Former Harvard standout Lin ready to prove himself with Warriors
Undrafted guard Jeremy Lin signed a two-year deal with Warriors last week
As an Asian-American and Ivy league graduate, Lin is a rarity in the pros
Humbled by the opportunity, Lin knows he still has to prove himself in the NBA
As he sat on a couch in the coach's office at Palo Alto High School in Northern California, the walls festooned with aged, curling photos of teams from 50 and 60 years ago, Jeremy Lin understood the importance of his contract with the Golden State Warriors. After all, his new deal meant as much to him as it did to the Asian community that has been rooting for him.
But he's chosen to narrow his focus.
"I understand my unique situation," said Lin, who, as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, signed a two-year deal with Golden State last week. "But I am playing because I love the game. I am not playing for other fans. I don't think that is the right approach to the game. I appreciate everything they do, and I totally appreciate that support -- I really do. But when I step on the floor it is going to be because I love the game, pure and simple.
"When I put that pressure of pleasing everybody else, the Asian community and every other Asian, that's when I lose my joy for playing the game and that is when it's not fun for me anymore because I am playing for the wrong reasons," added Lin, the son of Taiwanese immigrants. "It is impossible to please everybody."
It is interesting to see a player like Lin in these early days of fame. After a solid summer league performance in Las Vegas with the Mavericks, the versatile guard drew interest from other teams, including the Warriors and Lakers. And Golden State, which recently traded C.J. Watson to Chicago and was in need of a backup for Stephen Curry, gave Lin a partially guaranteed contract.
Suddenly, he is being interviewed on national television shows. His parents -- both computer engineers -- are being called by journalists inquiring about his upbringing, and the Warriors are creating a marketing campaign designed specifically for him.
"Just my whole story is so unique," Lin said. "Not only Asian-American, I'm from Harvard, from the Bay Area, I was virtually unknown coming into the draft scene. Not once -- never -- was I on anybody's draft board coming in. Everyone just kind of removed me from the picture once the season ended. My emergence was so sudden."
It was sudden, but perhaps overdue. As a high school senior in 2006, he averaged 15 points, seven assists, six boards and five steals, leading underdog Palo Alto to a state championship over Mater Dei, a team stacked with future NBA talents.
In his senior year at Harvard, Lin averaged 16.4 points, 4.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals and was unanimously selected for the All-Ivy League First Team. And his 30-point, nine-rebound performance against 12th-ranked Connecticut had Huskies coach Jim Calhoun saying, "I've seen a lot of teams come through here, and he could play for any of them."
But for Lin, who still drives around in his beat-up Ford Taurus with dents spattered on the driver's side, going pro, he says, is "surreal." Especially with his hometown Warriors.
He often thinks back to 2007 when he was sitting in his Harvard dorm room. The Warriors completed their "We Believe" defeat of the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs -- the first No. 8 seed to beat a top seed in a seven-game series -- and only he was there to jump up and down in celebration.
How interesting, then, that his choice of where to play in the league came down to those two teams, and the Warriors won out again.
"Well, we'll see," Lin said. "I have not done anything in the NBA yet. Who knows? If my career is terrible, maybe it will be the Dallas Mavericks who won."
You do not hear too many NBA players talk like this, seeds of self-doubt occasionally sprouting. You also rarely hear this sentence: "I compare myself to [Suns backup point guard] Goran Dragic."
Lin may have been a slashing shooting guard at Harvard, but he will have to return to playing point in the NBA, a position he last played in high school. Adding strength and a consistent jump shot and improving his defense and knowledge of the game are musts for every NBA rookie. And Lin is no exception.
But he will also have to reconcile his beliefs with the NBA lifestyle. A non-denominational Christian, he speaks openly of playing for the glory of God, of one day becoming a pastor who can head up non-profit organizations, either here or abroad.
Lin said that when he showed up to play in the Mavericks' mini-camp, he was handed a jersey with the No. 7, God's number, which represents Divine completion.
"I was like, 'Wow, that's interesting,' " Lin said. "Deep down inside, that was God's way of reminding me he was there with me."
But Lin also has heard the stories about the NBA -- reckless spending, women and drugs.
"I know there is a lot of temptation out there and I have heard about the NBA lifestyle," Lin said. "I am not saying I am better than anybody else, but I am going to try to live the way I have always lived and try not to change just because I am in the NBA."
That mini-camp is where Lin really started to believe he was capable of playing at the NBA level. He sensed it at the pre-draft camp in Portsmouth, Va. It was validated as he went around the country participating in individual workouts and discovered time after time that he was as good as, and sometimes better than, the players against whom he was competing.
Still, that was not translating to recognition.
"I thought there were several workouts where I played very well and it just seemed like nobody noticed or cared," Lin said. "I was very confused at times. I'd call my agent and say I was easily the best one in this workout, and no one seemed to care. Deep down inside I believed in myself and it started to show at summer league."
That's when Lin matched up against Wizards point guard John Wall, the top pick in the draft. Everyone in the gym stopped to watch Wall, and they couldn't help but notice the Asian kid who was playing pretty well against him.
That's when the calls began coming in to his agent and this strange journey began. It remains to be seen where it will go.
"I still need to prove I can play in the NBA," Lin said, "and I have not proved that yet."
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