Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cultural lessons (life lessons) of Jeremy Lin

I am truly happy for Jeremy Lin becoming a NBA superstar. He worked hard for it. He deserves it. Apparently he is the first Asian American to have achieved the impossible “American dream” of playing for the NBA, dominated by African Americans. Many commentators have used Lin, a clean cut, respectful, smart, hard working student from Harvard, as a comparison between wholesome vs. unwholesome basketball players. The point: decent attitude and hard work pays. Success comes to those who are decent human beings, on and off the court:

“Lin is not beating his girlfriend with champagne bottles nor leaving dozens of illegitimate kids in his wake. Lin is also a Harvard grad which is a bit more than a GED. Lin is not doing anything like a lot of black players.”

In a more grandiose scheme and (not unrealistic) audacious claim:

“One of the best sports story in our time. He gives hope to a lot of people. If your government, parents, religion cannot give you hope, JLin will give that hope. His perseverance is incredible. Talk about challenges and opportunity combined, this is the best story. God works in mysterious ways. Linsanity continues with 13 assist in 20 minutes against the sacramento.”

“From New York to Asia, Lin is a hoops sensation, 2/16/12”)

We can all agree: Lin is a phenomenon, of yet unmeasured proportion. But, can Lin last beyond the 24/7 media cycle/circus? In performance (capacity) and love fest (attraction)? Only time will tell.

In this blog, I have more serious issues to attend to: is Lin a good role model for our kids?

It is evident, and has been so for a long, long time, distinguished and exceptional sports persons are admired by the public and in particular with young people (esp. lower SEC groups), world wide: Pele of Brazil, Bruce Lee in Hong Kong and Michael Jordon from the US. These stars are watched and followed. In the eyes of the admirers, they can do no wrong.

What do Ln teaches. A lot. Work hard in school (Harvard) and play hard in court (NBA). (This blogger’s teacher used was a NBA player before Yale and lawyering.) Success comes to those who are smart, focused and disciplined. Finally, all of a sudden, basketball is no longer off limits to the bright! Yes, basketballs (NBA), by extension footballs (NFL) and books (Harvard) do mix!! Yes, this is a humble beginning and there is a long, long way before NBA is populated with the book smart rather than street smarts people. (If truth be known, you do need to be smart, street or otherwise, to play in NBA) (In Jeremy Lin, a stereotype that should be celebrated

Now, let us discuss some of the not so good – wholesome lessons of J. Lin:

First, Lin was admitted to Harvard, against all odds (13.4 Asian vs. 17.2 White, 1990 data). He was given a place and a chance over other (more) qualified students (by motive of service) did not make it. In signing up at Harvard, Lin has made a pledge: “I will use my Harvard education for the benefit of society, mankind; not only myself.” Harvard education is not for everyone. It is a national treasure and public trust, for the few who made the lifelong commitment. As such, Lin has an obligation to make good, and contribute back to society, at the highest level his capacity and functions, endowed by parents and trained at Harvard. More importantly, Lin has a personal obligation to put his Harvard education to good use, i.e., befitting his intellectual capacity and academic training. Lin decided to play basketball instead. This is disappointing.

There is nothing wrong with playing basketball and be successful; satisfaction, fame and glory for himself, and even his family and ethnicity. But there is something wrong abut being trained in one area, intellectual pursue, and do another, playing basketball. (Here I assume that that entertaining millions on TV is not as important as helping one person’s life circumstances at Harlam or discovering a new cure for cancer world-wide.)

Lin’s fateful choice is a tremendous waste of resources, for himself, his family, Harvard and US).

The same thing can be said of West Pointers. West Pointers have to give back 8 years for the millions of dollars invested in them. (The larger question is why we as a nation use universities to groom the next generation of NBA, NFL stars, when lesser academically intense sports academy would do? Higher education is an expensive resource, and should not be used to train NBA or NFL players, at the expense of the needy and aspired)

Second, Lin sends a wrong message to the kids world-wide. The message is “be all you can be” – not in scholarship or public service, but in playing balls. More generally, playing balls is more important than any other things on earth, including helping other people in need and making the world a better place to live.

The message that is being sent to the minority kids in the most deprived area is this: basketball and football, not academic studies, is the only (best) way out of ones humble beginning and dismal circumstances.

In the case of deprived and depressed minorities, they are more afflicted by academic vs. NBA choices in life. They need all the help they can get, especially from role model.

In this regard, most minority NBA, NFL players have little to no choice to be academically successful. Due to life circumstances beyond their control, they are not academically prepared for educational challenges. If they want to get out of the project, they can only do so by playing balls (or joining the US Army. But even Army has standards these days).

Lin, however, has all the choices in the world. He chooses to be a basketball player, forgoing his Harvard education, and in time servicing (society) destiny. (He can always come back, yes. But will he? can he? How much is the missing years costing him, and the society?)

The bottom line: if Lin, who has all the choices in the world before him and can be successful in whatever he chooses to do, still chooses to be a NBA player and give up being a Harvard (trained) service professional, the message is loud and clear: basketball-financial reward, before scholarship – intellect satisfaction.

Intellectual pursuits are only second best to playing basketball. That is the reason we are not in competition with the rest of the world who put education before playing balls.


In the end. what is a Ivy (more generally college education) for? What about having a Harvard (college) degree and be a star. (Jody Foster is from Yale, David Duchovny is from Princeton and Yale, Natalia Portman is from Harvard.

I want a happy ending, with uplifting messages, to this rather depression, some say unduly critical (cynical), blog

(1) In joining the NBA, J. Lin might be thinking about changing NBA, more so than,or at least not exclusively, for self serving reasons. With this line of thinking, any "public service" type of motive would be welcomed, including showing Chinese - Taiwanese are not only bookworm.

(2) Notwithstanding J. Lin's present circumstances and motive, but in line with Harvard's tradition, J. Lin and many others to follow, would transform the NBA industry, in a positive way, call this NBA version 2.

(3) In spite of J. Lin's present circumstances, playing in the NBA, J. Lin will have to retire one day. At that point, he can still use his Harvard education for public good.

(4) J. Lin, can make tons of money and donate it to charity.

Still, the above rosy endings do not take away the major thrust of this blog, i.e., there is an adverse culture lesson being promoted - making money is more important than other more worthwhile pursuit in life!

That is what capitalism is all about.

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