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Wherever he goes in Asia, Jeremy Lin will always be compared to Yao Ming.
After all, the 24-year-old point guard who went from benchwarmer to superstar last season is the first basketball star of Chinese descent to emerge since Yao's retirement in 2011. And Lin starts this fall with Yao's former team, the Houston Rockets. The two have even developed a friendship, with Lin consulting the 31-year-old Yao, who now lives in Shanghai.
So how does Lin think he stacks up? 'I don't think there's a comparison,' he said at a charity event in Hong Kong on Friday, the latest stop in his trip through Asia. Yao 'is a Hall-of-Famer, an All-Star,' Lin said, two badges of honor he has yet to achieve.
Lin's tour kicked off earlier this month in Taiwan, his parents' birthplace, where he was welcomed with open arms, followed by Beijing, where he visited a school, then Shanghai, where he appeared on the TV show 'China's Got Talent' and signed a deal with KFC China as a spokesman.
This week, he coached basketball in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan before arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, where reporters and fans waited at the airport and his hotel.
During a mall appearance Friday, Lin got the crowd's loudest applause by speaking a few words ('very happy to have you all here') in Mandarin. He fielded questions from young fans about everything from demanding parents ('They never pushed me to become a doctor or lawyer, but they always pushed me to get good grades,' he said) to juggling school and sports (Do your homework early, he suggested).
He diplomatically sidestepped questions about whether he considered himself American, Chinese or Taiwanese, saying 'first and foremost, my identity is in Christ,' and wouldn't commit to whether or not he'd play for the Chinese or American national team if picked for international competition. 'When the time comes, I'll look into it,' he said.
Lin's unexpected rise this year spawned plenty of riffs on his name, Linsanity and Lincredible being the most popular. But his favorite is 'Super Lintendo,' he said. 'It was my favorite game console, growing up.'