jeremy lin scores! (um, this isn't about music...)

During Jeremy Lin's dizzying rise from obscurity to fame, before the New York Knick's promotion department had even printed the fan posters, the point guard had been held up as poster boy for a variety of things. Christian faithful pointed to his unabashed faith, fashioning him the successor to quarterback Tim Tebow on a touched-by-god run. Author Gish Jen reflected on his success with a New York Times Op-Ed. piece titled "Asian Men Can Jump." And Lin has become, for many, the newest little guy who can topple giants (in the NBA, that works even if you're 6'3").

But for me the message in the story of this undrafted benchwarmer who was about to be waived from his third team, a guy who two weeks ago was hoping to simply play in the NBA and now, suddenly, can harbor legitimate dreams of lasting stardom, is simply the fact that his ability to do what he's done--to score 20-plus points in six straight games, distribute 13 assists in a seventh, beat the Lakers in crunch time and then go one better by burying Toronto with a three-pointer in the waning second of regulation--eluded the many coaches, scouts and experts charged with evaluating talent and achievement potential.

Jen's Times piece, which is actually a nuanced expression of changing and complex Chinese values, points out that in Taiwan, "there is an alternate track for college applications. Students can apply via the standard track, emphasizing grades and scores, but they can also apply via a track emphasizing their special gifts or contributions." It's worth appreciating the effects of Lin's week aside from his impressive stats line and his newly secure place on the Knicks roster. He's simply made the players around him work harder, commit more deeply to the team, and perform better. He realized the logic and promise of a scheme devised by a beleaguered coach, who was quite likely on the chopping block; he single-handedly made it work. He's jumpstarted the energy surrounding an underachieving team, benefiting the moods of many New Yorkers and the bottom lines of everyone from team and network executives down to ticket scalpers. All that from a guy who was passed over by scouts and coaches for what I'm sure looked like legitimate reasons based on a tightly construed, by-the-numbers system of evaluation geared solely toward narrow short-term outcomes. Best to think twice about such systems, which can never recognize true talent and desire and dedication. Once his team was struggling and beset by injuries, once he got the call from the bench, Lin highlighted precisely what education reformers need to keep in mind. That numbers tell only part of the story. That the only true predictor is opportunity.

February 17, 2012 10:50 AM |


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