Commentary: Learning lessons from Jeremy Lin

02/20/2012 8:39 AM

02/20/2012 8:47 AM

What can a Chinese-American Harvard graduate who's suddenly exploded as a National Basketball Association star with the New York Knicks teach us Mercedians?

A lot.

Jeremy Lin, who went to Palo Alto High, has become this year's Tim Tebow story, just as the Denver Broncos' Christian quarterback dominated news cycles last fall.

Lin has helped the Knicks win seven games in a row with the kind of heroics reserved for movies like "Hoosiers" and "The Blind Side." His story has become fable: You don't have to be a sports fan to like what you see.

When he graduated high school, no big-time hoops program wanted him even though he led his team to a California Interscholastic Federation championship.

He lit up the Ivy League for four years, but went undrafted by the pros. Last year and early this season, he had a cup of coffee with both the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Both cut him. The Knicks picked him up but he rode the pine till his coach, desperate after a long losing streak and injuries, put him in the starting lineup.

All he's done is score 136 points in his first five starts, the most since the two pro leagues merged in 1976. (He's also had more turnovers in his first seven games than anybody in decades.)

More importantly, his team has won every game he's started, and got back to .500 Wednesday with a rout of Sacramento. (The Knicks lost to the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, 89-85.) And he's set the Twitterverse on fire.

Predictably -- as with Tebowmania -- doubters have emerged as fast as bandwagoners. "I like the story but I'm waiting to buy the shirt," wrote one longtime friend and teammate in Tokyo. "In the long run the NYC spotlight will burn out the Lin phenomenon way too quickly," emailed another. "I suspect most of his opponents, particularly the guys guarding him, have no idea about him so far. Next time around, he'll get some attention," wrote a guy from our same team in Japan.

Far worse were a couple of knuckleheads, one a sports writer, one an athlete. Jason Whitlock, a Fox sports columnist, after another spectacular Lin performance, tweeted that "some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight." He apologized after the Asian American Journalists Association said the tweet was "inappropriate on so many levels."

Then boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. tweeted that "... all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise."

What horse tweet.

Let's look at why we should take an interest in Jeremy Lin. Three good reasons are that he's humble, his fundamentals are rock-solid and he's all about teamwork. Young athletes around here -- and the whole country -- should make that their ringtone. He shrugs off his own stardom, praises his teammates, coaches and ... God.

He's like Tebow in that way too.

But strictly from a jock point of view, the kid can ball. One friend who played basketball at the University of Oklahoma and who hates the NBA, called Lin "graceful." A Topeka high school teammate pointed out that one reason he's able to penetrate to the rim so often and so fast is that he dribbles much lower to the floor than most players. That makes it tough for an opponent to steal the ball and gives Lin much more control over his pace and direction.

As ESPN's Rick Reilly put it: "But the best part is that Lin is a hoop hopes machine now. He gives every kid at the end of every high school bench, every college scrub who never gets a minute, every 13th man in the NBA ... faith."

Faith ... and fun.

Finally, isn't it just plain fun to sit back and watch this happen? When's the last time you could sit with your family and enjoy a pro game as much as you can when Jeremy's dunking, dishing or shooting a 3 -- and coming straight down from where he left the floor, just the way the coaches drew it up?

Probably awhile.

Yes, the Asian-American angle is interesting. Yes, the Harvard degree that means nothing in Madison Square Garden is intriguing. And, yes, the old-fashioned underdog yarn will always grab our hearts.

But most of all, it's just plain fun.

Quang Pham, former U.S. Marine officer and now a business executive, was at the Knicks-Kings game Wednesday night in New York. Says the pickup-game point guard: "The way Jeremy has played over the last seven games, it shouldn't matter if his name is Lin, Love or Lamar."

Then this note landed Wednesday from David Meseke from Hayden High in Topeka:

"I have also been an assistant coach for a few years at our alma mater and we are having another successful season. As the season winds down and the team is fighting through game after game, I was sitting at my desk wondering how we can get them to realize what a special time it is and how they need to enjoy it ... and all of a sudden your article (about a reunion last year of our 1963 high school starting five) falls in my lap. I plan on printing it off and asking the head coach to have the boys read it and maybe they will appreciate what a special year it's been for them."

Faith ... fun ... and feelings.

It's Linning time!

ABOUT THE WRITER

Merced Sun-Star Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at mtharp@mercedsunstar.com.

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