“To thine own self be true…..”

I am not sure how it happened – and it really does not make much difference – but Michele and I have been caught up in Linsanity. If you are blessed enough to not be caught up in this whole Knicks-Lin thing – or, maybe, cursed to not be following this feel good, heart warming, story of Linderella coming out of nowhere – there are plenty of places to get caught up on the background. As Sports illustrated says, Think of the singular demographic alloy at play. Lin, who’s worked endlessly on his strength and his jump shot in the past year, is a normal-sized, Christian, first-generation Asian-American. He’s excelled academically, faced racism on the court, been cut twice and sent to the D-league four times. Now he’s an NBA sensation amid the cultural diversity of hoops-starved New York. Opponents aside, who wouldn’t be a fan?

Anyway, we sat down Sunday afternoon to watch Lin and the New York Knicks play the Dallas Mavericks. A confession is in order here: I was in in Texas -while in the Army – in the early sixties and like anyplace in the South, it was not a good place to be a young man from California or any part of the North; I was also a 49er fan during the Montana years and Dallas was an arch rival; so I am pretty much anti-any-Texas-sports-team. Also, Lin played for Palo Alto High, maybe seven miles from our home, so we were defiantly rooting for him, but there was an underlying feeling that the bubble might burst any game now and the Mavericks were the best team in basketball last year. We would have been happy with a good, close, game.

It was a great game with huge swings in the scoring. In the end, the Knicks won and Lin was the reason. It brought up all the questions of how this kid could have been overlooked; how did the Warriors release him after a season? how did Houston? Because we are all racists, even if it sometimes plays out as anti-racists, the most obvious answer seems to be Because he is Asian. I don’t think that is the main reason, the real reason. The real reason is that Jeremy Lin was trying to fit into the Warrior’s system and he did that by not playing his game. During the game’s halftime, they played part of an interview of Lin by ABC’s Rachel Nichols, the interview starts about 3:50 into the clip below and, for me, gets very interesting at about 5:45 where Lin says , I was trying not to make mistakes, I was trying to fit in….this year I am going to make sure I do it my way.

It is one of the oldest lessons out there and one of the hardest to follow. It is as old as the Bible, Polonius said it in Hamlet, This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man, and they still say it in every self improvement book; be yourself. And it is so hard. When Lin had been cut by two teams, when he was afraid he would be playing in Europe,  or on some unknown D-team, or maybe not playing at all; in other words, when he had nothing else to lose, he became true to himself, he started playing his game. His game, it turned out, that fit the Knicks system like a glove. By playing his game, by being true to himself, I suspect, he was able to play with a lot more intensity.  His game, it turns out, includes a lot of assists and his generosity and intensity have transformed the Knicks. With Lin in they are less of a collection of outstanding players and more of a Team.

3 thoughts on ““To thine own self be true…..”

  1. Steve,

    I’ve only caught the headlines and some discussion about Mr. Lin and enjoyed the tape. All the talk of racism is tricky because there are racial differences in the world regardless of PC speak and charges of racism. It IS amazing when a human being of another tribe breaks into a discipline previously dominated by another tribe.

    Frankly, it’s cool to see an American of Chinese heritage playing good NY basketball. He’s breaking out of many stereotypes – I think this will help many multi-generational and new immigrant Chinese feel like an American, that they can be fully realized as who they really are here in the old U.S.A.

    But I especially like the point you and Mr. Lin make, that being yourself and going down in flames is better than trying to fit and failing.

    Hello to all at 19 LeRoy Way.


  2. Lin sounds like a great story. He is inspiring. And I think there is much to be said for looking in and pursuing what you believe to be true in a way that is related to your community (as it sounds like Lin is doing in spades).

    And yet. I’m concerned at the mass fascination and the way the story is being told. Feels a lot like a classic pull yourself up by the bootstraps story of the American dream. As the world falls apart around us, he is proof that we can, by dint of hard work, make it and be the stars of our own world. Colbert must love this guy. He is proving him right in every measure! Every time a real manifestation of a dream appears, we can distract ourselves from the much messier reality and tell ourselves that with just a bit more effort we can pull ourselves up without any help from our community. Maybe I’m cynical and defeatist, but I believe that like a team, we can accomplish more together than separately. The media’s framing of the Lin story (little that I’ve seen) seems to miss this point. Hopefully I’m too cut off and am wrong.

    On a side note, does the notion of to thine own self be true really show up in the Bible? Seems like a pretty slippery admonition for the broad lessons of the Bible, but I’m no scholar. For Polonius, being true to himself means spying on his children and Hamlet and reporting the results to the King to win his favor. Is that what the Bible was teaching?

    Thanks for the tasty food for thought!

  3. Hello, yourownself, Laura. I hope all is well at your end. We are deep into Lent which, for some unknown reason, makes me think of you.

    Hummm! Where to start, Richard, I guess by admitting that you are right about the Bible, I googled and googled and couldn’t find anything that really says that.

    As for Polonius, yes he was a fool, but in Shakespeare’s time the fool always gave good advice. Only a fool, or a child, or Jon Stewart can say that the Emperor has no clothes.

    But, Yes. Was I overreaching, sure!

    I agree with you when you say ” I’m concerned at the mass fascination and the way the story is being told. Feels a lot like a classic pull yourself up by the bootstraps story of the American dream. As the world falls apart around us, he is proof that we can, by dint of hard work, make it and be the stars of our own world.” I also think that sports are a distraction and I felt that way when I watched a football game last November and said “However, the whole time I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a like a roman circus. A distraction to keep our minds off of Afghanistan, off of house foreclosures, off of the country slowly changing from the American Dream to a new jingoistic America keeping us in line by keeping us scared.”

    But that doesn’t change THIS story, Lin’s story. Don’t confuse the message with messenger’s reason for giving it. Just because Obama told us about getting Bin Laden for political and – probably – ego reasons doesn’t make it an amazing story of detection and risk.

    Ironically, basketball is a sport that credits teamwork more than most with one of the major stats being “assists” and that is where Lin shines. Yes, he makes baskets, but, as the point guard, he feeds the ball to other players and that is an area in which he excels.

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