From Harvard to the NBA

(Gil Talbot)

Trying to make the NBA is one of the few areas where a Harvard degree won’t help. So says Jeremy Lin, who last week signed an NBA contract with his hometown Golden State Warriors, making him the first Harvard graduate to land in the league in 57 years.

Lin, who as a senior this season averaged 16.4 points per game and was a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award for national player of the year, has spent much of his career overcoming stereotypes, including that Asian-Americans lack the athleticism to play at the highest levels. Despite leading his Palo Alto, Calif., high-school team to a state title and being named the state’s player of the year by several publications, Lin did not receive a single Division I scholarship offer.

He doesn’t have hard feelings for the programs that bypassed him. “There were a lot of different risks for people to recruit me. I wasn’t the biggest or most explosive,” says the 6-foot-3 point guard, who, despite those limitations, had a 4.2 GPA in high school and a perfect score on his SAT II Math 2C in the ninth grade. “[Recruiters] just didn’t know how my game would transfer for the college level.”

NBA scouts were skeptical, too, so Lin wasn’t drafted. He proved his potential by averaging 9.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while playing in the NBA’s summer league. After that, several teams showed interest, and he signed a deal guaranteeing him half his rookie salary, an estimated $500,000—an unusual agreement for an undrafted free agent.

He is the first Asian-American to play in the NBA since 1947, and the Warriors see his ethnicity as a marketing advantage in the Bay Area, creating a campaign around him.

Now he just has one more thing to overcome: his pedigree. During summer ball, players nicknamed him “Harvard,” says Lin, who graduated with a degree in economics. “Anytime I messed up,” he says, “it was, ‘Aw, I thought you went to Harvard.’”

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