Deep in the heart of Texas, nine months after the height of the Lin phenomenon—when everyone from President Obama to Sarah Palin to Saturday Night Live had something to say about him—this is what awaits Lin after a game: two dozen deadline-fretting reporters and cameramen, jockeying for position at his locker, waiting for him to shower so they can hear what he has to say. Never mind that it is the middle of November, not exactly crunch time on the NBA calendar, and Lin has had an entirely forgettable night (four points, four assists). A handful of other Rockets who had far more impact on the 100--96 victory over the Hornets sit unbothered nearby.
Lin's time with the Rockets has been rocky: He is still struggling to mesh with new backcourtmate James Harden and at week's end was averaging just 9.9 points and 6.1 assists while shooting 38.1%. He did have a chance to give Houston fans a taste of Linsanity in early November, when he hoisted a potential game-winning three-pointer with under 10 seconds left and the Rockets trailing the Heat by one. It was an air ball.
The questions after the New Orleans game dance around his struggles. "What do you think about your shooting?" asks a reporter from a Chinese newspaper. Asks another, "So, before the game, coach Kelvin [Sampson] said you're working on going to your left? How is that going?"
After the group breaks up, two reporters from newspapers in Taiwan linger to tell Lin that they'll be on a flight back to Taipei in the morning. Lin, as always, is friendly and disarming—he looks genuinely appreciative that they have come so far to cover him. "Have a safe flight," he says. "Thank you, and see you again soon."
One of the writers is from a popular Taiwan tabloid, Apple Daily, who has covered Lin since he was a rookie with the Warriors in 2010--11. After three weeks in Houston, Dennis Tsai is headed home to Taipei to see his wife and young son. Though the job takes you 8,000 miles from home, sometimes for months at a time, the Jeremy Lin beat has become the most coveted in Taiwanese and Chinese sports media. Lin is front-page news when he scores in double digits ... whether his team wins or not. Nearly every Rockets game is shown on one of the three Taiwanese sports channels; last season one network expanded its pregame show from 10 minutes to a full hour to satisfy the swelling interest.
"Jeremy Lin is a national hero in Taiwan," says Tsai. "[Former Yankees pitcher] Chien-Ming Wang is considered the most famous and popular athlete in Taiwanese history. But Lin is already as big as Wang was—maybe bigger." When he is in Taiwan, Tsai regularly takes his son to a recreation center to shoot hoops. After Linsanity he says the crowds there "tripled, because everyone suddenly wants their kids to play basketball. They think basketball is a ticket to Harvard."
He adds, "The surprising thing is how all the women in Taiwan responded to Linsanity. Young girls see Jeremy Lin as their older brother. Older girls see him as their future boyfriend. Moms see him as their son. My mom, who never cared about basketball, sees him as her son!"
In the dense neighborhoods of Taipei, "you'll see the basketball courts crowded with kids wearing Jeremy Lin jerseys," says Blackie Chen, a former player on the Taiwanese national team and now a popular TV host. "You see the style [of play] changing too. In the past it was all one-on-one isolation. Now they pass the ball—the pick-and-roll is cool now, because of Linsanity." Chen, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade Lin to play for the Taiwanese national team last year, believes basketball may now overtake baseball as the nation's most popular sport.
On an island roughly the size of Maryland, Lin has become a figure of pride for a country that has fought for a place on the international stage since it broke from China in 1949 and that struggles for economic and political viability. Many in Taiwan are so enamored of Lin that they are oblivious to the fact that he is American-born. At a junior high school in Taipei, students were asked last spring if Lin was American or Taiwanese. Half said he was born in their country.
Last February, Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa's representative in Congress, met with Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou at the presidential palace in Taipei to discuss the escalating tensions between Taiwan and China. Ma spoke about how Taiwan and the U.S. shared similar values and views on democracy, then added, "And we both appreciate Jeremy Lin." Faleomavaega stopped him short. "I'm sorry to tell you," he said, "Jeremy Lin is American. A full-blooded born American who happens to be of Taiwanese ancestry. And we're very proud of him."