(BEIJING) — New York Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin may be an overnight sensation in Asia, but could he be a problematic poster child for the Chinese government?
Lin’s instant athletic star appeal has fans in Asia cleaning out store shelves once stocked with his jersey, and “Linsanity” is taking hold with a fervor not seen since the frenzy over Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball player who found fame with the Houston Rockets. Ming’s retirement left a gaping hole for basketball fans in Asia that no one guessed would be filled so soon. Now, Lin’s fansite on Weibo already has more than 1 million fans.
But there are signs not everyone agrees that everything about Lin is 100 percent lin-tastic. The problem is not what Lin does on the court, but what he does off it — and it has nothing to do with bad behavior. In fact, Jeremy Lin’s squeaky clean behavior is drawing comparisons to Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos’ devout Christian quarterback, rather than Yao Ming.
Like Tebow, Lin is public about his Christianity and has reportedly spoken in the past about one day becoming a pastor. The Chinese government maintains strict control over the Christian church in the country, and some followers have faced religious persecution in the past. Skeptics fear the government believes the growth of Lin’s legend through social media is giving faithful fans a way to celebrate a sports star and Jesus at the same time.
State-run Chinese television, CCTV, did not broadcast Tuesday night’s Knicks’ game against the Toronto Raptors. Instead, it ran pre-recorded footage of a football match. Chinese fans are asking why. If not his faith, the online community wonders, maybe it is his ancestry.
Lin is an American of Taiwanese descent. His grandmother reportedly fled Zhejiang province outside Shanghai to Taiwan in the late 1940s as the Chinese civil war came to a close. His parents were born there, and Lin was born in the U.S. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and many in the government expect to see it absorbed back into China’s borders one day. For Chinese to celebrate a Taiwanese superstar is a sensitive proposition. Online forums are awash in speculation that the Chinese government does approve of fans waving Taiwanese flags during Lin’s games.
One Weibo one fan wrote that it does not matter what you call Lin or what he calls himself. Another was more direct: “You are the miracle, you are the God, Jesus is with you!” Christians may have to go without watching Lin play live in China, but he is giving them a new reason to praise God.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN
Ivana Kottasova, CNN