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Jeremy Lin Learning Valuable Lesson from Kobe Bryant About NBA Survival

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistDecember 1, 2014

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Jeremy Lin has had both good and not-so-good games during his first month with the Los Angeles Lakers. And, with encouragement and tough love from Kobe Bryant, the 26-year-old point guard is learning about survival in the NBA.

He is also learning how to frame his own quiet opinion alongside Bryant’s bombast.

Baxter Holmes of ESPN LA recently wrote about a loss to the Denver Nuggets—one that featured a hail of missed shots by Bryant during crunch time. Lin’s summation of the misfires showed respect while also positing a possible remedy.

"He's a tough shot-taker and a tough shot-maker and he's a superstar and sometimes you've got to give him that freedom to go and be who he is and do what he doesand sometimes you've got to find a way to keep the flow and stuff," Lin said.

And then there are those times when it’s simply better to dump the ball off and let a legend go to work.

On Sunday night, the Lakers got just their fourth win in 17 tries, beating the Toronto Raptors in overtime, 129-122. Lin had trouble finding the bottom of the basket, shooting 3-of-11 from the field.

But Bryant went off for a triple-double with 31 points, 12 assists and 11 boards and became the first player in NBA history with 30,000 points and 6,000 assists.

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For Laker fans, it was a rare bright moment during an abysmal season. For Lin, it was an invitation to a basketball clinic. Bryant’s brilliance was on full display—post-up moves, ripped down rebounds, pump-fakery, scissor-kicking jumpers and a sick crossover on Terrence Ross.

To Lin’s credit, he did more than observe, with three boards, three dimes and a couple timely steals. He was also waiting in the corner when Bryant fired him a pinpoint pass—Lin sailed it up and it rattled out… and then back in again.

The California-born Asian-American’s story is familiar to anyone with a basketball pulse—he went undrafted out of Harvard and was signed by the Golden State Warriors, appearing in 29 games before being waived. He was subsequently picked up by the Houston Rockets and released once again, all before appearing in a single game.

And then came an explosive run of 35 games with the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 season, and the worldwide phenomenon known as Linsanity, the heights of which he has yet to recapture. It was a magical time in basketball—an unknown point guard went from a blip on the radar to the league’s next great hope, overnight.

But during the offseason, Houston came calling again—offering a $25 million poison-pill contract that ballooned to nearly $15 million in the third and final year. The Knicks decided not to match and the Rockets now had a worldwide sensation in their pocket, less than a year after waiving him.

Lin’s reunion in Texas produced uneven results, however—he went from a starter in 2012-13 to coming off the bench the following season. The great hope had become much less than that, reduced to a role player as James Harden and Dwight Howard arrived and stole the spotlight.

This past summer, the Lakers took the final and most expensive year of Lin’s contract off Houston’s hands. L.A. also got a first- and second-round draft pick in the deal.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 24: Jeremy Lin #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to the media during a press conference on July 24, 2014 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
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It might have been viewed as an opportunity for Lin to reclaim his fame. But during his introductory press conference, per Lakers.com, one curious remark was seized upon by the media and has been endlessly repeated: “I’m not trying to recreate ‘Linsanity’ or be that phenomenon that happened in New York. I just want to be myself more than ever.”

Just two years after trademarking his signature term, Lin was seeking to disavow it, attempting to move past a singular moment in pop culture.

Now with his fourth NBA team in five seasons, it is understandable Lin would want to form a more grounded and sustainable identity. But Los Angeles is no market for shrinking violets. If the glare of the spotlight burns bright in the Big Apple, it can be just as harsh in Hollywood.

And then there’s the reality of playing alongside Bryant—a superstar who, at age 36, is still as fierce, relentless and challenging as anyone in the game today.

But despite his demanding ways, the longtime Lakers leader routinely mentors other players. At the start of the regular season, Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding explained the nature of Bryant’s hands-on role, with Lin and others:

Still, it’s one thing to learn at the hands of the master during the summer and training camp, but a whole new ballgame once the regular season begins.

That’s when Bryant’s intensity turns up a giant notch.

New arrivals in the land of Purple and Gold often make the mistake of blindly deferring to No. 24—it seems a reasonable thing to do in the face of such legendary heroics. Yet, being a wallflower will raise the Mamba’s ire even higher—he has little use for players who won’t push back.

After a Halloween-night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Bryant made exactly that point in regard to Lin, per Holmes:

You have to be able to assert yourself, especially on a team that I'm playing on -- especially on a team I'm playing on. Because I don't want chumps, I don't want pushovers, and if you're a chump and a pushover, I will run over you.

It's important for him to have that toughness and to say, 'I believe in myself. I can step up, I can make these plays, I can perform.' I think that is very, very important.

How does a new point guard—whose strengths lie in ball-handling and attacking the basket—coexist with a guy who’s not only the league’s leading scorer but also has the highest usage rate and takes far more shots than anyone else?

It’s about not losing heart when you have been yelled at on the court, and about stepping up after being called out.

NBA Meme Team @NBAMemeTeam

#KobeSystem - Linsanity edition http://t.co/UcXPzftgyY

Kobe demanded Lin own it, and since then, there have been tangible signs of improvement. You can see it in his confidence and aggression, and it shows in his numbers as well.

Lin’s field-goal and three-point shooting are at career highs—47.4 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively. He has also averaged 15.6 points over his last five games—even considering his off shooting night against the Raptors.

Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina

Jeremy Lin seems to respond to Kobe Bryant's constructive criticism the same way Pau Gasol once did. Comes out next game more aggressive

As much as mentoring is about maximizing potential, and as desperately as the Lakers would like to string some wins together, there are other valuable lessons to be learned as well.

Lin may have experienced a few months of overwhelming attention in New York City, but Bryant has been under the white-hot glare for 19 years now. He has been at the top of the mountain more than once, and has tasted unyielding scrutiny and speculation through it all.

Now, in Bryant’s twilight years, the cacophony of criticism is at its loudest—he’s too old, overpaid, shoots too much and nobody wants to play with him.

If any of that bothers the five-time NBA champion, he won’t readily show it. Bryant knows the process has to outweigh perception, and that’s what he’s teaching through actions and words.

Lin’s learning to play through the noise, and to stand up for himself. He’s learning being himself must include both giving and taking, and the meek shall not inherit the game of basketball.

He is learning about survival in the NBA, from one of the game’s longest and most successful survivors.

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