Why I am rooting for Jeremy Lin

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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

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5 Responses to “Why I am rooting for Jeremy Lin”

  1. pin says:

    i agree with your point but why put another ceiling on him saying J.Lin will never be an NBA All-Star?
    are you not contradicting yourself? Nash wasn’t highly regarded and he is now an 2 time MVP.

  2. Brian McCormick says:

    Pin:
    I said that he “may never” be an NBA All-Star. I did not say that he “will never” be an NBA All-Star. There is a difference.

    The point is that his success, or lack thereof, at this point is irrelevant. I have no idea if Roger Bannister ever won a gold medal or not. His ultimate success is irrelevant and ultimately less important than his breaking down the 4:00-barrier.

    Regardless of his success, Lin’s impact will not be measured by minutes played, points scored, all-star appearances or championships won; instead, his impact is breaking down the perceived barrier and inspiring millions of Asian and Asian-American players, an impact that no amount of all-star appearances could equal.

  3. Nghiem says:

    Brian,

    A very well written piece. I completely agree with everything you said. I live in San Francisco and am a huge Warrior fan. I too asian-american (Vietnamese to be precise). My friends and I have followed Jeremy’s career since he left Palo Alto. Of course we are all BLOWN away at the winds of fate that brought Jeremy to our Warriors.

    I also have a 5 year old son. He is already a big basketball fan and i hope to teach him the sport so that he too may know the joys of this glorious sport, playing and watching.

    I told him last night, even though he won’t remember, that it’s a great day today, a special day for all of us Americans and basketball fans.

    This is the first time I have visited your site and I’m glad I found it. Good Luck Brian and please keep up the good work.

  4. Thanks for writing this, Brian. It’s as if, when I’m reading it, I’m saying it myself. When I went to school at Cal during the Jason Kidd era, a friend of mine tried out for the team and actually made it, until they found out he was a junior (too old to give a walk-on spot).

    Being a 19- to 20-year-old gym rat at the time, who studied film of Michael Jordan to improve my game, I’d always wanted to merely tryout as a walk-on as well and maybe make it to the final cut. I felt that, while my friend’s athleticism (he was shorter than me, I was listed 6’2″ with shoes) was actually better, I had a better IQ of the game. However, I wasn’t particularly muscular even though I hit the weights a lot, as my metabolism was still too high.

    Finally, my major was in Engineering, which put a lot of pressure on my studies, which took away from the focus I could have training for basketball.

    If Jeremy Lin had come along earlier, I know that I would’ve sought out better weight training techniques and ultimately gone out for the team. I would’ve felt the freedom to change my major — with the confidence to deal with what my parents would say to that — to better suit my immediate/modest goal of merely testing my mettle as a walk-on.

    So this is a real example of how Jeremy is going to be affecting basketball development for any and all people, particularly those from Asian-American cultures.

  5. [...] of Asian-Americans who previously looked at the NBA as an unattainable goal. I have written about Lin as a role model and as an example of parental support and talent [...]

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