The emergence of New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin onto the NBA scene is refreshing. In just a few weeks, he has gone from bench warmer on a sub-.500 team to a bona fide star who participated in NBA All-Star weekend and looks to lead his team to the playoffs.
In Howard Beck's excellent New York Times article on February 26, The Evolution of a Point Guard, he detailed how Lin is anything but an overnight sensation, saying Lin's "rise did not begin, as the world perceived it, with a 25-point explosion at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 4. It began with lonely 9 a.m. workouts in downtown Oakland in the fall of 2010; with shooting drills last summer on a backyard court in Burlingame, California; and with muscle-building sessions at a Menlo Park fitness center."
What are the keys to Lin's leadership and charisma?
1) Work ethic
Lin worked hard to fix his jump shot, add muscle and increase his durability, and he learned to read the court better. This happened through hours of hard work. The Harvard graduate made it a point to better himself to try to achieve his goals. In doing so, he has made his team—which had a record of 8-15 and had lost 11 of 13 when Coach Mike D'Antoni gave him a shot—much better. That's what leaders do.
Furthermore, the average person can relate to him. He's 6'3", a height closer to the average person than it is to a 7' NBA center. He wasn't born with freakish talent that enabled him to slide right into the pros from college. Lin has had to put in many hours of sweat equity to get to where he is. That is the American Dream personified.
Lin frequently praises his coaches and teammates, unlike many professional athletes who make it about them. There is no shortage of "look at me" antics in the NBA and other leagues, and in every sport there are players who whine about getting help on a losing team or who demand to be traded to a winning team. Jeremy Lin has proven himself to be a team player.
So far, Lin has come off as squeaky clean. It would be surprising if he were to be found in the middle of a dust-up at a late night club. The role religion plays in his life has been well documented, and made him a grounded person. His reactions to derogatory comments and actions by opponents and others have been thoughtful and classy. He would be a role model even if he were not a star athlete.
By all accounts, Lin seems very coachable and responds well to critique. Without this quality, it is unlikely he would have been able to transform himself from role player to a starring role.
I find it equally impressive that he has remained remarkably grounded during all the so-called "Linsanity." (Confession: I tried to avoid using the term, but it was impossible.) While he is no longer sleeping on a couch at his brother's Lower East Side apartment, his newfound fame did not compel him to buy an overpriced condo on the Upper East Side. He is sub-leasing former-Knick David Lee's apartment in Westchester.
Yes, Jeremy Lin's game still has flaws. Lin gives the ball up far too much and has been rattled when playing against tight, pressing defenses. But he also has demonstrated the willingness to confront his weaknesses and try to improve. Jeremy Lin has proven himself to be a winner in many ways.
Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high-profile placements are Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers; Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference; and Brady Hoke, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hughes coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.