It’s sweeping the nation – Lin-sanity! People from all corners of the United States – and even from international nations – are shouting Jeremy Lin’s name from the rooftops and following his every move. Who is he, you wonder? He’s the first Chinese-American man to play in the National Basketball Association. Oh, but, he’s so much more than that. He’s the personification of determination, hard work, brains and stick-to-it-tiveness. He’s the sports figure all kids should want to emulate because, as a parent, wouldn’t you want your son to idolize a sports figure that works hard to achieve his goals and values education?
Jeremy Lin, who is of Chinese and Taiwanese descent but born and raised in America, played basketball for Palo Alto High, a team that went 63-3 while he was on it. As a senior, he led the team to a 32-1 record and the California Division II state championship title. But, despite this amazing success in high school, he didn’t receive any athletic scholarships to continue his basketball career, most particularly Stanford, the school in his own backyard. Recruiters didn’t consider him a Division I player; they thought he belonged in a Division III school. He was welcome to walk on but he wasn’t given any more attention than that. Undeterred, he took his brain power to Harvard University, graduating in four years with a degree in Economics and playing ball for the Crimson.
Despite a desire to continue his basketball career, he faced more adversity when he didn’t get drafted into the pros. The NBA general managers were looking for something different. In all likelihood, they were seeking the usual – AAU kids with that brash attitude and ability to shoot from every corner of the floor and then brag about it to the world. They were certainly not looking for a Chinese dude of average basketball height (6’-3”) and build who played for an Ivy League school.
So, Lin tried alternate routes. He put his head down and went about achieving his goal with a methodical, systematic approach. He went through predraft workouts, minicamps and played in the Summer League to gain attention. He finally got offers and signed with his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors. But, even though he was a fan favorite in the heavily-populated Asian community in San Francisco, he was waived. He was picked up by the Houston Rockets but waived almost immediately and then landed with the New York Knicks, for whom he has soared to stardom in the space of one week – an opportunity that occurred only because of injuries to the teammates who were playing ahead of him. So, even though he found himself languishing on the bench at the start of this strike-shortened season, his name was finally called by Coach Mike D’Antoni and he has made the very most of his opportunity, leading the Knicks to seven straight wins, the most notable being against the Los Angeles Lakers, when he outscored the Lakers’ big gun Kobe Bryant, 38-34.
In this incredible streak, Lin-sanity has swept the nation. People everywhere are awestruck by this little engine that could; people everywhere are embracing him grandly. In a sport that has never seen an American-born Chinese guy make a living on the court, he broke the barrier. He’s playing with the big boys and he’s playing with energy and enthusiasm while responding to this craziness with grace and maturity.
So, why didn’t anyone take Jeremy Lin seriously? It can’t be his height – there are players shorter than him. It can’t be his knowledge of the game – he went to Harvard, for goodness’ sake, so I’m guessing he understands the sport better than most.
Could it possibly be because he’s not the typical AAU player? Bingo! (For the record, I think that’s a blessing.) Have you seen these AAU kids? It’s a generalization, to be sure, but I’ve seen them up close as my son began his athletic career playing AAU-sanctioned club basketball. He hated it and told us why: the coaches are in it for their own glory and they coach their players to assume the same attitude. So, bottom line: AAU kids are selfish and entitled; they care only about their own statistics and future playing careers. Right in my own backyard, the USC Trojans were recently heavily sanctioned, in part because of an AAU basketball player whose “representative” demanded money from the school in order to get this kid to play for them…and the coach reportedly complied (although the coach, to this day, denies this). The fact that the university was sanctioned is an indication that this was the likely scenario. And, what did the coach get for his trouble? A one-and-done player who left in a blaze of glory, was drafted and started on his NBA team only to flame out a few years later. Now, this player sits on the bench and comes in for only a few minutes a game. Meanwhile, the college coach was unceremoniously relieved of his duties.
But, the AAU kids don’t get there by themselves. Typically, their parents assume the same attitude: they care only about their sons’ accomplishments on the court rather than about the good of the team because it is their dream to score big once their sons make it into the NBA. Being in Los Angeles, you see this over and over again, ad nauseum. The high school coaches know it but they are powerless to do anything about it because – up until Jeremy Lin – those were the attributes – the ball-hogging, the incessant shooting, the high stats – that got kids athletic scholarships and subsequently, a ride into the NBA.
Hopefully, that mold is now broken, thanks to Lin. Maybe now, NBA general managers, owners, players and fans will understand the value of a player who loves to play, despite the odds. Maybe they’ll finally get it that a particular player may not have the physical attributes, hifalutin stats or sense of entitlement that his AAU-playing counterpart has but is blessed with an undying determination to keep at it until he makes it. Hopefully, they’ll realize that someone who is willing to scrape and claw his way past one failure after another – no scholarship offers, not being drafted, being dumped by team after team – is a player that has the work ethic to keep trying until he achieves his goal.
Perhaps NBA managers and coaches will realize that staying in college for four years is actually a good thing. Basketball analysts say that one reason Lin has been such a success is because he’s smart enough to understand D’Antoni’s offense. Compare his offensive play to the player he replaced: Carmelo Anthony, who has always only played basketball the way Carmelo wants to play it – that is, the way that will stack Carmelo’s stats and make him a more viable individual player. Lin plays D’Antoni’s offense the way it was designed: as a team sport. But the reason he plays this offense so well? He’s smart enough to understand it in theory and skilled enough to put that theory to practice.
Hopefully, the game will refocus itself away from those AAU-type players who are in it only for the fame and money. Hopefully, the dumbbells who quit college early because they’d rather chase the Benjamins will think twice before abandoning the athletic scholarship that served as their path to the NBA in the first place. Hopefully, the new NBA player will be modeled after Jeremy Lin.
And, if, by some miracle, this happens, the fans will be significantly rewarded because we’ll be treated to a game played by older, more mature and better skilled athletes who play with determination, skill, brains and heart.
What do you think? Do you agree that college players should stay in college for the full four years so the quality of play improves?
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