By Joseph Beyda
At Stanford, we’re more than used to world-class athletes who are also world-class students. We take classes with them, we bike around with them and we stand with them in line at Tresidder.
On the other hand, we all know that most professional athletes don’t exactly fit into the same category, especially not NBA players. They leave school early or skip it altogether, and oftentimes an abundance of idiocy ensues: drug use, gun charges and sexual harassment allegations.
Entering the fray is Jeremy Lin, an (until recently) unknown Harvard graduate who has taken the NBA by storm by scoring a record 136 points in his first five starts and adding 15 assists in his sixth one on Wednesday.
And, of course, he’s made the New York Knicks possibly the smartest team in the league alongside recent Stanford star Landry Fields. The only other team in the NBA with two players in the Ivy League/Stanford category is the Phoenix Suns, which boasts former Cardinal standouts Josh Childress and Robin Lopez. Together, Lin and Fields are easily the top student-athletes of their basketball graduating class, which says quite a lot.
But even given the NBA’s reputation for hosting some degree of hooliganism, it amazes me how surprised the sporting world is that Lin was a Harvard product. There might not be an overwhelming track record of NBA stars who come from the Ivy League, but when Duke and Georgetown are two of the sport’s perennial college powers, you have to acknowledge that a basketball player can be a world-class talent and do well in school, too.
What’s more, the three other main American sports—baseball, hockey and football—all have more players from the Ivies or Stanford than the NBA does, though, of course, these sports’ teams are significantly larger. Cardinal greats actually make up a significant chunk of the elite schools’ MLB representation, with 11 former Stanford players in the big leagues to go along with six Ivy Leaguers.
But believe it or not, it’s the two pro sports that we hold so near and dear to our hearts for their bone-crunching toughness—football and hockey—that have the most impressive contingents of academic athletes.
The NFL has 21 Stanford players on active rosters and 10 former Ivy League athletes. If you’re willing to bite the bullet and add Cal, with 37 more players, to the list, you have an entire team’s worth of world-class cerebral talent playing at the highest level of pro football. That might not match Ohio State or Miami, who respectively had 70 and 65 players taken in the draft from 1999 to 2009, but the elite academic schools still have a notable group of players in the NFL.
The same is true in hockey, even without the representation of Stanford and Cal, for obvious reasons. Believe it or not, the Ivy League contingent of 26 NHL players is actually a tougher bunch than the rest of the league, including scrappy enforcers such as the Sharks’ Douglas Murray and the Ducks’ George Parros from Cornell and Princeton, respectively. Parros and Kings winger Kevin Westgarth (a Princeton grad) both cracked the top 40 in penalty minutes last season, with Parros leading the league in fighting majors (27) and Westgarth in 10th place. Those two actually fought each other two nights in a row last April.
Not exactly the kind of guys most people would expect to run into within those hallowed halls of ivy. But with Stanford remaining relevant in football and Harvard floating around the edge of rankings for much of the basketball season, I don’t see why not.
You better believe that we nerds are only going to keep rising to the top in the next few years. Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers will be dominating the NFL for the foreseeable future, Mark Appel is the early favorite to snag baseball’s No. 1 pick this summer and, until further notice, the Linsanity is going to continue in Madison Square Garden.
Smarts and athletic talent: looks like you can have it all.
Joseph Beyda often starts hockey fights with Harvard grads who ask him for some insight into the market economy of the Southern Colonies. Send him your best nerd trash talk at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.