The Jeremy Lin story is literally omnipresent. If you have to be on another planet or dead to be missing this compelling saga about the Asian-American basketball phenom who graduated from Harvard, was overlooked by 12 teams and who has recently emerged as the star point guard for the NY Knicks. His Cinderella story of benchwarmer and couch surfer to superstar is an American story about hard work and determination–it is a story about all of us. The confluence of potential, passion, mentoring and opportunity shows us what is Linside us all.
First of all, our collective bias about what a successful person looks like in a particular field can not be underestimated. All of us harbor stereotypes and prejudice that limit who we hire and admire. Even in the NBA, which has undergone a tremendous multi-cultural makeover largely due to the influx of international players. And remember when Tiger broke thru the elite ranks of the PGA…… The point is we still count "firsts" and marvel at people who shatter our assumptions.
Seems like we have forgotten that the first NON-WHITE player in the NBA was Asian-American, Wat Misaka. Ironically he was recruited in 1947 by the NY Kicks, a full three years before any African-Americans occupied an NBA roster. We have to remember the pioneer shoulders on which we all stand.
The news is rife with college and NBA scouts and coaches shaking their heads and apologizing for missing Lin in their recruitment. However, according to his HS coach Peter Diepenbrock, Jeremy is a totally different player today, more muscular, better shooter and quicker. Duke's Coach Krzyzewski saw Jeremy play and says he is a late bloomer, whose talent has developed in the last few years.
Coach Diepenbrock also now says that Jeremy's race and looks did hurt his recruitment. Coaches did not give him their full attention because he is Asian. Often we are blind to talent, potential, and opportunity because it does not exist in a form we expect. And we miss it.
Reminds me of the legendary story about Willie Mays, who was the top rated prospect by the Red Sox scouts passed over by the Red Sox General Manger Joe Cronin. Cronin allegedly said, "…not a Red Sox type." And the Red Sox were the last team to integrate.
Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) are frequently overlooked for promotions, Board seats, and executive suites. For more than 15 years there have been more Asian American graduates of the top American colleges than Latino and African American graduates combined. APAs have also received more graduate degrees. And yet APAs are woefully under represented in the corporate Board rooms (402 0f the Fortune 500 do not have an Asian board member), the C suites, and the executive management ranks. APAs are overlooked everyday. Because of how they look and the cultural ignorance of those making the decisions. Even though 60% of the planet is Asian, APAs are still "exotic" and "inscrutable" to most Americans. If you are not on the coasts and/or graduated from college, you probably have had little contact with APAs. You rely on your instincts and what your parents told you. In other words, APAs are still foreigners.
But given the numbers of APAs in the pipeline these results must and will change.
There is a bamboo ceiling built by those who stereotype all APAs and thereby limit their growth , development and promotion AND the APAs who never pursue their true potential to lead and develop their own talent.
Last week, I spoke to a group and a man came up to me and gave me a "compliment." "Never heard an Asian speak as well as you. Excellent presentation. Thanks." I know what he meant. The surprise that an Asian spoke English well just underlines my point. It is something I have encountered my whole life.
ESPN news bloggers are fired and reprimanded for using ethnic slurs about Lin in the last few days. There have been numerous racist and discriminatory slurs used by the media in reference to Linsanity. One step forward two steps back. Would this be tolerated by the Black or Latino communities?
Despite all of our awkwardness about this new Asian name and face in the news, Lin is inspiring people around the world. Young and old are celebrating his performances, his humility, his hard work, and his Christian faith. Asian kids are captivated by a heroic and celebrated face that looks like theirs. Yes, some of them will dream of NBA careers, but most will dream bigger dreams.
The power of a role model changes lives. One person can trigger mass mentoring.
Jeremy Lin never gave up his dream. He continued to develop his talent, improve his skills and prepare for his opportunity. He had to fight off all of the doubters. The potential within us is most often stunted when we lose the battle with our own doubt. We all know people with incredible natural gifts, who take them for granted and others who give up on their passions. The other side of talent and potential is a curse if it is never realized.
But Lin did not do this alone. His parents encouraged his basketball and non-traditional paths. His Coach Mike D'Antoni believes in him and gave him the shot. You need a network of support and mentoring to get your chance. Who your boss/mentor/sponsor/coach is always matters.
We need people's dreams. To unshackle the restraints imposed on ourselves and on others that are not our type.
We are surrounded by Jeremy Lins everyday. They are kids, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow citizens. How do we see the potential in everyone regardless of our biases on how they look?
Thanks for reading. John