Early Sunday morning, I walked to the court where I train a 9th grader every weekend. He is generally late and sleepy when he arrives, but today he was on the court and shooting. As soon as I was within earshot, he said, “What do you think of Jeremy Lin?”
For those who do not follow the NBA Summer League or Ivy League basketball, Jeremy Lin is a point guard from Harvard who played with the Dallas Mavericks at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He is an Asian-American, the son of immigrants from Taiwan. He was overlooked by nearly everyone as a senior in high school despite leading his high school to the California state championship with a win over national powerhouse Mater Dei; even nearby Stanford University offered only an opportunity to walk-on. Now, as an undrafted free agent, he is on the cusp of a guaranteed NBA contract, the holy grail for every young child who picks up a basketball.
While basketball fans concentrate on the athleticism of John Wall or the psychology of DeMarcus Cousins, from a developmental perspective, Jeremy Lin is the most important rookie in the 2010 class. I am rooting for Lin for the impact that his success will have on players like the one that I trained this morning.
While everyone hopes that race is a non-issue in the 21st Century, it is. Living in California, I have trained and coached a number of Asian-American players. While they love to play, there is often a sense of the glass ceiling – regardless of effort or talent, the Division I scholarship or the professional career is beyond their grasp. They look at D1 basketball and the NBA, and they do not see many players who look like them (Irish basketball players suffer from the same issue).
When I was young, many white players suffered from the same self-imposed glass ceiling. It is easier to blame one’s genes or race for one’s inability to achieve his dreams, and this pervades athletic and talent development. We create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I coached at a high school with a heavy academic emphasis and a large concentration of Asian-American students. Few if any actually believe that they could play college basketball. Their teachers, parents and coaches emphasize more realistic pursuits, like the orchestra and advanced calculus. When something must be sacrificed, sports are the first to go because sports are viewed as superfluous, as there is no future in sports. However, is an NBA career any more outrageous than a first chair position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic?
Before Roger Bannister broke the 4:00-mile, it was viewed as a ceiling of sorts. However, once he broke through the barrier, dozens of runners ran under 4:00 in the following months. The 4:00-mile was a mental barrier, not a physical barrier.
As Steve Nash flourishes in the NBA, he inspires white suburban players all over North America. No longer can a white player blame his race or genes, as Nash proves that a white player can excel in the 21st Century NBA without having to be 6’10. Lin has the chance to have the same impact for Asians and Asian-Americans, as to this point, only 7’0 Asians have had much basketball success.
I am not interested in the economic impact of a successful Asian-American player. My focus is developmental. We spend too much time looking at race, and not enough time controlling things within our control – our effort, skill development, practice habits and more. Once one player breaks through the perceived barrier, it becomes easier for others to set higher standards for themselves.
From a developmental perspective, I am interested in eliminating excuses. I want players to create their own positive self-fulfilling prophecies rather than allow prevailing myths to create a perpetually negative self-fulfilling prophecy to limit one’s dreams, goals and effort.
Jeremy Lin may never be an NBA all-star. However, his impact as a player may not be felt immediately; instead, his greatest impact may be felt a generation from now when young Asian-Americans no longer view college or professional basketball as an unattainable dream, but a worthwhile goal to pursue diligently.
By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development