On the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, my family and I were invited to a sporting event. No, it wasn’t the big game in Indianapolis; it was a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.
Due to the fact that most of the “big shots” were out of town, the friend who was hosting us got to use his company’s luxury box, sharing it with several families. I must confess that out of all the professional sports, basketball is my fifth favorite -- right behind dodgeball. But due to my passion for the New York Times sports section, I am always able to hold a relatively knowledgeable conversation about today’s players (although I had never heard of the Knicks' new point guard).
In case you have been hibernating this winter, the Knicks have a hot young player on their team, a Harvard grad named Jeremy Lin. The game we attended was Lin’s first real coming out performance, and the Garden was electrified, especially the folks in our box!
Sharing the evening with one of the present families, who were Asian, and seeing their exuberance towards this wunderkid allowed me to live in a moment that I had only been told of or felt emotionally connected via the most moving of documentaries; a person of a particular heritage excelling under a new limelight. Joe DiMaggio became a role model to a generation of Americans, but he really created a source of pride for those of Italian heritage. He knew this, and he subsequently always presented himself with dignity and honor --both on and off the field.
I have to say that I am too young to have ever seen Sandy Koufax pitch. But growing up in a Jewish household in the 1970s, there was always talk of him. He was “our” hero, and the story of him deciding not to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it was during the High Holydays showed a generation of people that personal beliefs should be held in higher regard than social or work obligations. Granted, Hank Greenberg paved Koufax’s path, and after all the anti-Semitism that he faced, he became one of the first big leaguers to welcome Jackie Robinson.
Not that the emergence of Jeremy Lin can even begin to compare to Robinson breaking Major Leagues Baseball’s color barrier. Robinson dealt with hate and racism everywhere he went, but his character allowed him to rise above it all, paving some of the groundwork for equality on a national level.
Visit any classroom in Westchester and you will see children of all shapes and sizes with parents who have lofty dreams for their kids. Jeremy grew up in Palo Alto, which demographically resembles parts of our own county. He is a role model to a whole new generation of people who get to say, "It can be me!"
The arrival of Mr. Lin shows what hard work and perseverance can do. The more that we learn about him, the more we like him. He doesn’t have an apartment in New York yet, and he's sleeping on his brother’s sofa. He never gave up, and played for a while in the NBA version of the minor leagues. His humble nature truly makes him a role model.
For years now LeBron James, perhaps the league's best player, has had a Nike ad campaign called “Witness." As if we were all meant to believe that we were witnessing history in the making, as this phenom who went straight from high school to the NBA is going to be rewriting the record books.
Jeremy Lin is a bench player who was asked to fill in for an injured star. His meteoric rise is something that we can all bear witness to, no mater how long he is an impact player. In a world of tattooed egocentrics, he is a cool glass of refreshing lemonade on a hot summer day.