I watched Jeremy Lin when he led Paly to the CIF State Championship in 2006, as I was living in Sacramento and knew many players, coaches, and fans in the Bay Area. I knew Mitch Stephens, who was criticized when he picked Lin as the 2006 San Francisco Chronicle Player of the Year. I have written several times about Jeremy Lin (here, and here) and Poor Man’s Commish has kept everyone updated via twitter for years, but I do not know Lin or his story personally, so this is a view from the outside.
Rather than a narrative about Jeremy Lin and his ability to overcome stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Ivy League (or non-BCS) basketball players or an immigrant father using basketball to help his sons assimilate or perseverance, the narrative (in some circles) has become about placing blame. Stanford should have signed him. UCLA should have signed him. Why did Mark Jackson cut him? Daryl Morey should have known that he had a star. Mike D’Antoni should have played him sooner.
What if nobody really missed on him? What if he was a great high-school player, but not a high-major college prospect after his senior year? In the 2006 recruiting class, Stanford signed the Lopez twins and Landry Fields; UCLA signed one guard: Russell Westbrook. Even with the state championship and 20/20 hindsight, it’s tough to judge either school negatively (Of course, where were St. Mary’s, USF, Santa Clara, U.C. Davis, etc.?). It’s not like Jeremy Lin immediately set the world on fire: he average 4 ppg and 18 minutes per game as a freshman at Harvard. Harvard never made the NCAA Tournament during Lin’s years in Cambridge.
What if the Warriors, Rockets, and others did not miss on Lin, despite his senior-year performances against UConn, Boston College, and Georgetown and the NBA Summer League game versus John Wall?
Some questioned his ability to play point guard; he spent a lot of time not playing point guard at Harvard. He had a chance with the Warriors and did not earn much playing time.
What if this is really a story about a player who met failure at every step of the way with a Growth Mindset and responded with increased effort and determination to make himself into a better player? Poor Man’s Commish, the authority on the Jeremy Lin story, has commented several times about moves that he has now that he did not have at Harvard or about improvements to his shooting technique. Others have noted his improved quickness since his time at Harvard.
Maybe, just maybe, people made accurate evaluations of Lin at the time. Maybe Lin took note of those evaluations and viewed them as progress reports, not final grades. Maybe Lin heard about his suspect jump shot or need for more quickness and worked at those weaknesses.
The thing that differentiates Lin might not be his ethnicity or Ivy League degree but the way that he deals with criticism or rejection. Rather than losing hope when he went undrafted, maybe it fortified his will and determination and spurred extra effort in the gym. Maybe when he was cut by the Warriors and Rockets, it created an urgency to show more if given another chance.
Maybe Jeremy Lin is not the story of others who made mistakes, but an individual who believed in himself and created his opportunity through a re-dedication to perfecting his craft. While others settled with being pretty good, maybe he strove to be great. While others headed to Europe for a nice payday, maybe he maintained a single-minded focus on his NBA dream.
Maybe everyone was right all along. And, maybe, just maybe, Lin had the will and desire to hit the gym and prove them wrong by improving and stepping up his game at each step along the way. Maybe he persevered when most others would quit; maybe he did not allow others’ perceptions to become a self-fulfilling prophecy; maybe he grew from these experiences which tend to stagnate growth in others.
Maybe the narrative should be about a kid who likes to ball who didn’t let other people tell him what he couldn’t do or achieve and who believed in himself enough to put in the work to make an absurd dream (non-scholarship to NBA) into a reality.