Published: 15:17, August 14, 2020 | Updated: 20:01, June 5, 2023
Lin savoring a season to remember
By Sun Xiaochen

In this undated photo, Jeremy Lin shares a light moment with fans during a commercial activity in Beijing. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Beijing Ducks star Jeremy Lin says his bruising debut season in the CBA has reinforced his belief that Asian players deserve more credit on the court.

Born in California to parents with family roots in China, Jeremy Lin has relished the chance to immerse himself in Chinese culture over the past year

Almost a week after the Ducks were defeated in the semifinals by the Guangdong Southern Tigers, Lin is still hurting from that brutal battle and counts knee pain and hearing loss that required hospital treatment among his wounds.

But despite coming up short in his quest for league glory, Lin still feels proud of his team's efforts under difficult circumstances during the pandemic-interrupted campaign.

"My first season in the CBA was memorable because I realized my dream to come and play in front of my fans in China," Lin said during a Ducks meet-and-greet with fans in Beijing on Wednesday.

"Even with uncertainties over the restart during the break, we all did our utmost to prepare ourselves and the whole team went really hard to chase our goals," Lin told CCTV after the Ducks were beaten 2-1 in the semifinals by nine-time CBA champion Guangdong.

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"We did our best in the playoffs so we feel like we could walk away with our heads held high."

Signed by the Ducks last summer as a free agent after winning the NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors, Lin arrived in the CBA to considerable fanfare and high expectations from fans that he could be the missing link in the capital franchise's bid to add a fourth league title to the three won when Stephon Marbury led the way (2012-15).

Lin's leadership and play-making ability have been a neat fit in Greek head coach Ioannis Christopoulos' system, which values team play above adapting to the styles of individual stars.

Yet, the heavy physical toll of the extended season and opponents' ferocious defensive play, which only got tougher during the playoffs, had the Ducks offense stalled during the best-of-three series against the mighty Southern Tigers. Beijing's chances were also not helped by the absence of Christopoulos, who was stuck overseas for the restart due to the pandemic.

According to CBA statistics, Lin was fouled 365 times in all 43 games this season-making him one of the most targeted players in the league. He contributed 22.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.

"Basically, we were playing while hitting each other in the game," Lin said of the intensely fought series against Guangdong.

Lin, though, was not using the physicality as an excuse and acknowledged that Guangdong's tenacity-built around former NBA forward Yi Jianlian, prolific American scorer Sony Weems and multiple Team China stars-was admirable.

"They deserve the credit," said Lin, 31, whose blowout performance off the bench with the New York Knicks in early 2012 was famously labeled by media as "Linsanity".

"Facing such a strong team, you don't have any room to make mistakes. This was a great series and fun to watch. Unfortunately we are not the winners."

Now with only two months until the CBA season tips off again, Lin said he hasn't decided yet if he'll stay in China or seek a return to the NBA. "I still need more time to process all the emotions of the past season. I won't start considering the next options until I am ready," he said.

Born in California to parents with family roots in China, Lin has relished the chance to immerse himself in Chinese culture over the past year, and reckons Asian players deserve more respect from the international basketball community.

"Growing up in the States, I feel like players with Asian heritage weren't treated with enough respect," said Lin, who is the only Asian-American to ever win an NBA championship ring.

"Coming to play in China and watching how hard players in this league work to be better, I honestly feel more responsibility to help them improve and earn more respect," he added.

"I think Chinese players need to become more creative to make their game flexible facing all kinds of confrontations."

Even without reaching the finals, the Ducks' coaching staff and players lavished praise on Lin's contribution.

Interim coach Xie Linbin, who is just three years older than Lin, only took the reins for the Ducks when the league restarted with behind-closed-doors action in June.

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Xie attributed the Ducks' deep run in the absence of a head coach on the sidelines to Lin's leadership qualities.

"There were times when I was overwhelmed by tough defeats in the season, such as after losing to Guangdong in the first semifinal game. Jeremy was always there, taking the responsibility and encouraging me to move on," Xie said on Wednesday.

"His trust helped me do my job to the best of my ability as a rookie coach and unite us together when we were in trouble."