Rougher Play, Passionate Fans, Promising Future: Jeremy Lin Talks About Pro Basketball In Asia (2024)

“Linsanity” brought on by the surprise rise of New York Knicks basketball star Jeremy Lin in 2012 created a media spectacle around the previously unknown 23-year-old player.

Lin’s mark with Taiwan’s New Taipei Kings this year is bringing out ticket-buyers and sponsors to a relatively new team, home-made fan posters bearing his name, and energy to a regional league. Lin’s latest performance – he scored 43 points in a Kings 114-82 home win last night in front of a crowd of about 6,000 last night— is another chapter in a life that has carried him from an immigrant family in California to Harvard, the NBA and a tough battle with Covid during the pandemic.

I spoke to Lin on Friday evening by phone in Taiwan about some of the differences playing in Asia compared with the U.S. and the future of professional basketball in prosperous, growing Asia.

Lauded by Kings as a strong team leader and having played with more than a dozen professional teams over the years, I also asked Lin – now 35 years old — how he sized up the qualities of a good leader. “It's just as effective for me to learn from a great leader about what to do as it is to learn from a horrible leader as to what not to do,” he noted. Interview excerpts follow.

Flannery: What's it like playing professional basketball in Asia compared with the U.S.?

Lin: One of the biggest differences on-court is that it's so much more physical. It's intensely more physical than when I was playing in the NBA. The rules the refs impose are different — there's so much more spacing in the NBA. Also, there are restrictions on playing time for foreigners.

Off-court, the enthusiasm in North America and in Asia for basketball is pretty similar, but the NBA brand is stronger internationally than any other league in Asia by a long shot. You feel the differences of that, though within the actual fandom or the passion of the fans, some could argue there's actually more passion in Asia than in North America. At one point, for example, there were as many people playing basketball in China than there were citizens in the U.S.; if you talk about volume, that's one aspect of it.

Also, there is a scarcity of NBA players who don’t get to showcase their skills on a day-to- day basis here in Asia. So when they come on Asia trips or pre-season games, it's chaotic — in a good way. I was able to play two preseason games — one in Manila and one in Taipei (in 2013). They were the only two places that could compare to the atmosphere of the Knicks during “Linsanity” and the Raptors during the


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championship run. But these are preseason games that we were having out in Asia, and they matched a NBA finals-type atmosphere! That's how insane the atmosphere was. So there's a level of intensity and appreciation that a lot of the fans out here have.

Flannery: How do you cope with the more physical character of the game in Asia?

Lin: It’s a different type of toll. It's way more physical, and your body hurts a lot more after any one game. In the NBA, it's a different type of toll on your body. It’s pure volume: the number of games, the travel and the time zone changes. In Asia, you hardly ever have to switch time zone. There are very few teams in Asia flying six hours to play a game. In the NBA, you could switch three hours in one day in one game, and then come back.

But then the physicality out here is at another level, and I had to get much stronger. My training has changed so much, because I don’t get a lot of shots that I would normally get free throws for. So it's finding a way to get to my spot, shoot my shots, and make my shots without relying on the foul call. The NBA tends to allow more offense – you see that in the box score in our league in Taiwan, where maybe half of the time we might not score over 100 points. You see games in the 80s and in the 70s. In the NBA, you consistently have teams in the 120s or 130s.

Flannery: What’s the future for professional basketball in Asia?

Lin: I have always been in favor of — and hoping that the future will see— more communication and more consolidation. It would be amazing if you could have different leagues competing (across Asia). In Taiwan right now, there are three leagues. There have been talks and rumors of mergers — you have an island and a population that’s not that big. To split that into three different leagues is pretty difficult for the sustainability or quality of the basketball here in the long run.

To be able to consolidate those and have competition among different leagues in Asia would create great products. What the East Asia Super League is doing is great – competition that’s league against league, champion against champion, legend against legend, and a cross crossover of fans among the B.League, the P. League+, KBL (Korean Basketball League) and PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). You can see different styles, different types of players and different styles of play. It's really cool to see. The more you do that, the more you're going to have the fan buy-in, the better the product will be, and the more the consumers will appreciate it.

Flannery: I talked to the Kings CEO Phil Chen recently, and he has a lot of respect for your mentoring. What makes for a great mentor? Who’s influenced you in your career as a great leader?

Lin: I’ve played with so many different types of teammates. It's just as effective for me to learn from a great leader about what to do as it is to learn from a horrible leader as to what not to do. I’ve been able to experience 15 different teams in 14 years of professional basketball. I’ve had so many different teammates and coaches and met legendary teammates and players and their coaches.

At the end of the day, if I could boil it down to one thing, I would say that great leaders lead through service, through being a servant, and they use joy as motivation. Other leaders lead through the opposite of service, which is: “What can you do for me?” or “It's all about me.” And then they operate primarily through a fear-based motivation. And fear is a short term. Fear can get you short-term results, but it'll never let you reach your fullest potential or your highest ceiling.

And so for me, the people that really influence me are people that really believe in me, want me to play with joy, and want me to play with freedom and confidence. They help me understand that I'm part of a team, I'm valuable. I mean something. Whether I'm player one through 15, I'm valuable, and I have something to contribute.

And so for people to speak life into me and to believe in me in ways that I don't even know how to believe in myself – that’s what great leaders do. I'm not perfect in that regard. It's something I strive to do.

I've seen great coaches and great leaders do that. Off the top of my head, Mike D’Antoni and Kenny Atkinson are (two of) the most influential coaches in my professional career, who spoke so much belief and confidence into me that even when I doubted myself, it was hard to, because they had such confidence in me. Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry are two teammates that I would say just epitomized servant leadership and really understood how to bring out the best in their teammates.

Flannery: You've really had a remarkable life — from San Francisco, Harvard, Linsanity, China Basketball Association (CBA), Covid, and now the Kings. Where do you go from here?

Lin: I'm just trying to be in a moment. This is my 14th season. I’m currently accomplishing a lifelong dream of being able to team up with one of my brothers (on the Kings) – I’ve never been able to team up with either of them. I don't know what next year holds for me, or if there will be a next year. But I'm at a point in my life where for me and my family, it’s one season at a time.

See related posts:

Bullish On Basketball Heroes In Asia: East Asia Super League CEO Henry Kerins

Former NBA Asia Leader Mark Fischer Joins East Asia Super League

NBA Icon Yao Ming Sees International Exchanges Helping Young Chinese Talent


Rougher Play, Passionate Fans, Promising Future: Jeremy Lin Talks About Pro Basketball In Asia (2024)
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