Elevating Asian-Americans’ Profile in the NBA and Beyond

Lin For The Win: An Underdog’s Story

Drawing parallels to the Tebow Mania that engulfed the NFL over the late-game heroics of Philippine-born Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos, the NBA now has acquired LINsanity due to the recent exploits of the New York Knick’s Jeremy Lin.

In a league whose only Pilipino-American presence has only been Raymond Townsend(who played from 1978-1981 with the Golden StateWarriors, Dallas Mavericks, & Indiana Pacers) and current Miami Heat Head Coach Eric Spoelstra, Lin is the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. The Harvard-educated Lin has exploded from relative obscurity to become a trending topic far beyond the regular basketball fans because of his true-to-life Cinderella Story.

Despite being drafted by his hometown Warriors, which many have accused of being a publicity ploy to appeal to Oakland’s high Asian-American population, Lin had since been released by both the Warriors and the Houston Rockets earlier this year. Then, in danger of being cut by the Knicks after being assigned to their Developmental League affiliate, opportunity arose for Lin when the floundering Knicks’ two superstars were unable to play – Carmelo Anthony due to injury and Amar’e Stoudamire due to a death in the family.

In a culture that loves to root for the underdog and adores (to the point of practically worshipping) Linners winners, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week has exploded into the national consciousness with his recent rash of thrilling in-game heroics. While the sample size is tiny – 6 starts in 7 games, the red-hot Lin has been producing some eye-popping numbers in leading the surging Knicks to 7 straight victories. He dished a career high 13 assists and scored 10 points against the Sacramento Kings on 2/15; 27 pts (including  the  game-winning three pointer) and 11 asts versus the Toronto Raptors on 2/14; 20 pts (including the game-winning free throw), 8 asts, & 3 steals vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves  on 2/11; 38 pts, 7 asts, & 2 stls vs. the Los Angeles Lakers on 2/10; 23 pts & 10 asts vs. the Washington Wizards on 2/08; and 28 pts, 8 asts, & 2 stls vs. the Utah Jazz on 2/06.

Probably even more than the outpouring of love and support, a bigger testament to how well Lin is playing is the amount of hate that some people are pouring on the humble and unassuming star. Boxing star and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao nemesis Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has a history of racist rants against Asians, has recently posted his thoughts on Lin to twitter.

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Even Forbes  has gotten caught up in the phenomenon, and has posted what all of us “can learn from this young man — and how can we apply these same lessons to our own lives.”

1. Believe in yourself when no one else does. Lin’s only the 4th graduate from Harvard to make it to the NBA.  He’s also one of only a handful of Asian-Americans to make it. He was sent by the Knicks to play for their D-League team 3 weeks ago in Erie, PA.  He’d already been cut by two other NBA teams before joining the Knicks this year.  You’ve got to believe in yourself, even when no one else does.

2. Seize the opportunity when it comes up. Lin got to start for the Knicks because they had to start him.  They had too many injuries.  Baron Davis was gone.  The other point guards were out.  Carmelo Anthony was injured.  Amare Stoudemire had to leave the team because of a family death.  Lin could have squandered the opportunity and we would have never have noticed.  But he made the most of it.  You never know when opportunities are going to arise in life.  Often, they’re when you least expect them.  Make the most of them. Don’t fritter them away.

3. Your family will always be there for you, so be there for them. It wasn’t until a few days ago that Lin got his contract guaranteed by the Knicks for the rest of the season.  Before that, he could have been cut at any time.  He had to sleep on his brother’s couch on the Lower East Side to get by.  His family always believed in him and picked him up when he could have gotten down on himself.  That made him continue to believe.  If you want your family to believe in you like that, you’ve got to be there for them too when they need it.

4. Find the system that works for your style. Lin isn’t Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.  He’s not a pure scorer.  He’s a passer and distributor – who can also score very well.  It didn’t work for him in Golden State or Houston – where he was before landing at the Knicks.  But Mike D’Antoni’s system at the Knicks has been perfect for him to show off his strengths.  You’ve got to do your best to understand what your strengths are and then ensure that you’re in a system (a job or organization or industry) that is a good fit for those strengths.  Otherwise, people overlook the talents you bring to the table.

5. Don’t overlook talent that might exist around you today on your team. You probably manage people at your own company today.  Are you sure you don’t have a Jeremy Lin living among you now?  How do you know that “Mike” couldn’t do amazing things if you gave him a new project to run with?  How do you know “Sarah” isn’t the right person to take the open job in London that you’ve been talking over with your colleagues?  We put people around us in boxes.  He’s from Harvard.  He’s Asian-American.  Not sure he can play.  How many assumptions have you made about talent around you?  Don’t be like the General Managers in Golden State and Houston, and let talent slip through your fingers.  With all their money, scouts, and testing, they didn’t have a clue what they had in their hands.  Do you know what your people (or even yourself) is really capable of?  Take off the blinders of assumptions you wear when you look at the world.

6. People will love you for being an original, not trying to be someone else. You’ve got to be you.  You can’t be some 2nd rate copy of Michael Jordan.  There will never be another Michael Jordan.  Just be Jeremy Lin — yourself.  Whatever that is.  That doesn’t mean you don’t work hard — it just means you find what you’re good at and do it.  Fans will love you for being you, just like they love Jeremy Lin.  Judy Garland said it best:

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

7. Stay humble. If you one day are lucky enough to have newspapers want to put you on the cover in order to sell more, don’t let it get to your head.  It’s been remarkable watching how humble Lin remains through all this media frenzy.  It makes his teammates and fans love him that much more.

8. When you make others around you look good, they will love you forever. I didn’t know how good Tyson Chandler was, until I saw him playing with Jeremy Lin.  Lin has set Chandler up many times over the last week for easy dunks because he drew the defense and then passed the ball.  That’s partly why the Knicks are playing so well.  They are all working harder to share the ball with others.  And it’s beautiful to watch.  And when the media swarms Lin, he tells them how good his teammates are.  Do the same with your peers and reports.

9. Never forget about the importance of luck or fate in life. Some people believe in God, some in destiny, some in luck.  Whatever you believe in, be grateful for it.

10. Work your butt off. Lin couldn’t have seized his opportunity if he hadn’t worked like crazy for years perfecting his skills.  There are no short cuts to hard work.  Success is a by product of that.  If you’ve got a Tiger Mom who’s always pushed you to work hard, great.  If not, let your conscience be your own Tiger Mom!  Get up early, stay up late.  Nobody gave Lin any free passes. Why should you get any?  You can only control what you control and that means you’ve got to work harder than anyone else you know.

Knowing the nature of sports in general and of NBA basketball in particular, Lin’s production will probably simmer down from this hyperbolic surge at some point in the near future. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that this by far has been the best story of the year. According to KnickerBlogger ‘s Robert Silverman, “when one talks about his meteoric rise, one is talking about events that occurred on the court as opposed to the joyless dirge of the lockout, botched/hijacked trade negotiations and/or whom Howard will pick to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance.” 




Picture courtesy of:

  • Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images