The Underdog

Image of Jeremy Lin

I rarely watch professional sports.  However, this past week was an exception.

Man down with flu I started out trying a little Television and the programming was so abysmal I quickly moved to a steady diet of ESPN and College/Pro hoops.  This put me front and center for the Friday night headliner between the LA Lakers and NY Knicks in Madison Square Garden.  Enter the underdog.  With a fever and wrapped in a blanket I was literally moved to my feet multiple times bearing witness to what is now being described as Linsanity.  Thank you Jeremy Lin.

If you haven’t heard the story, Jeremy Lin is a 23 year old rookie sensation who has taken the world of professional basketball by storm. The Harvard graduate was hardly projected to make his mark on the NBA.  Undrafted, he was cut by two teams as recently as December before the Knicks picked him up for what should have been a season watching in warm ups at the end of the bench.  At least that is what most of the so called experts, analysts and people paid to evaluate talent would have had you believe up until a few weeks ago.

In Jeremy’s own mind he was just waiting for his opportunity.  He had been overlooked and under appreciated before.  This was familiar territory.  He was fine with the odds stacked against him.  He would be ready when it was his time.  Yes he would.

On Friday night he faced off with arguably the best basketball player on the planet in Kobe Bryant on basketball’s most famous stage.  Jeremy was 11 years old when Kobe won his first NBA Championship.  11.  So, how did the Rookie fare?

He didn’t flinch.  In fact, he attacked and lead his team to victory (scoring 38 points) over Kobe and The Lake Show. Fun to watch someone stare down such seemingly superior competition and play so fearlessly.  Intimidated? Not for a second.  He holds the very powerful self belief that he belongs and actually seemed to relish in the opportunity to prove it by taking on the best in the world and kicking their ass.  He loves to compete and win.  That doesn’t make him arrogant. He is actually incredibly humble offering respect to his opponents and deferring much of the praise and accolades he receives to teammates and coaches.

The story is so popular because it actually is quite incredible by NBA standards.  Additionally, it is hard not to root for the underdog and share in the jubilation when a guy most people counted out emerges victorious.  In part because most of of us have been there.  Overlooked.  Under appreciated.  Passed up. Rejected.  In need of an opportunity.  Just one real chance.

The Jeremy Lin story offers a compelling case study on competition and confidence with valuable lessons for anyone competing for a job, sale or kitchen tabling it to chase the dream.

This isn’t just an athlete playing a sport.  This is a recent college graduate who faced intense competition in the job market (and has been fired twice already). This is a young man working in an incredibly demanding industry with limited experience and what many experts claimed was inadequate skills for the position (his so happens to be point guard for the NY Knicks). This is a story about someone who is thriving against the odds in large part because he simply believed he would, put in the work and seized his moment.

Self belief is powerful.  When you are making art (doing your very best work) you have to believe.  The competition is formidable.  The hecklers are present. The setbacks are hard. Art requires courage which is defined as: The quality of mind that enables one to face danger with confidence, resolution and firm control of oneself.

Confidence, resolution and firm control of oneself.  This kid has it in spades and he takes it into his arena of competition to make his art and take on adversaries that are stronger, faster, more experienced and better than he is.

Just don’t tell him that.  Waste of time.  He isn’t going to listen.

He simply plans on going out to compete and win.

A few weeks ago he posted this status update on his Facebook page:

“Everytime I try to get into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I’m a trainer. LOL.”

I have a feeling he isn’t going to be having that problem anymore.

A little inspiration for all of us that compete as the underdog.


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