Friday, February 17, 2012

How we can all learn a lesson from Jeremy Lin

Linsanity, Lincredible, Linvincible, Super Lintendo. The nicknames for the stunning breakout of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin are endless.  He has emerged from anonymity, and now finds himself in the center of the brightly shining spotlight of New York City, and Madison Square Garden.  How did this all happen? Where did he come from? And why has he been overlooked for so long?

Jeremy Lin has gone from the end of the Knicks bench, to the top story on ESPN, and is now the hottest story in sports.  For those of you who have been following this story, you probably know by now that Jeremy Lin has been overlooked at every level.  But despite being overlooked, and being told he wasn't good enough, he kept fighting. He had a dream, and he has worked relentlessly to make it into a reality. All he needed was for somebody to believe in him, and to give him an opportunity.  He is the epitome of an underdog, and from this underdog story I think there are two major lessons we can learn in perseverance, and in stereotyping.  

Jeremy Lin hails from Palo Alto, California.  In high school Lin was a phenomenal player. He received very little attention heading into his senior year from recruiters though.  Even Harvard, where he eventually found a home, came away unimpressed after their initial analysis.  However, after seeing him a second time Lin became the top player on Harvard's recruiting board.  In Lin's senior season he led Palo Alto High School to a 32-1 record and an upset over perennial powerhouse Mater Dei High School in the state championship game.  Lin would also go on to win Player of the Year honors in the state of California. However he was also the only California High School State Player of the Year to never be offered a Division I scholarship.  Stanford was located right across the street, but they never came through with an offer. Neither did Cal or UCLA who were at the top of his list. So he ended up at Harvard, a school who has produced more United States Presidents, than NBA Draft Picks.

At Harvard, Lin continued to perform.  He averaged, 17.8 points per game, and 16.4 points per game respectively in his junior, and senior seasons.  He also helped turn around what had been a horrid Harvard Basketball program. With the help of newly hired Head Coach Tommy Amaker, Lin led Harvard to a 21-8 record in his senior season. They narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, however they did receive a postseason bid to the CIT, which was an impressive accomplishment after struggling through an 8-22 season when he was a sophomore.  Lin also graduated with a degree in Economics.

However despite all the success he had at Harvard, the NBA didn't seem to really take notice.  He was projected to be drafted by many experts, but the draft came and went without Lin's name being called.  You think stereotypes don't exist? Let me tell you that even here in 2012 they are alive and well.  "How could an Asian kid from California, who played at Harvard possibly be good enough for the NBA?"  "He's smart, and he knows the game, has a decent shot, but he can't possibly be athletic enough." Those were the kinds of statements that NBA scouts, and front office brass made about Lin.  People didn't take into account that he has won at every level, that he has constantly been overlooked yet continued to perform, that he actually has good size for a point guard at 6'3" and 200 pounds, and that he has an explosive first step and ability to get to the rim.

But did that stop Lin? Absolutely not. He had a dream, and he was determined to make it come true.  He had been overlooked going into the college, this was just another hurdle on his way to achieving his dreams.  Lin was invited by the Dallas Mavericks to play in the NBA's Summer League. That is where Lin made his first impression on the NBA. He played very well against that year's number one overall pick John Wall out of Kentucky.  He posted solid numbers in the Summer League, and was signed by the Golden State Warriors.  Despite making the roster he was placed on the inactive list.  Despite making his NBA debut, and enjoying playing for his hometown team, Lin spent the season bouncing between the NBA and the D-League and was cut on December 9, 2011, the first day of training camp after the NBA lockout had ended.  He was claimed off of waivers by the Houston Rockets on December 12th.  However things didn't get any easier in Houston.  He found himself at the bottom of the depth chart, and was waived by them on Christmas Eve.

Than Lin finally caught a break, well sort of.  On Christmas Day, New York Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert suffered a knee injury, and the Knicks claimed Lin off waivers on December 27th.  Again Lin initially saw no playing time. In fact he was even assigned to the D-League again.  After posting a triple double of 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists, the Knicks recalled him to the NBA team.

He still wasn't playing though. The Knicks were going with their completely ineffective combination of Mike Bibby, Iman Shumpert, and Toney Douglass at point guard, and along with it their previously high expectations were gone. The Knicks were ready for Baron Davis to come back and hopefully instill some stability to the point guard position. However after he suffered a setback in practice, and with the urging of Carmelo Anthony, Head Coach Mike D'Antoni decided to give him some minutes, and what Lin had been waiting for all along, an opportunity.  25 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds later, and one Knicks victory later, Lin found himself with a starting assignment against the Utah Jazz.  And as they say, that's all she wrote.  Lin has led the Knicks to seven straight victories and counting now. Those victories include dramatic comebacks, a game winning 3 pointer at Toronto, and a dominating 38 point performance against the Lakers.  Despite, the public questioning of whether or not Carmelo will pose a problem once he returns, things are only going to get better.

How did he seemingly come out of nowhere? Well the thing is, he was always ready. He was just waiting for a chance.  This whole time he patiently waited, working his hardest, and most importantly staying confident and believing in himself.  It's easy to lose confidence in yourself when nobody else seems to have any in you. Sometimes the only thing that can hold you back is yourself, and when you don't believe in yourself that is what can happen. Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski once said "For the most part people do not attempt things because they fear the consequences. But the greatest consequence of all comes in not attempting to do the things that you believe you can. Having courage means boldly pursuing your dreams, no matter what the consequences may be." Jeremy Lin has the courage of a lion, and for those of you who think that he is just a flash in the pan, or a fluke, you don't know enough about him, and he's looking forward to proving you wrong just like he has everybody else on his way to the top.

Right now he's the toast of New York City. People can't get enough of him. His jersey is the best selling in the NBA since February 4th, and he is the headline on ESPN every day.  But the reason people love him so much isn't just because he is a great basketball player. Sure he is one, but there are plenty of those. The reason is because he inspires us, he gives us hope.  Every player on the bench working his hardest to get in, every employee who feels that they are under-appreciated and that they can do more, every person who believes all they need is a chance, look no further than Jeremy Lin, and keep believing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Eli Manning Emerges from Peyton's Shadow, and Makes His Way Into the Spotlight

Eli, Peyton, and father Archie
You all know Peyton Manning. Engineering the Colts offense better than any offensive coordinator possibly could, putting up passing numbers that seemed only possible in video games, leading his team to the playoffs year after year, featured in countless advertising campaigns and promoting some of the most popular products in their respective industries.  After a spectacular college career at the University of Tennessee, in which he set the SEC record for passing yards and wins for a starting quarterback, he was taken with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and has taken the league by storm since than.  He has led the Colts to 12 playoff appearances, has earned 11 Pro Bowl appearances, has won three MVP awards, has already won one Super Bowl, and taken his team to another, and in the process has broken virtually every Colts franchise passing record.

Eli in the Cotton Bowl at Ole Miss
In the meantime, as his older and far more celebrated brother, made his way to top, little Eli was steadily putting together an impressive career for traditional SEC cellar dweller Ole Miss.  Despite the fact that Ole Miss was not an SEC powerhouse, Eli decided to follow in Daddy Archie's footsteps.  After finishing a senior season in which he led Ole Miss to a Cotton Bowl victory, won both the Maxwell, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, his stock steadily began to rise.

Just like Peyton he was selected first overall, albeit, amid some controversy.  People tend to forget that Eli was originally a San Diego Charger.  However with the support of Archie, who suffered through some miserable seasons, on some very bad teams, as the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, it was rumored that Eli would refuse to play unless dealt to another team.  So on draft day the Chargers and Giants made a deal that would define both franchises for the years to come.  They swapped draft picks and when all was said and done the Chargers had Phillip Rivers out of N.C. State, and the Giants had their man in Eli Manning.  And we all know how that one is working out.

Things weren't easy for Eli though.  He had an immense amount of pressure placed on him already, coming from the most popular family of athletes in sports, and there was surely no way he could ever escape the shadow cast by his immensely successful brother Peyton. But the expectations were on him to not only produce, but to do it right away, and anything short of returning the New York Giants to glory would undoubtedly be considered a failure.

If you watched Eli Manning from the start, it was not a pretty sight.  He struggled early, and often. His numbers were mediocre at best, teammates questioned his ability to lead, and the media absolutely killed him for it.  And the fans were the worst of all. New York is a great place, it is my home, and I absolutely love it, but as great as the fans can be when things are going well, they can be downright awful when you are not.  New York City is a place where the common theme "is what have you done for me lately?"

Eli Manning escaped the Patriots grasp to deliver the
throw to David Tyree that would change history

But than in his fourth season Eli finally delivered what all those New Yorkers had been waiting for. He won that first ring. In dramatic fashion, he led a game winning drive, in which he completed one of the most phenomenal plays in Super Bowl history to David Tyree, and delivered again, hitting Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown.  He defeated Tom Brady and the almighty, seemingly unbeatable, New England Patriots.  The Giants made an improbable run, knocking off Buccaneers, Cowboys, and the Packers at Lambeau, on the way to achieving their Super Bowl victory. New York was in love with Eli Manning, and the New York Giants, for the time being at least...

The following season the Giants went on to win the NFC East and earned the number one seed in the NFC.  However they were defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles at home, and fans were angry as Eli under performed badly in the loss. Over the next two seasons things only got worse.  The Giants struggled mightily down the stretch and missed the playoffs in both years. Eli personally struggled as well. Despite throwing for over 4,000 yards in both seasons, he finished last season with an embarrassing 25 interceptions.  New York was again ready to throw him out of town.

Than in 2011 things changed.  In the preseason Eli was highly criticized for saying that he believed he "is an elite quarterback" and "in the class of Tom Brady."  Now athletes are criticized for things they say in the media all the time, and more often than not they are taken out of context.  But either way those words came out of his mouth, and he went out this season and proved that he in fact was elite.  He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, finishing with 4,933, and thew 29 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.  The Giants did have their struggles at times, losing four straight at one point this season, as well as an ugly loss to the Seahawks, and losses to the Redskins both times.  But Eli was rarely at fault.

This season was defined not only by his impressive numbers, but by his late season heroics in victories over the Cowboys twice, and the outspoken, but unimpressive New York Jets, that has set up the second improbable playoff run they are now on.  The Giants are healthy, confident, and look like they could take down anybody right now. They outright dominated the Falcons, at home, shut down the vaunted Packers offense at Lambeau, and won an intense battle with the 49ers at Candlestick.  Although his numbers were solid in that victory over the 49ers, the most impressive thing in that game to me was that he kept on fighting. He got beat up badly in that game. The 49ers sacked him 6 times, and knocked him down or hit him on seemingly every play, yet he just kept getting back up, and eventually found a way to help his team get the victory and back to the Super Bowl, earning a rematch Brady and the Patriots.

I admittedly have not always been the biggest Eli fan.  But he has earned my respect, and than some.  When it comes down to it, he might not be made for the spotlight, he's just a laid back southern kid out here doing what he loves. But he has no doubt put himself in the elite class of quarterbacks in the NFL.  If he can win on Sunday, and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots again, in Peyton's house, than he will have won his second ring, and that's one more than Peyton has for those of you counting at home. For the first time in his life, he will have one upped his big bro, and in the process he just may be emerging from that shadow.