Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why I Love the Jeremy Lin Story

It's the stuff of Hollywood, this story. An unrecruited, undrafted player, over-looked by two franchises and nearly cut by his current one, suddenly is given an opportunity to showcase his talent. And showcase his talent he has.

Entering his nationally televised game against the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks starting point guard Jeremy Lin was averaging 24.6 points, 8.6 assists and shooting 50% over his last eight games. While he does turn the ball over quite a bit, he has absolutely electrified the Madison Square Garden faithful and probably saved his coach's job. Alas, my own trip to New York's famed basketball arena did not include a sight of "Linsanity", as he was in the Developmental League, playing for the Erie Bayhawks where he posted a triple-double on the very night I was watching the Knicks lose in double overtime to the Denver Nuggets.

A t-shirt in NYC
Lin's story is one of faith, perseverance, and hard work. The 6'3" point guard played as a freshman in high school standing just 5'3". By his senior year, he led his Palo Alto High School team to the California Division II state title. He went unrecruited by his dream schools Stanford and UCLA, and it was only Harvard and Brown that guaranteed the player a spot on their teams. College coaches said the lack of recruiting time hurt the evaluation of Jeremy Lin, as he didn't separate himself athletically. In a New York Times article from 2010 by Chuck Culpepper, Lin said, "I just think in order for someone to understand my game, they have to watch me more than once, because I’m not going to do anything that’s extra flashy or freakishly athletic." He flourished at Harvard, setting many school records and earning notoriety as one of the Ivy League's best players.

Lin went undrafted out of college but did land try-outs with several NBA teams. Unfortunately, the try-out process did not include regular, five-on-five basketball action. From that same Times article, Lin acknowledged that the workouts were "one on one or two on two or three on three, and that’s not where I excel. I've never played basketball like that." Despite the difficulty, Lin persevered and eventually signed a two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors, the NBA team that played in his hometown of San Francisco, CA. He played sparingly that first year, bouncing between the Warriors and the D-League Reno Bighorns, but he made it.

However, after the season and the NBA lockout, the Warriors waived the contractual rights to Lin to make room for another player. Lin was signed by the Houston Rockets, but after only two preseason games, they cut him as well. That's when he landed on the end of the bench for the New York Knicks. Lin was buried in the depth chart behind Toney Douglas, rookie Iman Shumpert, veteran Baron Davis and journeyman Mike Bibby. It wasn't until playing well for the D-League Eire Bayhawks and several injuries to rotation players in New York that Lin got his chance. Once he was on the court, however, Lin wasn't heading back to the bench.

The Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey mentioned on his Twitter account after the fiery start of "Linsanity" that they "should have kept [Jeremy Lin]. Did not know he was this good". Now, Magic Johnson, a Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest point guard in NBA history, says: "He [Lin] is for real. This guy can play basketball." Lin has captured the national spotlight in much the same way Tim Tebow did during the football season, but the difference might be skill. Whereas Tebow, as I discussed in a previous post, doesn't seem to have the proper skill-set for his position, Lin most certainly possesses what every successful point guard needs: vision, speed, and shooting touch.

This is where the Hollywood side of the story comes into play. There's no doubt that Lin's faith, perseverance, and hard work prepared him to seize his opportunity, but the success he has enjoyed seems like the stuff of scripts. At first glance, he is the archetypal underdog character, and if you look at some of the greatest sports films of all-time, they are all underdog stories. "Rudy" (1993), "Major League" (1989), "The Natural" (1984), "Rocky" (1976), and, my submission as greatest sports film of all-time, "Hoosiers" (1986), all share the same character-type. That's why the Jeremy Lin story is so enjoyable, despite the jersey he wears.

I love Jeremy Lin's story. He is all that's right in sports, despite ESPN's ubiquitous coverage. He is the type of example I'd have the players on my teams follow, the type of example I'd have my son follow. Truth be told, it's the type of story I day-dreamed about growing up. Had I made it as a basketball player, Lin's path would have been the one I walked. Alas, I write this as a mere teacher and hopeful writer, and not a professional athlete.

But it's Lin's story that inspires me to continue to have faith, persevere, and work hard to achieve my own dreams of being a published writer. And I hope Lin continues his success. That is--until he plays the Heat.

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