Sports vs. smarts: Lin changes views in Taiwan

MEQUON, Wis. — Yi Cheng Chiu became an accomplished scuba diver and power lifter in his native Taiwan, much to the dismay and disdain of his parents. In fact, his mom and dad thought he was crazy.

“They said I was wasting my time,” said Chiu, now an MBA student at Concordia University in Mequon.

In the uber-competitive academic atmosphere of his home country, Chiu was also criticized for getting an undergraduate degree in sports and recreation management.

“Doing sports in Taiwan was not seen as a way to make money,” said Hsiao Feng Tu, Chiu’s MBA classmate at Concordia.

That was all before a kid who had bounced around pro basketball for two seasons, getting cut by the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Eve, became the toast of New York and the NBA. Friday night, Lin’s Knicks will be in Milwaukee to face the Bucks.

“Jeremy Lin has changed attitudes in Taiwan,” said Christine Kao, Concordia’s director of Asia Pacific region global education operations and a Taiwan native. “He has brought Taiwan’s name out there.”

Lin was born in Los Angeles and starred at Harvard, but his parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 1970s and much of Lin’s family still lives in the Orient. The fact Lin could be both good enough in the classroom to graduate from an Ivy League school and good enough on the court to start for the Knicks has been a real eye-opener for the people of Taiwan who thought athletics precluded good grades.

“Jeremy is a role model,” Kao said. “Taiwan is not just emphasizing academics. Parents are seeing that sports can also bring you a healthy mind and that not all good students are geeks.”

“Because he did all of this after getting a Harvard degree it is a really big deal in our country,” said Kuo Hau, another Taiwan native in Concordia’s MBA program.

Sheng Ti Weng, who was born in Taiwan and is a Concordia undergrad, bought tickets for himself and four classmates to Friday night’s game more than a month ago. He’s excited to see “Linsanity” in person.

“It’s pretty cool,” Weng said. “Everybody back in Taiwan is watching on TV.” (Often during business hours because the 14-hour time difference has Knicks games tipping off at 8 a.m. local time.) “My Dad called the other day and asked, ‘Did you watch?’ My dad has never watched sports until now. Eighty or ninety percent of the people in Taiwan now watch the NBA.”
At the tender age of 23, Lin finds himself carrying the banner for a nation of 23 million people and for the last month anyway has become the most famous person on the planet with Taiwanese ties. But through all of his acclaim on Broadway and appearances on back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers, Lin has never taken on an “all-world” attitude.

“Jeremy is humble,” Kao said. “His family upbringing has made him humble.”

Lin’s grandmother and uncle who live in the same house in Taiwan are now celebrities hounded by photographers. Lin, who has more than 630,000 followers on Twitter, has become a superstar of social media.

“All the girls, they all want to see Jeremy,” said Weng. “On Facebook, they are screaming all around.”

Kao, who makes frequent trips to the Far East to promote business relationships between Asia and the U.S., says Lin’s success is attracting visitors to America and helping to bridge gaps between the cultures.

“People want to come here to see live games,” she said. And sports events are helping these people understand the differences in cultures. Jeremy, as an Asian-American has shown how well he’s adapted in his surroundings.”

Lin’s rise to stardom has provided a badly needed shot in the arm for a league still struggling to gain widespread public acceptance after the protracted lockout. But half a world away Lin is an even greater hero, giving millions of young people the chance to get some game while avoiding shame.

“Kids who love sports now have support to go for it,” Kao said. “Parents used to always first ask, ‘Did you do your homework?’ Now they’re asking, ‘Did you play basketball?’ “

All of which is terrific news for Chiu, who has worked as a fitness assistant with Concordia’s football and hockey teams. He will graduate with his MBA in May and return to Taiwan with the goal of teaching fitness and power lifting in his native land.

“I want to convince parents that if I teach their kids to do sports correctly that it will help them to a better life and help them think in a better way.”