By Frankie O
We all want to believe in something. Its the nature of who we are. Its also at the core of the media age in which we live. Were inundated with endless stories of perseverance in every arena of life. We never fail to be mesmerized by those who make good from unthinkable odds. One journey against-the-odds that seems to resonate with all of us is when it occurs in sports. We can relate. It touches us. The Walt Disney Company alone has made a fortune in putting these stories on the big screen. When I come home late at night after a shift at the bar, turn on the TV and check the movies on the satellite, if one of those movies is on, Im done. I cant help myself. I mean, can you even think of turning off Invincible? I didnt think so!
These movies prove that the script in real life can be more gripping than ones we can try to imagine. Although, Hollywood can dress them up real nice. I personally loved the casting of Diane Lane as the owner in Secretariat. That was real nice, but I digress.
As we turn the page from football, the sporting world is looking for the next thing. I think we can all agree that weve had enough Tebow-mania, at least until next September.
Well, hes here. Meet Jeremy Lin, currently the rage of the sporting world. His path to the forefront of our consciousness is as unbelievable as it is compelling. And the argument is which is more unlikely: his path or what he has been able to accomplish with his new-found opportunity?
If Tebow taught us anything, its that the will to achieve is a very powerful thing. In the right circumstance, greatness, or at the very least success, can be attained by an unflinching belief that it is attainable. If not for just himself, but also those around him who are inspired by what they are witnessing. The other thing he showed us is the amount of venom out there for anyone who captures our imagination. For me, that was the thing that turned me into a fan. Most would agree that his magical ride was not something anyone could have seen. And I mean anyone! But the way his football abilities were ridiculed was a little over the top. Of course I recognize some of this fueled by Tebow himself and his exuberance to share his faith-based beliefs at every opportunity. While I thought that bordered on over-kill, I dont deny his right to believe in what he cares to believe in. I just think there is a time and a place. When he started talking about things that I didnt want to hear, I just put on my ear-muffs. (Go ahead Will Ferrell, say anything, I wont hear you!) (As an aside: I think Will would be the best stadium announcer ever! Or at least give the guy who holds that distinction, the late, great Dave Zinkoff, a run for his money. For those of you who dont know him, the Zink as he was known in Philly was the public address announcer for the Sixers during the Julius Erving era. After his passing, they retired his microphone and hung its likeness on a banner in the rafters. Can you imagine? All of the posers you hear at NBA arenas today are just cheap imitations! Anyway, I loved the reactions that my boy got in the press after he announced the lineups. For those of you who didnt get it, that was the point. Thats his humor and, in fact, your not getting it makes it even funnier. Besides, the players loved it, need I say more?)
Which brings us back to Lin. His story is such a pure basketball struggle and doesnt seem to come with the morality tale baggage of Tebow. I know that there is a conversation about his Taiwanese background and, unfortunately, some of the distress that it has caused him because of the ignorance of others, but he is not belaboring that point. Hes letting his balling do the talking and, so far, thats all we need to hear.
Its for the fact that he doesnt feel compelled to share his message, that I dont feel that comparisons to Tebow are accurate. Its just that their ascents have overlapped to an extent, and the fact that theyve had such unexpected success in common, that folks will reference them to each other.
I actually have another phenomenon reference. Notice I didnt say athlete, because Im about to reference a horse and horses arent athletes, theyre horsies. But I find some of the similarities irrefutable. That horse was Seabiscuit. (Another great movie by the way, one of my all-time favorites!)
Having been infatuated by the movie since I saw it 8 years ago, I recently decided to listen to the audio-book version of Laura Hillenbrands Seabiscuit: An American Legend from which the movie was based. (Having, for years, not been able to find a constant, suitable companion on my radio, for my forty-minute late-night ride home from work each evening, Ive begun to listen to books. And you know what? Im hooked. Who knew?) It really is one of the most fascinating stories Ive ever heard, made more so by the fact of how and when it happened. A horse whos grandsire was the second best racehorse of all-time, Man o War, the Biscuit languished for years due to misconceptions about him due to his appearance. He was never given the chance to be what he could be until he was chanced upon by the owner-trainer duo of Charles S. Howard and Tom Smith. They recognized, in a stroke of chance, something in the horse that no one else had seen. Some of what Lin had to deal was due to his ethnic appearance. Who had ever seen an Asian-American point-guard with NBA ability? Wittingly or not, sometimes we judge on appearance as a first measure. Wish it wasnt the case, but we could go round-and-round on that one for days. Seabiscuit was given a more difficult path to overcome. Same with Lin. Despite success at the high school level in California, Lin wasnt offered a scholarship to any D-1 schools. His best option was Harvard, which doesnt offer athletic scholarships, and was not exactly known for its basketball prowess, but, hey, did I mention it was Harvard?!
Seeking a pro career, Lin was soon awakened by the reality that no one wanted him, as he went undrafted. He was offered some try-outs and spots on developmental teams, but achieving an NBA contract from there, let alone to be someone who you would know about, is your proverbial million-to-one longshot. So he gave it his all until after some impressive summer-league outings, including a good showing against number-one-overall pick John Wall, he was offered a contract by the team closest to his home, the Golden State Warriors. Despite some notoriety due to his background, it was a year spent going up and down to the D-league and he finished the year playing in parts of 29 games in the Association. After the lockout, he was waived by the Warriors and then picked up by the Rockets. After two pre-season games, they too, gave him the boot. That left him available for the Knicks, who promptly sent him to their D-League team. After a monster game in late January, he was called up once more.
Its at this point that the stories get similar again. Despite bucking odds, and performing for someone who wasnt quite able to totally understand what they possessed, they were given a chance on the highest level and they seized it. For Seabiscuit, having Tom Smith as a trainer brought out what he was bred to do. For Lin, playing point-guard for Mike DAntoni, was exactly the situation for him to exploit his talents. His game fits perfectly with DAntonis system. Sometimes, you just need a chance, and some luck. The Knicks were so awful, Lin got his chance to show how well he fits, and during the last 13 days and seven games, all wins, Lin-sanity was born.
Like I said before, we all want to believe in something. Something good. Something unexpected. It was the case nearly 75 years ago when Seabiscuit took the world by storm during the late 1930s of the Great Depression. Common folks were so beat down, that they needed something in their lives that could provide inspiration. Something that would prove that if they were given a second chance, that they could succeed. Seabiscuit rose against huge odds to become a champion and was Horse of the Year for 1938. That year included the match-race duel against Triple Crown winner War Admiral, the race of the century that was the ultimate David vs. Goliath story of horse racing. Seabiscuit won and became a world-wide sensation. He made people feel that anything was possible.
While we are not quite in as difficult of economic times, we find ourselves in a time of strain. Its in these times that we look for someone to capture our imagination. To show us hope. Someone who has fought and been put down, and then rises to fight again, not giving up on their dream. (Rocky?) It reminds us that anything is doable if you use your talents and put your mind to it. And now Jeremy Lin has become a world-wide sensation. The game last Friday against Kobe and the Lakers put him on the map. Since then Ive had his next 3 games on at the bar, because I want to watch, and so does everyone else. Imagine that, here in Chicago, watching Knick games! That must give M.J. and Scottie a shudder! But you know what? Watching games at Madison Square Garden is cool. Theres an energy there again. When that happens, there is no place that I would rather watch a game. (During Wednesday nights game, every time the Kings guard, Isaiah Thomas touched the ball, he was lustily booed. No hes not that Isiah but who cares? BOOO! How cool is that?) And, because of Lin, the Knicks are winning again. Its only fun when you win, thats the point!
For me, I guess, thats what it all gets down to. Heres a guy whos bounced around, is living on his brothers sofa and in two weeks has become the toast of New York because he is fearless and plays to win. And through it all, he just acts like a humble gym-rat. Theres nothing like that time when something is new and dynamic and pure, when it hasnt been bogged down by the eventual realities of the world we live in. (In the NBA, that means a telephone call from a Kardashian sister asking you out for drinks. On you, of course!)
So while I thought this NBA season, where teams play 3 out 4 days for 3 months, was going to wear me out and make me as disinterested as say the team in Charlotte, I have something to root for besides a Heat loss. If you had told me that 3 weeks ago, I would have looked at you and said you were Lin-sane!