Normally, February is the dullest month in the sports calendar. The NFL season concluded with the Super Bowl. March Madness is not yet on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers haven't reported. And games in the interminably long basketball and hockey seasons feel meaningless.
But not this year. This February has been more exciting than ever, dominated by Linsanity, the phenomenon surrounding the improbable rise of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.
In his first six games in the starting lineup, Lin has been unstoppable. He scored more points than any other NBA player ever had in his first five starts. In his fifth game, Lin hit a game-winning three pointer with less than a second left on the clock. In his sixth start, he had a career-high thirteen assists. Six starts, six wins. It has been Linsane.
The Lin story is so compelling, not just because of the endless puns based on his name or what he has accomplished on the court, but also because of who he is as a person and the road he has traveled to get to this point.
Lin is Taiwanese-American, the very rare American born Asian player to make an NBA roster. He went to Harvard University, which is not exactly known as a basketball powerhouse. In fact, he is the first Harvard graduate to play in the NBA since 1954. When people imagine great basketball players, they don't normally picture an Asian-American from Harvard.
Lin was undrafted coming into the league, but was able to work his way onto an NBA roster last year. This season, Lin was cut from two other teams before ending up on the Knicks bench. He was reportedly just five games from being let go by the Knicks as well, before an injury forced him into the lineup. Linsanity is proof that he has made the most of his opportunity.
The meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin from unheralded, undrafted benchwarmer to international sensation is nothing short of remarkable. ESPN analyst Tony Kornheiser captured the sentiment while discussing Lin on his radio show, "The thing that stands out is how this guy has gone from non-factor, on the bench, not even going to play, to without question, the leader of a team."
Most leaders don't like to ride the bench. They want to be in the game, making a difference. They see how things should be and are anxious to do something about it. Often, this impatience can backfire, causing leaders to compromise themselves ethically or morally. Moses was one such leader whose first attempt at liberating the Hebrews from Egypt caused him to murder a man. God benched Moses for forty years.
Leaders must be able to discern, not just the right things to do, but also the right time and place for making progress. Good leaders know that influence that is forced or coerced will backfire. Often, the best leadership opportunities arise naturally and organically. At just the right moment, leaders are called from the bench into the game, but they're ready and willing to step up.
By all accounts, Jeremy Lin is succeeding now because of what he did while he was waiting on the bench. Far from sulking or seething, Lin used his time on the bench to get ready—learning his coach's system, watching the mistakes made by the point guards who played ahead of him, figuring out his teammate's strengths and weaknesses. He has made the most of the leadership opportunity that has arisen for him.
The bench is where we learn perspective, looking at life from new and unexpected angles. The bench is where we learn patience, realizing that everything can't always be fixed by the waving of our magic wand. The bench is where we learn humility, valuing the whole team and not just our own skills and abilities. The bench is where we learn to lead.
We don't know how long this Linsanity will last, but we do know that Jeremy Lin maximized his time on the bench. And because of that, he is now making the most of his leadership opportunity in the game. We need more patient, humble leaders like Jeremy Lin.
Robb Ryerse is the founding pastor of Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He is the author of Butterfly Theology, available in September from Civitas Press.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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