Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jeremy Lin—the “Linsanity!”

How does a 6’3, 200 pound kid make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated after only five games in the NBA? Simple, his story is FANTASTIC. Here are some quick random facts to know about Jeremy Lin:

·  National Basketball Association (NBA) rookie with the New York Knicks, recently brought up from the development (“D”) league of the NBA after being claimed off waivers in 2011
·  Harvard graduate (no athletic scholarships given at Harvard)
·  Rejected by Stanford, the college of his choice, literally minutes away from his high school, he decides to attend Harvard and plays basketball
·  Parents, both immigrants from Taiwan, are 5’6 and, together, weigh only 20 pounds more than Jeremy
·  After having a respectable college career, Lin was not drafted in the NBA

Lin was one of the most unlikely people destined for success in the NBA. He is undersized and played for a college with a shallow NBA “pedigree” (Lin is only the fourth player from Harvard ever to play in the NBA). By NBA standards, Lin is a living, breathing anomaly (literally a “one in a billion” kind of guy) and his path to success, no matter how temporal it may be, is a story that we should all get to know. 

Lin’s pathway to the “Show” was littered with unconventional and often unheralded lackluster events. Not pursued by major universities after an above-average high school athletic career, Lin’s grades and penchant for basketball got him into Harvard (see Lin on what it takes to get into Harvard here). While a freshman at Harvard, Lin and his teammates were fortunate to have Tommy Amaker hired as coach. Amaker, a college standout, is a “character coach” who, while passionate about winning, understands that his squad of ballers will never be top high school recruits and will likely never go on to play in the NBA.

Lin did well in college while having some notable performances as an unlikely, undersized, skinny, Asian-American point guard for the prestigious Ivy League school. Following a not-so-unexpected quiet NBA draft night, Donnie Nelson offered him a spot on the Dallas Mavericks summer league team. In summer league, Lin played moderate minutes until Roger DuBois injured his ankle, thereby opening available minutes for Lin, who then strung together a couple of strong performances.

Lin hadn’t exactly “arrived” by playing “D” league ball. He went up and down three times from the “D” league to NBA rosters (first to his “hometown” Golden State Warriors) because of injuries to others. He was picked up off waivers in the lock-out shortened season by the New York Knicks, who designated Lin to their “D” league affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks (never heard of them?...neither have I).

Injuries again opened the door for Lin to step up. He was recalled from Erie and, on February 3, in a game against the rival Boston Celtics, given an opportunity to play a few minutes in the fourth quarter. What followed is an unbelievable performance by an NBA rookie. Lin has the longest current streak in the NBA for 20 point/7 assist games with six (coincidentally, the number of games that he has started this season). Meanwhile, Lin was literally sleeping on his brother’s couch, because he had no idea how long he would be with New York, let alone in New York. 

So you’re maybe wondering, “okay, so this is a ‘feel-good’ story of an unlikely underdog who makes it in the NBA”—we all love those stories. Here is why Lin’s story, as unlikely as it may be, matters:

1. Lin is actually that good.  Ed Weiland predicted that, other than #1 overall pick John Wall, Lin was the 2010 point guard prospect most likely to succeed in the NBA.  Even so, no NBA team took him on draft night despite him being a statistical leader amongst collegiate players.

2. Without injuries to other players, Lin would likely still be playing in the “D” league. As with Golden State and Houston previously, it took injuries to numerous starters and back-ups to create available playing time.

3. Lin is a “journeyman,” meaning that he has played for multiple teams in multiple cities without long-term security for his playing future. Being a role player means being ready in an instant, typically to come off the bench and be “ready.” As a journeyman, you never know “whose” bench, where that bench may be, or what the role is.

4. Statistically speaking, Lin continues to get better. Many average NBA players are washed up in their 20s. Although only 23, Lin’s statistics demonstrate that he continues to get better each year that he plays.

5. Effectively, very few people believed in Lin’s abilities and gave him an opportunity to play. Much credit has been given to his high school and college coaches and, in particular, to Donnie Nelson, who gave Lin his big break to play on a “D” league squad.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the experience of Jeremy Lin, all of which are great for the game of basketball, but also applicable in business and the “game of life.” Maybe it’s not a coincidence that offices across the U.S. are littered with motivational references to sports (you know who you are; at the very least you have sports paraphernalia somewhere in your office…). I believe the real take away is that persistence, with faith and help from others, can make the difference. 

In the case of Lin, he will probably be the first to admit that he’s a major ACL injury away from pursuing his post-basketball career. Despite the knowledge that success at the NBA level is fleeting, Lin gives credit where credit is due: others. Hardly any person in business is “self-made.” Without exception, someone else comes along and makes an impact by providing an opportunity, taking some risk, or having faith where it may not be warranted. This can make all the difference in the world (the “X” factor, if you will). 

While we can look at Lin’s life and marvel at the “made for TV movie” experience that he has had, the experience happens every day somewhere in business and personal lives and goes unnoticed, at least by the major news and sporting publications. The result is no less important and we should look for opportunities to be that X factor in someone else’s life. In the meantime, be sure to applaud others when they capitalize on the opportunities given to him (and watch a great burn on John Wall in the process).

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