Community, pols struck with ‘Linsanity’

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy of the Madison Square Garden Company ” align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]
The inside of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor was packed with ‘Linsane’ Knicks fans for a special viewing party hosted by the Madison Square Garden Company last Wednesday.
BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  In Chinatown, if there’s a will, there’s a way to keep up with the latest exploits of New York Knicks’ newest star, Jeremy Lin, even if it means getting your local politicians involved.

When more than 100 residents could not see Lin play on cable last Wednesday night, they packed a local restaurant to watch together. A long line snaked along Doyer Street as they sought to enter a quickly organized viewing party for the game between the Knicks and the Sacramento Kings, in which Lin posted a career-high 13 assists.

Local politicians meanwhile stepped up efforts aimed at pressuring Time Warner Cable and the Madison Square Garden Company to resolve an ongoing dispute keeping local Time Warner cable subscribers on the sidelines of the “Linsanity” surrounding the Chinese-American player. The two parties reached an oral agreement in time for last Friday’s game when the Knicks lost for the first time since Lin became the team’s starting point guard.

Pride in Lin’s roots and the underdog narrative, as well as devotion to the hometown team have brought the Chinatown community together. His fairytale rise to fame in the NBA, from a benchwarmer that was nearly cut from the team, into a hero among basketball fans nationwide is resonating with residents who said they see glimpses of themselves in the Harvard grad.

Lin’s play-making, offensive acumen and personal story has fueled the “Linsanity” in Chinatown. Wilson Tang, owner of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which hosted the impromptu viewing, said the significance of Lin was “huge” in a much different way than that of Yao Ming, a seven-foot, six-inch behemoth who was the first NBA star from China.

“It’s just a very good feeling to see someone like Jeremy Lin. I can relate to him because I could have been going to school in Palo Alto [California], I could have went to school at Harvard,” added Tang. “These are all tangible things. That’s why all Asian Americans relate to him and look up to him because someone finally made it into the big leagues, especially the NBA, and because it’s never happened before. So it’s definitely a very feel good story, any way you want to put it. It breaks a lot of barriers.”

The idea for the event at Nom Wah was instigated by Madison Square Garden to pressure Time Warner to come to an agreement. But enjoying a piece of the NBA money pie was not so important Wednesday, said Tang who added that while his business may have benefited from the increased patronage, something more valuable drove his decision to host the event.

Representatives from the two companies would not comment on the nature of the disagreement which kept Knicks games off cable T.V. until Friday, except to say it was financial in nature.

“[The] fallout of this dispute has been acutely felt in the Asian American community in New York, many of whom have been unable to watch Knicks rising-star Jeremy Lin,” said City Councilmember Margaret Chin in a Feb. 16 letter to the two companies. “Basketball is incredibly popular with Asian American youth in our city. Mr. Lin is the first Asian American player in the NBA to make headlines, and he is quickly becoming a role model for many young people in our city. It is heartbreaking that thousands of Asian American families are unable to watch him play.”

Local representatives expressed relief over the weekend at the resolution after the stalemate ended. Proposed legislation aims to keep similar disagreements from happening in the future. A bill co-sponsored by State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents a portion of Lower Manhattan, would require binding arbitration by the Public Service Commission to resolve future disputes between cable providers and independent cable channels run by companies such as the Madison Square Garden Company, according to a Feb. 18 statement.

“As Linsanity has taken hold in New York, I’m glad that the insanity between Time Warner and MSG has come to an end,” said Squadron in the statement. “Now, we need to pass this bill and prevent future impasses that benefit companies at the cost of fans. Jeremy Lin is a once in a lifetime story. Let’s ensure that these cable standoffs are too.”

In Chinatown, as in China, watching sports easily becomes a communal affair. Residents have a particular relationship to “Linsanity” but it is a phenomenon transcending cultural lines. The local community believes it is not about winning or losing but rather being an active participant in an ongoing New York City saga where everyone feels something personal is at stake.

It is an optimistic time for fans in a city still reveling over a Super Bowl victory, according to Steven Mitchell, a Canal Street vendor who lives in Brooklyn. He added that Lin is an example of how one succeeds in a city where success comes down to rising above setbacks.

“I’m just happy that they gave him a shot,” said Mitchell. “When you get the opportunity to do what you have to do, you must rise to the top in any aspect of life. Once you get an opportunity to put your foot in the door, you gotta squeeze [both] feet into the door… and that’s what Lin did.”