If you pay attention to NBA basketball — and even if you don’t — you may have heard of the “Linsanity” phenomenon.
Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American point guard for the New York Knicks, seemingly exploded out of nowhere in February to have the best NBA debut ever.
Lin averaged 27.3 points per game in his first four starts — a feat unmatched since the NBA merged with the ABA in 1976.
So here’s the thing no one could figure out: How did a player that talented, go so unnoticed for so long?
As Kobe Bryant more or less expressed after the Lakers got trounced by Lin: “Guys like that don’t just show up out of nowhere.”
Before his chance to shine with the Knicks, Lin was seen as a disappointment for the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.
And as a college player, Lin wasn’t that heavily recruited. (He wound up playing for Harvard — not exactly a basketball power — and no one dubbed him a future NBA star.)
So what happened? How did everybody (or almost everybody) “miss it?”
Or, alternatively, how did a mediocre player suddenly become a superstar overnight?
As it turns out, those are the wrong questions to ask. Lin’s previous teams missed out on his superstar talent because he didn’t have it back then. He slowly but surely aquired it.
In other words, Lin had the potential of greatness within him… and he had to cultivate it over time, with the help of coaches, family and friends.
The story is laid out in this excellent New York Times piece, “The Evolution of a Point Guard.”
Even if you hate basketball, I consider it a must read, because the key factors in Lin’s success are not so far removed from what makes a great trader.
Here is the meat of the piece:
Jeremy Lin’s rise did not begin, as the world perceived it, with a 25-point explosion at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 4. It began with lonely 9 a.m. workouts in downtown Oakland in the fall of 2010; with shooting drills last summer on a backyard court in Burlingame, Calif.; and with muscle-building sessions at a Menlo Park fitness center.
It began with a reworked jump shot, a thicker frame, stronger legs, a sharper view of the court — enhancements that came gradually, subtly, through study and practice and hundreds of hours spent with assistant coaches, trainers and shooting instructors over 18 months.
Quite simply, the Jeremy Lin who revived the Knicks, stunned the N.B.A. and charmed the world — the one who is averaging 22.4 points and 8.8 assists as a starter — is not the Jeremy Lin who went undrafted out of Harvard in June 2010. He is not even the same Jeremy Lin who was cut by the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 9.
Beyond the mystique and the mania lies a more basic story — of perseverance, hard work and self-belief.
- NY Times, The Evolution of a Point Guard
Oh hell yes. That last sentence gives me chills. “…a more basic story — of perseverance, hard work and self-belief.”
In the beginning, Jeremy Lin was physically weak and beset by bad habits. He didn’t have the body of an NBA player, or the fundamental skills of a world class point guard. His game was a hodge podge of gaps, holes and flaws.
But the raw talent — the foundation, the essential clay — was there. Lin’s coaches saw that, underneath all the mediocrity, the kid at least had potential.
And he had something else too: A willingness to work his ass off. From the NYT piece:
Soon, Smart noticed something else. Lin was the first player at the Warriors’ training center every day, eating breakfast by 8:30 a.m. “Then, all of sudden, you’d hear a ball bouncing on the floor,” Smart said. Practice typically began at noon.
The guy was fanatically dedicated, even when he was a nobody, a third-stringer.
He saw his own chance for greatness and started preparing for it, long before the cheering crowds came.
I love this part too: On his path to becoming a breakout star, Lin actually had to move DOWN a level… and endure what many other players in his situation would have considered humiliating:
…Lin kept arriving early, leaving late, devouring film and working studiously with Silas and later Lloyd Pierce. But what Lin really needed was game repetition. The Warriors sent him to Reno, their D-League affiliate, on three occasions. That is where the lessons started to take hold.
I freakin’ love it!
Busted down to Reno, to play in the “D-League” — that sounds depressing to even say out loud — and that’s where the lessons started to take hold.
Think of what kind of drive, what kind of desire and mental focus it must have taken to maintain a winner’s attitude in the face of that slight.
Getting yanked from the big show to play in the boonies has to be a major blow to any athlete’s ego. And to endure it multiple times, up and back down like a yo-yo, every time wondering if you’re good enough?
It would have been so easy for Lin to become bitter, or lazy, or complacent and resentful at the cards he had been dealt.
But instead he kept believing in himself… kept following that path to greatness. And another step on that path was getting big:
He compared Lin to a stretched-out rubber band — flexible, but lacking that snap-back quality. The goal was to make him “stiffer,” through a training program of heavy weights and low repetition, in conjunction with a high-protein diet. With the added muscle, Lin pushed his weight to 212 pounds from 200, while increasing his vertical leap by 3.5 inches, Wagner said. The result is evident every time Lin barrels into the lane this season.
“The biggest thing I see is when he gets intro traffic, he’s able to maintain his direction and his balance, because he’s stronger,” Wagner said, adding, “He’s a physical guard. That’s where I see his hard work and the program he did with us paying off.”
Wagner added: “Before, he was a motorcycle: he was maneuverable, but very off-balance. Now he’s like a Porsche: he’s fast, but he’s stable.”
No wonder the Warriors and the Rockets didn’t appreciate him!
On his way to the Knicks, Jeremy Lin was TRANSFORMED… his entire game, and his entire physique, were taken to new levels through a process of relentless focus and 360 degree evolution.
Guys like Jeremy Lin are incredibly rare — more so because of mindset than the talent.
Again, think of what it took for an overlooked bench warmer to transform himself into one of the hottest starters in NBA history:
- A deep and persistent belief in himself (and his ability to succeed).
- A willingness to outwork everyone else — to show up early and stay late, day after day after day.
- A willingness to persevere in the face of setbacks (being busted down multiple times) that were actually opportunities in disguise.
The Jeremy Lin story is a great one for traders to digest because, when it comes to trading, we all start out with flaws and holes in our game.
Unlike the Shaquille O’ Neals and Lebron Jameses of the world, NO ONE is born to trading greatness overnight.
Trading is such a multi-faceted and subtle game, personal evolution is not just one of the paths to greatness — it’s the only path!
To become a great trader, or even just a skilled journeyman trader who puts food on the table for the family, flaws have to be ferretted out… holes have to be filled in… weak sides have to be strengthened. Extensive mental conditioning, ample seasoning and full contact training is required.
And all of this has to be done through an extended period of repetition, repetition, repetition — time in the saddle — with relentless focus and dedicated practice the cornerstones, “coming together” over a period of time.
The exciting thing is, trading does not require innate physical gifts. You don’t have to be 6′ 2″ and quick in the paint to be a great trader. (Steve Cohen, one of the greatest traders ever, looks like George Costanza from Seinfeld.)
Nor does trading have an age limit. You don’t have to hang up your game by 35 the way most athletes do. Heck, a lot of trading legends didn’t even begin til 35 age or later. George Soros started Quantum Fund at 39, then dominated markets well into his 70s. (And he’s still playing in his 80s, albeit with his own $25 billion stash!)
You do have to have the “spark.” You have to have that something, deep down, that whispers in your ear and tells you, “I can play this game.” And you have to be honest with yourself as to whether that spark is there.
But if that spark is there, everything else can come. You can expect to start with gaps, flaws, weaknesses, and gaping holes in your game… just like Jeremy Lin did. Just like all traders do.
And with the right training and guidance, delivered through persistence and self belief, you can evolve your way to trading “greatness” too — however you choose to define it.
p.s. If you liked this, a piece I wrote last year, “Think Only of Cutting,” explores similar ideas from a different angle. Whether you believe you can do it or don’t believe you can do it, guess what — you’re probably right…