Knicks' Jeremy Lin vs. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: Who is a Better Harvard Role Model?

ByAnita Joseph

A version of this article originally appeared on the Harvard Political Review. Follow the HPR on Twitter @HarvardPolitics.

Given that the vast majority of Harvard students aspire to enter traditional fields after graduation, it’s ironic that our most famous young graduates are Jeremy Lin and Mark Zuckerberg. They are both precocious twenty-something year olds who are finding incredible success early in life, underdogs with unconventional playing styles, and people who stuck out in a crowd of wunderkinds during their undergraduate years. However, this is where the similarities end.

Jeremy Lin is celebrated as the “humble hero from Harvard,” and passes on credit to his teammates as easily as he passes the ball to them on the court. After his 38-point night against Lakers, he spent a good portion of his postgame interview talking up Knicks forward Jared Jeffires, “I couldn’t think of anybody who’s more underrated than Jared.” Much of Lin’s unconventional strength seems to come from his leadership abilities on the court, namely his ability to understand who is a strong option and who is not, as well as his ability to facilitate other people’s success in addition to his own. He sleeps on people’s couches and considers himself a private and low-key person. His humility, boosted by a belief in the Augustinian Christian idea that men should accept their fundamental weakness of will without God, comes off as his dominant characteristic. As Knicks guard Iman Shumpert put it, “He’ll give you the clothes off his back.”

Mark Zuckerberg possesses a very different image. He is celebrated as a hyper-successful entrepreneur who cut corners, drove over other people, and muscled his way into being rich and powerful. Now that Facebook has gone public, it is clear that Zuckerberg has engineered a company that is far from resembling a team effort. He holds over 25 percent of Facebook shares outright, and has negotiated with other investors to raise his effective voting power to 60 percent of shares. Even if his image owes a great deal to media photoshopping, Zuckerberg has done little to combat the idea that he values his own opinion and comfort much more than anyone else’s, a philosophy embodied in everything from the way he dresses — you can wear flip-flops to a meet-and-greet when you’re Mark Zuckberg — to the way he communicates with his users — changes to Facebook are announced after the fact, because users are still in the Platonic cave of ignorance.

This titanic contrast is important because it’s evident that undergraduates are confused as to whether the Jeremy or Mark model best fits the Harvard student. This was evidenced by the recent dueling Internet memes of “Harvard Douche Bag” and “Harvard Good Guy.” One “lights cigars/with Princeton acceptance letter,” and the other, “is rich/works dorm crew.” One “gives a quarter to a homeless person/puts on resume,” and the other, “finishes thesis draft early/doesn’t post on Facebook.” What is at stake in the contrast between these two figures is not their level of talent. Rather, the central difference between these two figures is their degree of humility.

Then again, perhaps we’re not confused about ourselves at all. Perhaps we’re confused about how we compare to the rest of the student body. The Class of 2014, when surveyed at the end of their freshman year, ranked “hard work, honesty, respect, and compassion” as their top four personal values. Yet, they ranked “success” as the value Harvard stands for the most. Therefore, individually, we see ourselves as more like Jeremy, though in the context of Harvard, we think we need to be more like Mark.

It seems pretty evident that being a Mark would bring us quicker and sharper success. Business analysts seem sure, at least now, that Facebook’s phenomenal development is due in large part to Zuckerberg’s inability to listen to opposition and confidence that his decisions will always be the right ones. Facebook filed for a $5 billion-dollar public offering three weeks ago because he single-handedly held off powerful buys, including a potentially billion-dollar one from Viacom. In contrast, Lin’s success may have been delayed because the strengths of his game seem more altruistic and less selfish — more team basketball than All-star basketball. At least one NBA player, albeit one who changed his name to Metta World Peace, has advised him to get more swagger. “You’re in New York, the fashion capital. Change your haircut, OK? You’re a star now. Wear some shades. Shades, OK? Put down the nerdy Harvard book glasses.”

Of course, my purpose is not to demonize Mark Zuckberg. Regardless of his persona, Facebook has improved mechanisms of global social relations and has become a key method of facilitating democratic uprisings. Still, the merit of a person’s accomplishment should be separated from a person’s public character, and we can disapprove of one while still acknowledging the other. In this light, it’s important to note that the kind of public respect Jeremy Lin has, whether his magical performances continue are not, is borne of genuine admiration rather than resentful acknowledgement. People pay tribute to Mark Zuckerberg, but people want to follow Jeremy Lin. One is clearly a better model for leadership out of Harvard. After all, how many puns have you heard on “Zuckerberg” lately?

Photo Credit: Guillaume Paumier

A version of this article originally appeared on the Harvard Political Review. Follow the HPR on Twitter @HarvardPolitics.