In the spring of 2012, “Linsanity” swept the country, propelling a virtually unknown and undrafted guard from Harvard to the forefront of the NBA. While being a star on the court was not new for Jeremy Lin, the sudden fame, media frenzy and cavalcade of opportunities were a whole new world. The combination of worldwide fame and New York media led to long hours of photo shoots and late nights on the press circuit. Lin’s sudden rise and rabid fan base led to widespread interest from publicists, marketers, brands and many more who wanted to capitalize off his success.
While the hysteria of Linsanity has worn off, Lin shared five lessons that remain his guiding framework in life.
1. Find balance.
The grind of an 82-game season on hardwood courts is both a physical and mental challenge. Players are constantly traveling and rarely have an off day. The modern NBA has also become an always-on league, with a highly covered offseason that manifests in regular media commitments for its pros. Recently, it took a toll on Lin to the point that he felt he needed to manage potential "burnout," so Lin began to embrace the Sabbath -- taking one full day off to be completely removed from basketball each week. A devout Christian, Lin compares his devotionals to food: something he needs to have to get through each day. After workouts, Lin relaxes with friends and family, underscoring the importance of intimate, personal relationships in his daily life.
2. Prioritize loyalty.
As Lin’s popularity exploded, it was a challenge to ascertain whom he could trust, versus who just wanted to be part of his success. Lin leans on his friends and family for much of his off-court work because he knows he can trust them. Despite having opportunities to work with traditional agencies and business partners, Lin “wanted to stand with the people who had been loyal” to him before Linsanity catapulted his public profile. It’s something I can relate to: My brother and I are business partners, my mom is the executive director of our foundation and my dad is involved in Rabil Events. In the startup world, trust and loyalty are in low supply and high demand. Neither of us work exclusively with family members, but when skill sets match need, it’s a logical benefit.
3. Create meaningful content.
I was first connected with Lin through our shared publicist, Meredith Geisler (now at Tandem Sports & Entertainment). In 2014, we both joined Whistle Sports as YouTube channel partners. Lin’s channel is riddled with hilarious sketches such as “How to Fit into the NBA" and “Lindorsements,” which pokes fun at brand endorsements in a humorous way. In our conversation, he talked about loving to create -- whether it was arts, crafts, ceramics or content -- and how it’s always been a passion of his since he was young. It’s something that I can relate to as well; I’ve always loved to paint and draw, which felt like it exercised the creative part in me. My interest in arts and creation eventually led to the creation of my YouTube channel, and more recently, this podcast. For Lin, his YouTube channel was an outlet to express his creative side. He often spends time storyboarding with his friends and concocting new ideas for videos. He uses his channel to support the Jeremy Lin Foundation, donating inbound ad money to support his promotion of youth leadership and curving childhood poverty.
4. Control your message.
The spark that led to Lin to launch a YouTube channel came from a misreported media story during free agency. As a response, Lin began controlling his message by using communication platforms of immediacy -- like YouTube, Weibo, Twitter and Facebook -- to speak directly to his audience. While he lets the mainstream media analyze his game performance, Lin’s social channels give him the ability to share stories on what he cares about. They also give him the agency to be selective about the brand endorsements he prefers and the degree of control over the creative process.
Nowadays, Lin is more proactive about his endorsements, choosing to work with a company like Adidas because he believes in its value and long-term growth. I’ve always felt that developing my social media presence was a necessity in a niche market sport that isn’t covered by traditional media. The added benefit of being able to reach your audience more directly is the comfort in knowing that you control your messaging, have autonomous creative input and can communicate succinctly, on-demand.
5. Build sustainable revenue.
While making a lot of money has never been a priority for Lin, he shared his approach to developing sustainable sources of revenue that he can rely on far beyond his playing days. In our conversation, he was a strong advocate for equity-related deals in companies that he believes in since it creates an added mutual incentive to the relationship. Lin told me he’s been “blessed beyond his dreams” with his on-court salary, having recently signed a three-year, $38.3 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets. With that type of economic security, coupled with an in-house team of financial advisors he trusts, it enables him to prefer equity-based relationships, which inherently take on more risk. He plans to use his endorsement revenue to grow the Jeremy Lin Foundation.
Most athletes recognize there will come a time when their on-field contracts wind down. It’s critical to think about a career after sport. The consensus, however, is that if done properly, your career post-retirement doesn’t have to be in a foreign industry. Lin’s done a terrific job of incubating a post-playing career while he’s still banging jumpers at Barclays Center.
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