The Wisdom of Sweet Polly Purebred

Some words of congratulations, a reminder from “Underdog,” and the truths behind “Linsanity,” but I’d like to begin this morning by welcoming some special guests.

Last Friday the boys in the back of Laidlaw Hall learned that they have been accepted by UCC’s Admissions Committee. As you can appreciate, this is no small accomplishment, so congratulations to all of our visitors! We hope that after spending a day with us, you’ll have a better sense of where you want to be next year.

By the way, if the rest of you notice that I am smiling a lot more today or being unusually kind towards students and small animals, you can probably figure out what is going on…

Those off you who saw “Richard II” last week know that this play is rarely confused with “Real Housewives of New Jersey.” “Richard II” is an extraordinarily challenging drama, and I am delighted to report that the cast and crew more than met Shakespeare’s mark. Can I ask all of those who worked on “Richard II” to stand to be recognized for their exceptional work.

I would also like to congratulate: The Senior Jazz Band who scored a double Gold+ in the music festival at York last week.

The swim team, which won both the CISAA boys and the overall swimming championship.

The U14 basketball team, which won the Ottawa Invitational on Saturday by beating SAC 55 to 36.

And the varsity hockey team, which finished first in the regular season and won the Bob Armstrong Memorial Trophy. We wish you continued success this afternoon as the playoffs continue against Ridley down in St. Catherine’s.

In the face all of these recent successes, I offer a gentle reminder: now more than ever we need to follow the example of that great cartoon character, “Underdog”, who, in the face of his own supercanine success, managed to remain “humble and loveable” — if for no other reason than that is what “Sweet Polly Purebred” expected of him. (Feel free to consider me your own version of “Sweet Polly.”)

(If I am dating myself with this reference, you might take a look at this clip:

Speaking of the humble and loveable, most of you probably know the remarkable story of Jeremy Lin. Lin has been on back-to-back “Sports Illustrated” covers, and he is without a doubt the planet’s most talked about athlete.

Lin’s life seems like something out of a Disney movie. A first generation Taiwanese American who, despite being an all-state basketball player, and even though he led his high school team to 32-1 record and the California state title, was never recruited by anyone; he was never offered a single scholarship by ANY university. (Grade 12 students should take heart in knowing that Lin’s dream school, UCLA, showed absolutely no interest in him.)

Lin ended up going to Harvard, not a bad backup mind you, and again despite becoming a 2-time All Ivy League player, no NBA team drafted him. As a matter of fact, a year ago, Lin was actually working as a staff member at the NBA All Star weekend. Lin eventually got a shot in the NBA but was released by two teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Rockets, incidentally, cut him on Christmas Eve, and I can’t help but wonder if they are having “ghost of Christmast’s past” nightmares about Lin right about now.

Along the way, Lin also bounced around in the D-League; at one point he played for the Erie Bay Hawks before finally getting his chance with the Knicks.

When Lin first showed up at Madison Square Garden, security asked him if he was a trainer, but since getting the opportunity to play, Lin has shattered everyone’s expectations. He broke a rookie scoring record that had stood since 1976, and he has led the Knicks to the best record they have had in a decade, despite the fact that the team had been missing Carmelo Anthony, their all star forward.

You can just imagine the kind of national and international pride Lin has sparked in the Chinese community. During one memorable hardwood moment earlier this month, Lin beat a defender off the dribble and went right to the rim in traffic. After he scored, an Asian fan in attendance held up a sign, that said, “Who says we can’t drive?”

Along the way, Lin has been in games when he has outscored Kobe (38 to 34) after Kobe had told reporters he didn’t know who Lin was, and Lin drained a game winning trey with no time left against the Raptors last week at the ACC. By the way, you would have thought that game was being played in New York, because when Lin hit the game winner, the place went wild. Such is the impact of Linsanity.

Jeremy Lin’s story offers us 4 take-aways. (And no, Denzel won’t be playing him in the movie.)

One, Jeremy didn’t just get lucky. He worked for everything. When he showed up in Cambridge, the coach told him he was the weakest basketball player in Harvard’s history. Jeremy wasn’t offended by that statement, even though Harvard was founded in 1636, but he did take it to heart. He hit their version of the SAS and worked on his strength and conditioning, as well as on his shot.

Two, some have compared Lin to Yao Ming because of their cultural connection, but I think a comparison to Jackie Robinson is more apt because of all the racial stereotyping both had to endure. When Lin played away games during high school, for example, the opposing team’s fans frequently taunted him, by suggesting that he belonged in the orchestra pit or on the math team. Like Jackie Robinson, though, Lin managed to keep his emotions in check.

Three, it is important to stay humble. After signing his first NBA contract, Jeremy went out to buy a car. During the test drive, the salesman asked him, “Did you play basketball in high school or college?” A lot of other people might have at least mentioned that they were in the NBA, but a good friend, who happened to be in the back seat at the time, recalls Jeremy’s saying, “Well, I used to play in college.”

Finally, let’s acknowledge that even in the year 2012 racial, religious, and cultural stereotyping still exists. Every college missed on Jeremy Linn because he was an Asian kid with straight A’s, and every NBA team whiffed on him, too because he was just another non-athletic Ivy leaguer.

If these intelligent people who evaluate talent for a living can miss out on gifts, we may be doing the same thing ourselves. There may be a Jeremy Linn right here right now, but we aren’t recognizing his dream, his drive, his determination – or perhaps even, just his goodness.

The Jeremy Lin in our midst may not be a basketball player. He may be a poet, singer, architect, teacher, novelist, scientist, entrepreneur, explorer or maybe even a good friend. And for some strange reason, we can’t see him for what he really is — or for what he will become– through the fog of our own biases.

We should think about all those intelligent university admissions directors, and all hose savvy general managers who said, “That kid’s not good enough for us.” Let’s not give up on anyone. Let’s give everyone a shot because you never know who will end up leading life’s real fast breaks.

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One Response to “The Wisdom of Sweet Polly Purebred”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Dr. J. (Never a more appropriate nickname!),

    You really hit the nail on the head with this. This is a truth that all kids in competitive environments need to constantly be reminded.

    Unless you are fortunate enough to have God given skills: that kid who got a better grade than you – yeah, he read ahead in the textbook. The guy who scored more goals than you – he worked hard and practised to get to that level.

    The earlier you realise that excellence doesn’t come without hard work, the better off you will be prepared to handle life.

    I’ll give you a great example – if you saw my title and job description, you would probably think I was always a numbers guy and was president of the math club at ucc? Actually I failed Grade 9 math.

    The truth is math never came easy to me and I spent a month that summer one on one with the Head of the Math Department understanding math. It worked and I got a 75. I’ll never forget that summer – I learned more about myself that summer than I did about math. Now I can calculate bond yields in my head – it wasn’t easy – but it also wasn’t impossible.

    I’m always wary of people who peak early. Something that comes easy isn’t appreciated as much as things that take hard work – like money for most of the kids in Laidlaw Hall.

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