese league helped him rediscover his form. He was named starter in the 2020 CBA All-Star Game, scoring a game-high 41 points. He finished the season averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, becoming a finalist for CBA Best Defender.
But Lin’s NBA dream never died. In 2020-21, he sought a return, signing with the Golden State Warriors’ G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. In nine games, he averaged 19.8 points and 6.4 assists. NBA teams remained unimpressed, however, and no call-ups emerged.
During the following two seasons, Lin returned to the CBA, suiting up for the Ducks and the Guangzhou Loong Lions. But his play declined and, in December 2022, he announced he had left the Loong Lions.
Less than a month after leaving the CBA, Lin returned to his roots in the land where his parents were born, moving to Chinese Taipei to sign with the Kaohsiung 17LIVE Steelers of the P. LEAGUE+. Lin said he was he looking for “meaningful basketball”:
“When I was young, I wanted to prove myself, to win championships. But perhaps now I am older, I want to find meaningful basketball and I want to focus on the next generation of players,” he said at his introductory press conference in February. “When I made the decision to join the Steelers, my first thought was I wanted to fast forward to my first game, to be back in an environment with audiences. I think I can help the team a lot.”
When Lin joined the Steelers, the team were bottom of the league, having won just two of 15 games played. At the star’s P. LEAGUE+ debut on February 12, a sold-out crowd of 5,321 fans packed into Kaohsiung Fengshan Stadium and saw him make an immediate impact, scoring 21 points and adding a then-league-high 13 assists to take home game MVP honors while helping the Steelers snap a four-game losing streak.
“We did not have much time to practice together and physical fitness was the most difficult part,” Lin said after the impressive debut. “But it was my first time playing with these guys, so we learn as we play, and it was a good step today.”
Fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” towards Lin late in the game. He said afterward: “I probably never heard that before, and definitely not in the NBA.”
On February 28, Lin had the opportunity to match up against his brother Joseph, who is playing for the New Taipei Kings. More than 6,800 fans came towatch the “Lin Brothers Showdown” in Xinzhuang Gymnasium, and nearly 750,000 tuned in online to watch the live stream of the game.
Jeremy scored a team-high 23 points, but Joseph had the last laugh, recording a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in a Kings’ win.
After the game, Jeremy expressed pride in his brother: “I feel he’s very underrated as a pro baller these past years. I think many people do not see his greatness. He’s been doing the things right in every single aspect. His teammates told him to shoot more, but he’s such a selfless player, willing to sacrifice himself for all of his teammates. When I play against him, you can tell that he’s making a huge difference to the game.”
After going 2-2 in his first four games, Jeremy Lin suffered an illness that took him out for two games. Since his return, the star point guard has been a revelation, averaging 29.4 points and 9.9 assists in the next 11 games.
In games on March 26 and April 2, Lin broke the P. LEAGUE+ single-game assist record in back-to-back weeks, racking up 15 and 16 assists respectively. This sparked an eight-game winning streak for the Steelers, the longest in team history. The streak was capped with a historic performance by Lin on April 23, tying the league single-game scoring record by scoring 50 points. He finished the game with a triple-double, recording 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and was named P. LEAGUE+ Player of the Week for the fourth consecutive week.
“Thank God, I have this opportunity to play and spend a lot of time preparing myself. The fans are really great,” Lin said after the game. “The team has been living in the process of focusing on the moment. We will continue to put in our best efforts. I hope that the fans will see us playing with great heart. I am very grateful to the fans.”
In the 15 games Lin has played for the Steelers, he has led the team to an 11-4 record, giving it a fighting chance to play in the P. LEAGUE+ playoffs. With three games to go, the Steelers are 1.5 games behind the Taishin Dreamers in the race for the final spot in the postseason. Fans around the world are watching keenly to see if Linsanity 2.0 will continue and take the Steelers to greatness. Success with the Steelers would be another amazing chapter in the extraordinary career of Jeremy Lin.