South of Shanghai, in Zhejiang province, China, is a four-lane highway that runs the coastline of the East China Sea. This is Yangtze River Delta territory. The wet land and accessible port make this part of China attractive to a whole host of industries. Some say that in Zhejiang province the land is so fertile even the farmers are rich.
Jeremy Lin, the overnight star of the New York Knicks, can trace his roots to Zhejiang province through his maternal grandmother, Lin Chu Muen. The area has been attracting immigrants for hundreds if not thousands of years. One of them was Jeremy Lin’s great-grandfather.
Lin’s grandmother left Pinghu in the late 1940 to settle in Taiwan. She calls Taiwan home, but she has never forgotten Pinghu. She has made sure that her hometown, now known as the City of Hope, also has a place in her grandson’s heart.
The road into Pinghu is where Lin-Sanity begins.
In a city of an estimated 800,000 people, according to the local government guidebook, 3,000 attend Pinghu High School. It is a massive, concrete campus without central heating. Open-air hallways are frigid and students stay bundled throughout the day. But mention the name Jeremy Lin and the warmth in their hearts is obvious.
Members of the basketball team are his biggest fans.
“Crazy Lin!” says the team captain, Zhee Chen.
“Super Lin!” says his teammate.
“Lin Shu How!” says the principal.
Lin Shu How is Jeremy Lin’s Chinese name. According to the principal, it translates as “undefeated.” The principal, also a chemistry teacher, says that when Lin’s NBA games are broadcast on CCTV everyone in Pinghu turns out to watch them, no matter what time it is.
Pinghu is 13 hours ahead of tipoff in New York’s Madison Square Garden, so this makes for some early morning cheering in the Yangtze River Delta.
Last May, Lin came to visit Pinghu High School with his family. His grandmother created a scholarship for needy students at Pinghu long before Jeremy was famous.
His visit last year also happened to be long before his image graced the cover of any national sports page. Just 10 months ago, it is possible more people in Pinghu knew his name and connected it to basketball than in New York.
That is no longer the case, but in Pinghu they still feel a connection.
“Although he was born in America,” says English teacher Yan Hai Bin, “they feel he is a part of Pinghu.”
He agrees it is exciting to watch a ‘hometown hero’ reach the highest levels of the NBA.
“What inspired students most I think was his love of the sport, of basketball. Students are all impressed by his dream, by his persistent spirit,” he says.
The captain of the Pinghu High School Boy’s Basketball team agrees.
“I think he really loves the game and he likes his teammates, and he loves New York,” says Zhi Chen.
He is not alone. Students asked cited Lin’s hard work, his kindness and his determination. They are principles that fit in well with the school.
“We have the same principles,” says the head of the school Zhung Zhon Lia. “Our focus is on teamwork and cooperation.”
In a classroom on a Thursday afternoon the students, like any teenager in America, are growing weary.
Everyone stops to participate in the mandatory eye rest and massage that takes place every day in Chinese high schools. In row after row the students stop to rub their eyes and face for five minutes.
When they are finished they are asked, “Do you know who Jeremy Lin is?” And each and every one of them says, “Yes, of course.” Is he a hard worker? “Yes, of course!” Is he handsome? Pause. The formerly prim and proper audience bursts into giggles.
Handsome or not, Jeremy Lin is popular at Pinghu. He instills a special kind of confidence, the kind that comes with knowing that something very big (namely, the Knicks’ latest phenom) will always be a part of something a world away but nonetheless connected.
On this frigid day the courts are crumbling, the nets are frayed and the hoops are rusty. But none of that matters. The basketball players shed their winter coats and stay on the court for hours.
Jeremy Lin may be a brand new super star, but in Pinghu he is an old friend.
“We are proud of him,” says Zhi Chen.
With that he takes the ball from a friend, and takes a shot.