I was going to write a column today titled “Mitch Daniels on deck,” but after watching a few minutes of the latest GOP debate I turned off political television, turned on the Knicks-Hawks game, and did some thinking about Jeremy Lin.
I would argue, notwithstanding the endless echo chamber of political insiders and slashing attacks that is called our public discourse, that the wonderful story of Jeremy Lin tells us far more about America than partisan debates or talking heads.
Jeremy Lin is a throwback to the days when the team came first and the great players made their teammates better.
In the America that Jeremy Lin helps us remember the big goal was not to get the big deal to sell poor kids $180 shoes or sign the $100 million contract, but to help the team win.
I believe the incredible appeal of Jeremy Lin comes from the fact that he represents certain notions about American life that we all used to agree about, and in fact still do, notwithstanding the sorry state of our public discourse.
Remember the glory days and championship teams of the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers? For them basketball was not a one-person game but a five- or 10-person game that involved the entire starting team plus role players.
Watching those teams play was like listening to a symphony of many sounds blending together. The four players who did not have the ball flowed around the court, like water meandering around the tributaries of a river, looking for open space. Even the big stars would pass the ball to the open man for the easy shot.
For great championship teams they (we) were in it together like a great nation rising to the occasion. A house divided against itself …
In Jeremy Lin’s America, study hard, and be admitted to Harvard. Practice hard, and make the NBA team. Get a bad deal, be pushed to the sidelines, cut from the team and dropped from the workforce? Don’t ever give up. Comebacks happen. Underdogs can win. Those knocked down can get back up and hit the mother lode when hard work, talent and perseverance meet opportunity.
When Jeremy Lin drives toward the net he might shoot the ball, or pass to the open man. The defense does not know what he will do. The magic of Jeremy Lin’s America is that he will do what is right for the team, not try to hog the glory for himself.
When the other team has the ball Jeremy Lin plays defense, a largely lost art in a world when playing defense does not win big shoe deals.
When the game is won and Jeremy Lin is interviewed on the post-game show he is praising his teammates, not praising himself.
Jeremy Lin inspires great pride among those who share his heritage but in fact, Jeremy Lin is every man and every woman in an America where the underdog can still win, where the hard-hit can get back up, where hard work and virtue can still be rewarded, where the rising tide can still lift many boats.
In the GOP battle, I do suspect that Mitch Daniels is on deck. But that is a story for another day, because it occurs to me that the story of Jeremy Lin’s America is an even more important, timeless story.
As a New Yorker I think it is great that the Jeremy Lin story emerged in the place of the melting pot, in sight of Lady Liberty. But this story could easily have emerged in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami or St. Louis and in different ways, but with equally great aspirations, in many cities around the world.
I do not suggest the Jeremy Lin story has anything to do with Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. But it has much to do with the American idea, and with the large and timeless idea that great aspirations can overcome great adversity, which has moved men and women everywhere since the dawn of time.
We have met Jeremy Lin and he is us, at our best. Let us savor the moment and give a standing ovation to a guy who knows how to pass the ball, praise his teammates and never give up in that special place where dreams can still come true.