Basketball and Hoop

If you’re a basketball fan, one of the most exciting stories of the 2011-2012 NBA season has been the emergence of Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks. Lin came from out of nowhere, replaced an injured point guard, and led the Knicks to a stunning winning streak with one of the best career starts in NBA history, becoming the first NBA player to score more than 20 points and make seven assists in each of his first five starts.

Jeremy Lin does not fit the mold of the typical NBA point guard. He graduated from Harvard. He’s Asian-American in a league where most of the players are African-American, white or foreign-born. (While there have been prominent Asian-born basketball players like Yao Ming, Jeremy Lin is one of the first Asian-American players to be a star in the NBA). He got cut by two other NBA teams, temporarily demoted to the NBA Development League, and was sleeping on a friend’s couch when he became an overnight sensation for the Knicks.

“Linsanity” soon swept the NBA, with Jeremy Lin at the top of the highlight reel on SportsCenter every night. Although the Knicks’ winning ways have cooled off and they’re struggling to make the playoffs, Jeremy Lin has been a steady performer and it’s clear that he has the skills to be a starting point guard in the NBA for some time to come.

What are some business management lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from the surprising success of Jeremy Lin?

  • Managers need to get better at evaluating talent. Jeremy Lin was overlooked by lots of college coaches and NBA teams. He had no college scholarship offers out of high school and went undrafted out of college. Somehow, this prodigious basketball talent went unnoticed by most of the “experts” who are supposed to know how to spot talented players. As Kobe Bryant said after Lin outscored him 38-34 in the Knicks’ victory over the Lakers on Feb. 10, 2012, “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.” Jeremy Lin probably got passed over because he doesn’t “look like” a typical basketball player. What can your company learn from this? Look in unexpected places to find talent. Look for new ways to expand the roles of your existing staff. Don’t pigeonhole people. Give people a chance to surprise you.
  • An infusion of fresh blood can shake up an underperforming team. Before Jeremy Lin started playing point guard for the Knicks, their season was in disarray. A talented and highly paid team was failing to perform up to expectations. Jeremy Lin brought a new energy and enthusiasm to the team that they had been lacking.Who can you bring onto your team that would create that kind of spark of new energy? How can you put your people in new situations so they can keep learning and growing and feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm?
  • Never give up. Jeremy Lin was about to give up on his NBA dream. He’d been demoted to the D-League, cut by two teams, and wasn’t sure if he would get to be even the 12th man on the bench for the Knicks. He was thinking about getting a regular job and taking a break from basketball. Entrepreneurs are like pro athletes in this way – we have high standards for ourselves, and we need to believe in ourselves even if no one else sees the same vision that we have for ourselves. If you’ve got talent and passion and determination to succeed, you can make it happen.

What is most surprising and inspiring for you about the story of Jeremy Lin?