In my father’s generation it was the dribbling of Bob Cousy, the pull-up jump shot of Jerry West, the rebounding of Bill Russell, and the finger rolls of Wilt Chamberlain that children imitated in their driveways and local playgrounds.
And now they have Jeremy Lin.
As of February 10, kids across the world, in driveways and playgrounds, started waving their teammates to the baseline and taking a 7-foot defender off the dribble and shooting a three-point shot over him for a key basket on the grandest of all basketball stages—Madison Square Garden. And, yes, of course, they are holding their follow-through on their shot all the way to the defensive end.
Why is this so relevant? Well, Jeremy Lin is just like one of those kids now imitating him all over the world. Jeremy spent numerous hours in the driveway, at the playground, and in local gyms mimicking the moves of NBA greats.
Jeremy is as close to an NBA player that you and I are ever going to be. He’s one of us, and that’s what makes his story so inspiring.
Most NBA athletes are destined for the NBA from a very early age. They are gifted with tremendous abilities to shoot, score, pass or dribble. These athletes are also usually gifted with exceptional physical abilities. They are more than likely blessed with height, speed, the ability to jump, or a combination of all of the above. The great athletes of today are being discovered earlier and earlier in life, as high school and college recruiters use a national network to identify elite talent. And it doesn’t become a question of if these future stars will play in the NBA; it becomes a question of when.
When I came to know Jeremy in the summer of 2005, he was entering his senior year at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, Calif. What I saw of Jeremy that day said nothing to me about him being a future NBA player. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of coaches who saw Jeremy play didn’t think he could even play Division 1 college basketball, and initially, that included me.
My opinion changed the second time I saw Jeremy play, as he showed a unique ability to play basketball at a level that I didn’t think he was capable. Still, Jeremy was maybe 6 feet, 2 inches and around 155 pounds -- not a sound combination for NBA scouts or for that matter even high level Division 1 basketball schools.
Then, during Jeremy’s senior season, he went on to lead an under-sized Palo Alto team to the state title, in a game that featured a “David versus Goliath” type matchup. And the story of Jeremy “Giant Killer” Lin began. Nevertheless, despite the state title there were still zero scholarship offers and Jeremy chose to come to Harvard University.
How many star point guards in the NBA didn’t start for their freshman year in college? Well, I only know of one, as Jeremy was the first guard off the bench his freshman year before taking on a starting role as a sophomore. Jeremy’s burning desire to succeed made him work harder than he had ever worked before and became an All-Ivy League player. Jeremy always showed great confidence, and he always took the criticism of others as motivation to prove his critics wrong.
Jeremy Lin has handled his recent success with humility, with an ability to give credit to others and with a team-first attitude that is so refreshing to see in the world of sports today.
True, Jeremy may not look like you. He may have had the advantage of strong family support and an Ivy League education, and right now he may be the face of the NBA. But trust me: Jeremy Lin is the kid in all of us that we can relate to; he is the kid in us playing in our driveway, dribbling and shooting like our heroes that we dreamed we someday could become.
Bill Holden, a former basketball coach and recruiter at Harvard University, is boys basketball coach at the Middlesex School in Concord, Mass.