Jeremy Lin: humility with success

It was an incredible eight days of basketball last month as newcomer Jeremy Lin rose from nowhere to stardom. Undrafted, cut from several teams, brought in just to shore up a temporary problem at the New York Knicks, Jeremy was a very unlikely hero. Yet when he got his chance he played like an all-star; a level of play that surprised even himself. Let’s take a look at Jeremy’s rise to fame, focusing on a couple of qualities that should last even when “Linsanity” is forgetten.


Jeremy Lin was born in California. His family is from Taiwan.


Asian Americans have not usually been stars in the NBA. They normally don’t have the size (with a few exceptions) and their family culture is more geared toward educational goals rather than producing world-class basketball players.


Jeremy’s family seemed to follow that pattern. His dad is a computer engineer in Silicon Valley, and his mom was much more concerned about Jeremy’s Math grade than his basketball skills. She threatened to curtail Jeremy’s basketball career in 8th grade when he got an A- in Math instead of an A.


But Jeremy loved basketball. His dad did as well, and the two of them worked together to make sure Jeremy got practice time as well as plenty of study time.


The family also has a strong Christian faith, and as a boy Jeremy also grew to appreciate that faith. His youth minister at the Chinese Church of Christ in Mountain Valley, CA, Stephen Chen, was a big inspiration to him, both as a man of faith and as a person to whom he confided his dream.


Chen says he laughed when the 12 or 13 year old, 5’-3” boy told him he wanted to grow over six feet and play basketball for a living.


Even though Chen was skeptical, he tried to nurture Lin with Christian principles, encouraging Jeremy to work hard, use the gifts that God has given him, and trust God with his future.


He promised nothing, though, doing his best to protect Lin from delusions of grandeur.


“There was no positive thinking, no ‘if you work hard good things will come,’” says Chen.


“You work hard because what the Lord has given you, you do unto Him,” Chen explained.


Jeremy and his dad worked on studies, but also his basketball skills. His coaches also helped with the basketball progress. The successes were slow in coming, and there were many ups and downs. Yet he did grow to 6’-3” and lead his Palo Alto High School to a state championship.


But no Division 1 schools were interested in a scrawny Asian American. So Lin went to Harvard (maybe Mom’s math worries paid off…) and continued to work hard.


Lin brought his faith to college as well. He kept up his personal prayer life and started a small Bible study with friends.


His youth minister, Chen, became the pastor of the small church and continued to help Lin with his friendship and advise.


Even though Lin was a scrawny player, Lin’s first coach at Harvard quickly grew to admire Jeremy’s effort and doggedness on the court. “From Day 1 he had some funk to his game,” Sullivan says. “He broke people down with ease.”

Lin’s coach at Harvard his last three seasons was Tommy Amaker. When he arrived at Harvard, Amaker knew nothing of Lin. What he saw in three seasons, though, was the work ethic of a professional. Lin worked out with assistant coach Ken Blakeny at 7 a.m. most days, putting up extra shots and increasing his range.

“Year after year, he just got stronger, quicker, better,” says Brown coach Jesse Agel. “It was just how you wish a kid would progress. Unless you’re playing against him.”

But even though Lin had a stellar career at Harvard, no NBA teams were interested. Lin’s career as a professional came only after a trying stretch that saw him waived by two teams (the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets) and play on four D-League teams.


Passages from the Bible have given Lin strength throughout his ups and downs. According to Chen, Jeremy found particular inspiration in two passages from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans during this last year:


Romans 5:3 told him that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that  suffering produces perseverance.”


Romans 8:28 also inspired him: “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him.”


February 4 Jeremy got a chance to play for the New York Knicks, and “Linsanity” began. He scored 25 points and helped the Knicks beat the Nets at Madison Square Garden.


Just moments after that victory Jeremy was on the phone to Pastor Chen, He didn’t care much about his performance, but he desperately wanted to talk to his pastor about being  “truly blessed.”


“He just said, ‘I’m just … so thankful,” explains Chen.


It’s a expression that Lin has repeated many times – both to himself and in front of cameras.


Lin has openly talked about his thankfulness to God, yet he is very careful not to make his faith a dividing point in his team. Some players with a strong faith can push their beliefs too much in the locker room and make other players feel uncomfortable.


Teammate Toney Douglas admires Lin’s humility.


“He’s very quiet and grounded,” says Douglas. “He just wants to get better. If he could help it, I don’t think he would be in the spotlight.”


“He talks about it (his faith)”, explains Douglas. “But it’s not all in your face.”


Noted sports psychologist Will Weiner explains, “Religion can bring players together, certainly. However, there are certainly locker rooms that have been divided by it as well.”


Sometimes committed Christians frustrate other players by their insistence on trying to get everyone to adhere to their very strict rules or by always bringing up their faith in every conversation.


But, according to Weiner, Jeremy’s brand of commitment to his faith is so calm that he likely will not bother another player with over-the-top insistence on his faith.


“Jeremy seems to have a very healthy relationship with his teammates. There’s something that’s just very humble about him.”


Another teammate, Laundry Fields, says Lin’s calm and peace lend “stability” to the team, which has some players who have powerful tempers.


Jeremy’s pastor says that may be product of Jeremy’s upbringing in church. Chen explained that their small Christian community has always insisted on the Bible in approaching life, but also emphasizes a humble and level approach, regardless of one’s situation or status in life.


Certainly Lin does everything possible to deflect attention from himself. After each win in his initial seven game winning streak Lin tried to credit the team, not himself for the victories. It was a gesture that brought the Knicks closer together.


Yet when the Knicks ended their seven-game winning streak, Jeremy tried to shoulder the blame himself. In the 89-85 loss to the Hornets, Jeremy had nine turnovers. In the interviews after the game he openly recognized that it was a “lackluster effort on my part” and that he let his team down.


“Everyone wants to credit me for the last seven games, and I definitely deserve this one on my shoulders,” Lin said.


A loss, of course, was inevitable, and it will not be the last of many setbacks and challenges. Yet Chen does not worry about the young point guard. After all, the pastor says, Lin’s faith helped get him to this point.


So even the losses are something to be thankful for.


“He knows that everything that he has is a gift from God,” Chen says. “Even the hard times.”




Some sources for this article:

About the Author:

Father Ernest Daly was ordained a priest by Pope John Paul II in 1991. He has an MA in Philosophy from the Gregorian University in Rome, and an MA in Theology from the Regina Apostolorum in Rome. Fr. Ernest has spent the last 30 years of his life working in schools and with young people, and has been publishing Our Faith In Action® since its founding in 2003. He loves skiing, movies, and hanging out with his nieces and nephews (he has a ton!).

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