Hawaii’s Connection To Jeremy Lin

New York Knicks Jeremy Lin

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin (17) aims for the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat. AP photo

When “Linsanity” hit the sports world in early February, perhaps no other group of sports fans smiled broader than the people of Hawaii. From basketball gyms to Facebook, local fans are enthusiastically expressing their pride in Jeremy Lin, the overnight sensation of the New York Knicks who grew up in California, but whose family ties go back to Taiwan and China.

“I almost never watch an NBA game except for the playoffs, but after I started hearing about him, I recorded the game against the Lakers,” says former University of Hawaii Wahine basketball coach Vince Goo. “You hear about this guy and you just have to be impressed. Man, he penetrates, passes and shoots really well.”

Lin’s rise from obscurity to international hero has underscored something that sports fans in Hawaii have known for generations. That is, the color of a person’s skin or his ethnic background has nothing to do with his ability to play.

“I think it’s huge,” Goo says. “(Lin) being AsianAmerican has raised awareness. But there is also the Harvard factor. It’s still early, but it’s been a great story so far.”

Vince’s father, Ah Chew Goo he was second-generation Chinese, as his descendents had come directly from China to Hawaii in the late 1800s was one of the first widely known Asian-American basketball stars. Ah Chew Goo played against the Harlem Globetrotters in Hawaii, and is even credited with inspiring a couple of their famous routines.

“He was offered a chance to play for the Globetrotters on the Mainland, but he turned it down. He had heard about some of the prejudice across the country and didn’t want to be a part of that,” Goo says. “Dad didn’t have some of the opportunities that today’s players have.”

Ah Chew Goo, now 93 and still a great fan of the game, once said that another Hawaii player with Asian heritage had surpassed him to become the greatest locally born basketball star. Goo gave that honor to Derrick Low, the former Iolani standout who also starred at Washington State, and who is now playing professionally in Ukraine after previous pro stops in Australia, France, Lithuania and Israel.

Another player with local ties who may benefit from Lin’s recent success is Taiwanese-born Jet Chang. Chang, from BYU-Hawaii, was last year’s Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA Division II national tournament, and he currently leads the PacWest in scoring this season.

“It may help Jet,” says BYU-Hawaii head coach Ken Wagner. “(The pros) know about him already, but this may give him a second look.”

Chang’s highlights at last year’s NCAA tournament became a Web sensation in his native Taiwan last spring. Lin’s amazing run has not only gone viral in Taiwan (where his grandparents live), but the fans and media there have accorded him almost rock star status.

“Seeing the excitement about a player who seemingly comes out of nowhere is really something,” Wagner says. “I’m not surprised they’re going crazy about him.”

Whether Linsanity continues at its early pace remains to be seen, but while it lasts, you can count Hawaii as one of the places where we will be cheering the loudest.

We already knew what the rest of the world is just finding out.