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Win Like Lin
Finding Your Inner Linsanity on the Way to Breakout Success
By SEAN DEVENEY
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
EMBRACE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
"Everybody's overlooked him for the last 20 years, probably since grade school.... To his credit, he just kept plugging away."
March 9, 2011 CNN American Morning studio Columbus Circle, New York, New York
Jeremy Lin, point guard for the Warriors, was seated in a metal chair across from anchor T. J. Holmes early on a Wednesday morning before Golden State's game against the Nets, taping a segment for CNN's weekend morning show. Six days earlier, when the team had had an off day in Boston, Lin had gone over to Cambridge to stop by the registrar's office at Harvard University, where he had earned a degree in economics, graduating the previous spring. Lin had not been able to get the diploma, though, because he had missed the ceremony to go through NBA predraft workouts. This is what Holmes wanted to discuss.
Holmes introduced the segment by saying, "Which of these names doesn't belong: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony? You would probably say Jeremy Lin, but the name does belong. Everybody I named is a standout in the NBA. But Jeremy Lin is a standout for a different reason— because he is the only NBA player right now that also holds a Harvard degree."
Holmes cited three things that made Lin a standout: his Harvard education, his ethnicity, and his religious devotion. Lin, even at that point in his career, was getting accustomed to attention that came from his uniqueness as an NBA player. When he had signed with the Warriors as an undrafted free agent in September 2011, the team had held an informal media availability, and more reporters showed up than for any other Warriors preseason press conference in recent memory—a very unusual circumstance for an undrafted rookie. Lin averaged only 2.6 points per game as a rookie with the Warriors, but because of his background, he got as many media requests as anyone on the team, including star players Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Warriors public relations director Raymond Ridder estimates that the team turned down 80 percent of those requests, in an effort to limit the pressure on Lin.
Talking with Holmes, Lin was proud of his path—but, at the same time, the controlled media access was a good indicator that he and his agent, Roger Montgomery, didn't want attention to his backstory outpacing his actual on-court accomplishments. "I definitely stand out for sure, and I know my story is very unique," Lin told Holmes. "But that's something I embrace and enjoy. Just this whole journey has been a blessing from God. For me to be here, I am just taking it one day at a time and really enjoying it."
Saul Mariaschin started his collegiate basketball career at Syracuse, but left when he enlisted in the Navy to fight in World War II. When he came back, he enrolled at Harvard and was the captain of the Crimson basketball team for two years, leading them to their first NCAA tournament spot in 1946. After that, Mariaschin played 43 games in 1947–48 for the Celtics of what was then called the Basketball Association of America, but, as the story has it, his father-in-law did not want him traveling so much, so he quit. After Mariaschin left, Ed Smith starred at Harvard until 1951, when he was chosen No. 6 in the NBA draft by the Knicks. Smith also went to war—he fought in Korea—and when he returned in 1953, he got started on his pro career in New York. But he injured his hand early on and never got a footing with the Knicks. He played just 11 games, scoring 28 points.
The 54 games played by Mariaschin and Smith had been the sum total of Harvard's American professional basketball output. There have been eight U.S. presidents and more than 50 Nobel Prize laureates to go through the halls of Harvard undergrad or graduate schools. But before Lin, there were just 54 games' worth of basketball.
Wat Misaka was a 5-7 point guard from Ogden, Utah, who helped lead the University of Utah to championships in the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the '40s, and went from there to become the first Asian American player in pro basketball history—he logged three games and seven points for the Knicks in the 1947–48 season. Since then, Asian Americans like Raymond Townsend (who is half Filipino) and Rex Walters (half Japanese) have played in the league, as have Asian imports like Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian. But in the NBA, Asian American players have been very rare.
Even before NBA teams sized up Lin when he was coming out of college during the predraft period in 2010, he had perception working against him. Typically, NBA players come from college powerhouses like North Carolina or Kansas or Connecticut. They don't come from Ivy League schools, and certainly not from Harvard. They're also not typically of Asian descent. In fact, players at the collegiate level are rarely Asian American. NCAA figures for Lin's senior year showed that of the 5,182 male basketball players in Div. I, just 26 were Asian American. One of those 26 was Lin, the son of Taiwanese immigrants.
When Lin went undrafted after completing college, his Harvard coach, former Duke star Tommy Amaker, wondered whether it was embedded, preconceived notions about whether an Asian American from Harvard had a place in the NBA that had kept him shut out of the draft. There may be something to that theory—scouts very often use comparisons as one part of evaluating players, and there just aren't many players who immediately look like Lin. Indeed, Lin, too, wonders if Amaker is right, especially when he still hears compliments about his game couched in adverbs like deceptively or surprisingly.
"I think it has something to do with it," Lin said at this year's All-Star game. "I don't know how much. But I think just being Asian American, obviously when you look at me, I'm going to have to prove myself more so again and again and again, and some people may not believe it. I know a lot of people say I'm deceptively athletic and deceptively quick, and I'm not sure what's deceptive. But it could be the fact I'm Asian American. But I think that's fine. It's something that I embrace, and it gives me a chip on my shoulder. But I'm very proud to be Asian American, and I love it."
The more Lin can establish himself in the NBA, the more he can change the assumptions made about Asian Americans and sports in this country. That's something Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a Filipino American who has a strong following in the Philippines, can understand. "It's a great story," Spoelstra said before the Heat faced the Knicks for the first time. "There's no doubt about it, the fact that he came from oblivion really from the standpoint of, he was cut, had to go to the NBDL multiple times, it shows his fortitude, his character, his resiliency. I don't know him, but I would guess he has a similar perspective as me about it. It is terrific to be involved with changing people's perceptions, and the world is changing. But, ultimately, and hopefully years from now, the story will be about the basketball story. It won't be about ethnicity."
To be fair to NBA teams, there was more to teams overlooking Lin on draft night than ethnicity. There was also a pretty universal scouting report when he was coming out of Harvard, even after he averaged 17.1 points in his junior and senior years, finishing as league MVP: Lin had talent, and there were some who felt he could develop, but he was very thin and, though he had improved his accuracy, he had an awkward, over-the-head shooting style that would be easier to defend in the NBA than it had been in the Ivy League. There are two rounds in the draft, with 60 total picks, and, generally, no one would accuse league executives of be
Excerpted from Win Like Lin by SEAN DEVENEY. Copyright © 2012 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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