On Surprises

Let’s begin this post with a hypothetical question: In retrospect, were the Rockets crazy to take Hakeem Olajuwon 1st overall in the 1984 draft, even though Michael Jordan was taken third?

I would argue they are not. The Blazers certainly regret taking Sam Bowie 2nd, but that’s besides the point. Even though Michael Jordan went on to become the greatest player of all time, there’s no way of knowing how situations might have changed if the draft had played out differently. Perhaps an Olajuwon/Drexler team in Portland or Olajuwon/Pippen combo in Chicago wins multiple titles and Jordan with no help in Houston gets shut out.

We just don’t know. Hindsight may be 20/20, but hindsight only refers to things that actually happened. No such thing as hypothetical hindsight.

Where am I going with this? Leading in to a Jeremy Lin discussion, of course.

First, I must admit that I, unequivocally, was a Jeremy Lin hater in 2010-11. I somewhat followed and enjoyed his run in high school, was impressed by his college career at Harvard, and absolutely hated that he played for my favorite team in the NBA.

During his one season with the Warriors, Lin looked lost on the court. He looked smaller than everyone else on the court, at times looked scared to be there, and by almost any measure was the worst player in the Warriors backcourt. Was his signing in part a marketing ploy to draw a new audience to Oracle Arena? I don’t know – but I do know he was an awful basketball player.

So, when Rick Reilly writes a piece called “How do you like me know?” to highlight all the teams who passed on Lin, in college and the NBA, I have to just laugh. “Lin-Fuego” right may be leading the NBA in puns right now, but I’m not ready to say that as a result of this one week, every team that passed on him in the past should be extremely sorry that they didn’t keep Lin around.

I, for one, am still 100% happy that the Warriors cut Jeremy Lin. He wasn’t going to get consistent playing time with the Warriors behind Monta Ellis and Steph Curry, and without the added playing time he’s received on the Knicks, there’s no way he would have progressed to have a week like this one. Lin, and his feature pick-and-roll move, wouldn’t work with the rest of the Warriors personnel. Nate Robinson on the Warriors right now is way better than Jeremy Lin would be on the Warriors right now, simply because of their playing styles.

As Marc Spears writes, leaving the Warriors was good for Lin, but I would say this is a win-win-win situation – Jeremy Lin gets the playing time he needs to grow as a player, the Knicks get a perfect fit for their system, and the Warriors shed a player that was absolutely atrocious for them last year.

How about the other teams that passed on him? What’s to say that Stanford wouldn’t have been a really bad fit for Lin being so close to where he grew up, and that traveling across the country to Harvard was just what Lin needed to take his game to the next level.

Sometimes, athletes surprise us. Jim Plunkett spent nine years as a draft bust and then became two-time Super Bowl champion QB. Scott Brosius became a world-series hero. Tim Freaking Tebow won a playoff game. Warren Sapp somehow finished 2nd on Dancing with the Stars.

But if you wagered on any of those things to happen, you would have been crazy. More importantly, those who did NOT believe those things would occur are 0% crazy, they are completely sane and they are much more rational people. Just because this guy ended up winning 50 grand because the first score of the super bowl was a safety doesn’t mean we are all idiots for not making the same outlandish bet.

Enjoy the surprises in sport like Jeremy Lin – they are a part of what makes sports great. But don’t confuse Lin’s great run as proof that he’s been overlooked for years. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t awful last year. This is a player taking advantage of a great situation and thriving, and that’s enough for it to be a great story.