After eight American presidents, 19 Supreme Court justices and 41 Nobel laureates, Harvard University's first NBA graduate in 57 years - and just the fourth ever - is now creating headlines. Jeremy Lin, a Californian whose parents are from Taiwan and who signed a deal with his hometown Golden State Warriors in San Francisco on July 21, was the centre of attention at an annual charity basketball game in Taiwan on Wednesday night, organised by the Chinese NBA superstar Yao Ming.
Lin, 21, was appearing on an NBA all-star team including players such as Yao, who plays for the Houston Rockets, and Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks, who was the standout player against a local select team. But Lin, who is also the first Asian-American in the league since 1947, when Wat Misaka, a Japanese-American, became the first non-white player in what was then known as the Basketball Association of America, grabbed most of the attention.
Since signing for the Warriors, it is his academic background, as well as his nationality, that has had people talking. "Trying to make the NBA is one of the very few areas where a Harvard degree won't necessarily help," Lin said. He is aware of the significance of both accomplishments, but does not want the labels. He was usually the only Asian on the court when he captained Palo Alto High School to a state championship in 2006 and during four years at Harvard, where last season he was part of the 0.5 per cent of Asian-American basketball players in Division I, the top level of the college game.
"I'm aware of all that, but I'm just going to be focused on playing basketball," said the 1.95-metre Lin. Lin would become the first Harvard graduate to play since the 1953/54 season, when Ed Smith appeared in 11 games with the New York Knicks. In his brief time playing on the Dallas Mavericks' summer-league team earlier this month, the topic was unavoidable. "That was my name, they just called me 'Harvard'," said Lin, who graduated with a degree in economics. "Anytime I messed up it was, 'Aw, I thought you went to Harvard'."
Lin was undrafted in June and was invited to play for the Mavericks, where he impressed in five games off the bench. In those five games he convinced several clubs that he could compete with the talent that generally is not found in the slower-paced and less-athletic Ivy League. "He understands the overall game," Larry Riley, the Warriors general manager said. "He handles the ball well. He's one of those guys that has a chance to keep getting better in other phases of the game."
After the summer league, a number of teams showed interest. Lin said Roger Montgomery, his agent, presented him with the three best offers. Lin chose the Warriors over the Mavericks and Lakers, he said, because of location, style of play, his chances of making the team and the terms of the contract. He reportedly signed a deal that guarantees him half his rookie salary, estimated at US$500,000 (Dh1.836m).
"In hindsight, not getting drafted was a blessing in disguise from God," Lin said. Lin has had to prove himself since high school. Named state player of the year by several publications, he did not receive a Division I scholarship offer. UCLA, Stanford and California recruited him as a walk-on, but Harvard and Brown - which, like all Ivies, do not award athletic scholarships - showed the most interest.
"It's hard to speak for the people who recruited me," Lin said. "In their defence, there were a lot of different risks for people to recruit me. I wasn't the biggest or most explosive. They just didn't know how my game would transfer for the college level. But I was disappointed and thought I had been overlooked." At Harvard, Lin blossomed into a unanimous all-Ivy League first-team selection in his junior and senior seasons.
He endured frequent slurs during road games, according to teammates. But the Warriors see Lin's ethnicity as a marketing advantage in the heavily Asian Bay Area. * AP