If you know me personally, you had to know this was coming. Let me just lay down the gauntlet right away. Jeremy Lin will be the first full Asian-American player in the NBA. Because skill, talent, determination, athleticism, hops, smarts, instincts, humility, and the high-ceiling potential to get even better count for something in the path to the NBA, I’m unequivocally confident that he will not only make it, but be an impact player.
I mean, I’ve got basketball topics left and right to talk about; I should be averaging one blogpost per day. The week-long dearth on Poor Man’s Commish’s blog should’ve clued you in that there would be nothing save for our own referees making it to the NBA that would be of greater importance — well, in the past week at least — than what he will mean for Asian-Americans once he makes an NBA roster. Being from his same demographic, I hereby dedicate my first huge blogpost to Jeremy Lin.
[NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part post, and has a read time of about 10 minutes. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.]
However, over the past year I’ve also learned that it’s not just the fundamentals of the game that get you into this sport’s highest echelons that we know of as the NBA. It’s marketing savvy, business savvy, who you know as opposed to what you know, being in the right place at the right time, creating your own luck. It’s politics. At least in America, it is. Last time I checked, the NBA was in America.
If the stars had already aligned and a player could instantly transport himself to where he belonged or was supposed to be, Jeremy would be playing for Duke and he would be a first-round draft pick. Or he’d be at Cal, with the luck of the Irish smiling upon him with two years of tutelage under the great Mike Montgomery (okay maybe the name Montgomery is Scottish, I really don’t know but let’s just say it’s Irish), dishing dimes to Patrick Christopher and helping Christopher average twenty ppg, not “only” 14.5, for Pete’s sake! Better yet, somehow ending up at Kentucky and setting up future lottery pick power forwards Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton — wait, pg John Wall’s there, maybe this is a bad example. And no offense to Jerome Randle in the Christopher example, but well, you know, blah blah and blah. These are just a couple of the dozens of examples I could have come up with (I went to Cal, so there).
But for whatever reason — actually, I have the reasons, but I’ll save that for a future post — Jeremy is at Harvard and playing in the Ivy League. Jeremy should have had a high-powered AAU rep in his corner, looking out for his personal best interests as it pertains to reaching the ultimate level, embracing this land of opportunity and individualism, ensuring that a name-brand Division-I coach gave him a scholarship or else, although maybe it’s a good thing that never happened because we all know that the AAU has a few bad apples. Ah well, no sense bemoaning the fact that we can’t travel back in time.
Instead, through no fault of his own, Jeremy’s in a conference that nobody cares about and that lacks any bonafide big men or ballhandlers (save for himself). He’s on a team where he’s forced to play almost every position — well, depending on the new recruits – but where he probably can’t play his natural position, his future position in the NBA, which is point guard. I sure hope NBA GMs are taking notes!
His more meaningful point guard stats, while yet impressive on their own, will be discounted from where they should be, because the recipients of his passes aren’t particularly adept at putting the ball in the hole. From Jeremy they have to receive the ball right under the basket, gather themselves, head fake, take a dribble (whoops, negate the assist!) then lay it in. I watched every Harvard game online that I possibly could last season. What I just told you happened. A lot. But hey, if you were “particularly adept”, you wouldn’t find yourself at Harvard, which offers no athletic scholarships! What’s the saying these days? It is what it is.
Right now, Jeremy Lin is a poor man’s Steve Nash, and I truly hope that fate makes their career paths parallel. After all, Nash led the unknown #15 Santa Clara Broncos to the stunning upset of the #2 Arizona Wildcats. I’d even venture to say that Jeremy’s a poor man’s Jason Kidd, ‘cuz boy can JL run the break! Oh wait, you’ve never seen Harvard run the break. Yeah, that doesn’t happen all that much. You need to know where to find this “footage”. I have it. I know where and when to find JL running a fast break. Someday I’ll tell you all about this footage, as well as where/when. Just really can’t reveal too much details right now.
It is my duty to touch on the subject of him being Asian-American. Well, Chinese-American to be exact. His dad is an engineer from Taiwan. Same as my dad. Matter of fact, JL and I both played basketball in the same high school conference (Central Coast Section, if you’re keeping score), albeit about eighteen years apart. I know what it’s like to grow up the son of a Chinese engineer, to play varsity hoops in Silicon Valley. You know, come home from practice and it’s pretty dark out already. Don’t talk much at the dinner table. Fighting any basketball-related demons on your own, that sort of thing. Trust me, it ain’t the Bill Walton family supper, that’s for sure.
When I was a teenager, I could not have possibly fathomed what I know today about capitalism and business. After Cal, I worked for Andersen Consulting (which became Accenture, the consulting behemoth that now sponsors the biggest match play golf tournament in the world), I jumped ship to its evil twin Arthur Andersen to escape becoming a cog in the machine, then I found my dream job: working with startup companies as a business development arm for archrival PricewaterhouseCoopers. Basically, my job was to find the next Yahoo, get buddy-buddy with them, and ensure that PwC got the audit work to take the next Yahoo to an IPO. This was the dot-com era. If blogs existed back then and I had a penchant for writing, I would’ve been a heavy contributor to TechCrunch. Heck, I probably would’ve invented it. Well, many people could’ve. You should’ve seen the deals that crossed my desk.
My tangent here is to say that I know how capitalism works now. Had I known what I know now going into college, I wouldn’t have killed myself striving to survive the Cal Engineering program. I would’ve quit and chosen another major and passed it with flying colors, then took my junior/senior 4.0 average (my GPA the last two years was way below 4.0; you know, coulda woulda shoulda!) and got myself into Bain — then killed myself at Bain! Things have a way of working out on its own, but in hindsight you always say, dang, I wish I had known that sooner. Unfortunately, most young basketball players don’t quite know how America works and how business fits in the world of basketball. Again, through no fault of his own, Jeremy can be grouped in the category of “most young basketball players”. Only a select few have the advisors, the trust, and perhaps an inkling of this knowledge (Brandon Jennings comes to mind), so this is no slight on JL.
I hate to admit this, but there may be some inadvertent “self-discrimination” going on too. Once again, no fault of his own. I mean, how could he know? How could his family know? Heck, when I was his age, I didn’t know! Let me put it bluntly. We Chinese, we’re a submissive group. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Outliers about Chinese farmers maximizing rice output in a set given plot of land, it’s practically etched in our DNA that if we focus on the task at hand and maximize every variable on our plate, everything will be alright. Success will be inevitable.
Like everything else, there’s good and bad to that. I’ll let you figure out the good (and there’s plenty of it, believe me I respect that), but first of all the bad part is that, little do we know, there are other variables around us that can lead to a success that supercedes the success we thought we knew. Successful Americans nurture as many variables around them as humanly possible, while ensuring that at least one variable “keeps the food on the table”, but always keeping other things and people in motion, so that when that knock comes on the door, there’s always the chance that that opportunity could lead to more than just food on the table. In most cases, way more.
Secondly, we Chinese don’t know when to speak up. We also accept things as they should be, and are non-confrontational. Some may even argue that it’s prevented Asians from becoming Silicon Valley CEOs. It’s certainly not the best fit for a capitalistic society. I’m sure someone out there has written a thesis on why China may have had to be communist before it became and is becoming more capitalistic. I think self-discrimination may have played a part in Jeremy not getting any D-I scholarships. I sure hope history isn’t repeating itself here after his senior year at Harvard.
Still, as Rex Walters recently told me, “I’ve never seen him play and he may be a poor man’s Steve Nash, but he’s got to be Steve Nash, not a poor man’s Steve Nash.” That’s where Harvard comes in. Someone in the web of basketball (not Jeremy) told me that Coach Tommy Amaker had a meeting with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who agreed that if Harvard somehow won the Ivy and got the auto-bid into the NCAA tourney, as a Harvard alum he would attend the first-round game, as would fellow alum, POTUS Barack Obama. Woah. Yeah, I think that would more than parallel Nash’s journey. In fact, JL probably wouldn’t even have to win that game if Obama were there. It’s an understatement to say that that would definitely put JL on the map. But now that I’ve said it, I’ve probably jinxed it. Heck, you didn’t need me to say that I heard this through the grapevine. You could’ve put the storybook ending together yourself. Give yourself some credit.
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- The legend of Jeremy Lin (full)
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