The truth of the matter is that heroic academics are just regular academics with two uninspiring credentials: good connections and a healthy dose of luck. A hard work ethic and an agile mind – which is to say a normative talent set at the graduate level – sets almost no one apart.This is a sweeping assumption that dismisses the value of identifying people who are unusually successful (here, in academics, but in principle in any industry). Identifying the unusually successful from the merely excellent is actually hard work, and is something that a 'big name' is supposed to help people sift out those worthy of emulation.
There are heroic individuals that got lucky, were in the right place at the right time, or are simply egocentric, if you can figure out who is heroic for what reason you can find those people that can teach you something useful. In the comments, 'fluffybunnywabbits' describes this kind of viewpoint very well:
I also think it's telling that in the anecdote recounted here the 'worshippers' are at a more advanced stage than the author (PhDs to his masters). I think the further through you get, the more you can track your own improvement, and that makes you realize how valuable experience is. I'm a couple of years into (what I hope will become) an academic career, and revising my doctoral thesis for publication. Re-reading stuff I wrote just a year or two ago makes me cringe, and makes me realize how much I've developed. If I think my ideas now are worth much more than my ideas were two years ago, why wouldn't I respect someone with ten times that extra experience?