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Jeremy Lin: The NBA's breath of fresh air

By David Challenger, CNN
February 15, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
Everyone loves a battle-against-the-odds story, and Jeremy Lin fits the bill perfectly.
Everyone loves a battle-against-the-odds story, and Jeremy Lin fits the bill perfectly.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lin is the first U.S.-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA
  • In just weeks he's gone from one-time bench-warmer to team savior
  • He has led the Knicks to five straight victories and averaged more than 20 points per game
  • Lin is the first Harvard graduate to play in the league for almost 60 years

(CNN) -- In the last week, Jeremy Lin has gone from an unknown professional basketball player struggling to get time on court to an overnight sporting and media sensation. CNN takes a closer look at the first U.S.-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, and how he's becoming more popular with every game.

Who is Jeremy Lin?

Born to parents Shirley and Gie-Ming on August 23, 1988, Lin is an Asian-American NBA player for the New York Knicks. He wears the jersey No. 17 and plays as point guard. As a professional basketballer he's not overly tall, measuring 6 feet, 3 inches (191 centimeters) and weighs 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms). He played for four years at Harvard, and has spent just one year as a professional player.

Career highlights:

Following his stint at Harvard (where he was twice named to the all-Ivy League), Lin failed to get drafted by an NBA franchise, and instead signed as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors in July, 2010. In December 2011, Lin signed with the New York Knicks after being cut by the Houston Rockets. His 109 points in his first four starts this past week have surpassed Allen Iverson's to become the most by any player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.

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'Linsanity': Why the hype?

Everyone loves a battle-against-the-odds story, and Lin fits the bill perfectly. The reasons for his meteoric rise to become a U.S. basketball sensation are numerous, but it all starts with talent. In just weeks he's gone from one-time bench-warmer to team savior, leading the Knicks to five straight victories and averaging more than 20 points per game, while his field goal percentage during this winning streak tops 50%. In Friday's game against Kobe Bryant's L.A. Lakers, he reeled off 38 points in that victory alone.

Lin also stands out due to his academic prowess, being the only current NBA player who has a Harvard degree, and is the first Harvard graduate to play in the league for almost 60 years.

Harvard grad Lin has shot at basketball immortality

Then there's the race factor: Lin is the first U.S.-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, which is helping to tap into the significant market of Asian-American basketball fans. This in turn is spilling over to NBA devotees in general.

Why Jeremy Lin's race matters

"He's amazing, how could you not be excited," asked a punter watching Lin play on TV in a bar in Minneapolis on Saturday. "I mean look at the Knicks, have you followed them for the last 10 years? And then this guy shows up and he knows how to play the game -- you've got to be excited."

His ethnicity is even having an effect globally -- even though Lin hasn't built up celebrity status in the Chinese leagues like retired center Yao Ming did, the Chinese interest is already there, with 900,000 followers on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, already secured. The NBA has also said its TV partners in Asia will soon start showing Knicks games.

On top of his athletic and academic abilities, Lin is also drawing fans for his public devotion to Christianity who are thinking about the role model he'll be for their children.

Lin has said he was raised in the church and became a Christian in high school. After beating the Lakers on Friday, he said, "I just give all the praise to God." He also said in an interview in 2010 that he wants to be a pastor post-NBA.

A marketer's dream

From a marketing perspective for the Knicks, Lin's popularity is proving a boon -- last week his No.17 jersey was outselling those of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

And with the PR damage from the recent NBA lockout and the steady decline of old superpowers like the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics, the league is looking for new personalities to draw fans into the sport. With his multicultural attraction, Ivy League background and come-from-nowhere storyline, Lin has that in spades.

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