Illustration: Liu Rui
In the past few weeks Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere to become an overnight star for the New York Knicks, and became a global household name in the process. He turned a team that had been mediocre for a long time into a winning one with championship hopes. You don't have to live in New York, be a Knicks' fan, or even be a basketball fan to be infected by Linsanity.
Fans are mesmerized by his name and all the fun derivatives they can come up with. A cable TV contract dispute between Time Warner Cable and the Knicks' owner, the Madison Square Garden Company, was solved overnight to allow many agitated cable subscribers to watch Lin on TV. And a member of the editorial staff at ESPN, which used the racial slur "chink" in a headline about Lin, was fired.
Much has been said about how this Harvard educated Asian-American kid has captured so many hearts. His great ball skills, psychological strength, humble comments and amiable personality have all helped. The hunger for long-absent success at one of the great US sport franchises and the fact that this all happened in the center of the global media industry, New York City, have also been a huge help.
But there is at least one more ingredient that plays a significant role in Lin's formula for success. The US culture has been a hero-centered one from the beginning. People are always ready to salute their heroes. The influence is traceable in everything from comic book fantasies such as Batman, Superman and Spiderman, to the saluting of brave soldiers, firefighters and cops.
The nation's founding fathers are held in almost mythical esteem, as was the Kennedy family. Even US President Barack Obama was hailed by his supporters as an omniscient rescuer of the country during the presidential election campaign in 2008.
Democracy probably favors this kind of thinking. When everyone has a voice, and every voice counts, you need strong hands to hold the wheel, whether it be sports stars you can look up to or those with the future of the country in their hands. It helps to avoid endless arguments at times of crisis. Americans may not always like their president, but they are all supposed to support him at a time of war or terrorism.
But in recent years some of the superheroes have also let down their supporters. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston found the pressure too much and left us. Tiger Woods was tainted by a sexual scandal and his career went into reverse, at least temporarily. Obama didn't bring the changes to working people that he promised.
Americans badly need new superheroes. In the recent US football season a player who many pundits didn't rate as top quality, Tim Tebow, suddenly was at the center of a string of unlikely victories by his Denver Broncos team and became a major media figure. His Christian devotion and clean-living added to his status.
Lin, the son of an immigrant family from Taiwan, is also a Christian. His perseverance in the face of setbacks and his after-game comments about teamwork rather than his own contributions are rare commodities that meet the need for heroes perfectly.
Politicians are taking notes. Obama watched Lin's play and was "very impressed." New York City Comptroller John Liu, an Asian-American politician whose dream of becoming the next mayor is now dimmed by a slew of negative news about his fundraising practices, took Lin as his guide when he gave his state of the city speech last week: "I'm sure you can understand why I find Jeremy Lin's story so inspiring. As an Asian-American he is managing against all odds to take his career to the next level," Liu said.
And former New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky pronounced in a recent article in the Huffington Post that Lin would be "the dream candidate for the Republicans."
Lin, at this moment, is apparently interested more in 3-point shots than a political shot, but you never know.
The author is a New York-based journalist. firstname.lastname@example.org