Jeremy Lin is No Tim Tebow

Jeremy Lin is No Tim Tebow May 21, 2012

At the end of last week, I published the first installment and the second installment in the Introduction to “Jeremy Lin: The Reason for the Linsanity.”  Please consider whether anyone you know might enjoy receiving this book and hearing the story.


The objective of this book is to understand the Linsanity phenomenon. In order to understand the Linsanity, however, one must understand Jeremy Lin. Where did he come from? What made him the player and the person he is today? And what accounts for his extraordinary connection with fans?

Make no mistake: Jeremy Lin’s fame is about more than basketball. His basketball accomplishments alone would have made him a sensation. But it’s the potent combination of his humble heroism on the court, his powerful ethnic heritage, and his profound faith that has made him an icon. Pastors around the country would not be referring to Jeremy Lin in their sermons, and the sports bars in Taipei would not be opening at nine in the morning when the Knicks have a game on the other side of the globe, if Jeremy were not about more than basketball. He emerged at a particular historical-cultural moment that needed him.

Three things will become abundantly clear in the following pages:

  • How easily it might never have happened. As Jeremy told Knicks’ radio announcer Spero Dedes after the seven-game winning streak, “Looking back, I can see why everything happened the way it did.” The better you understand Jeremy’s story–and the story of the Lin family as a whole–the more you will agree. An astronomically unlikely series of events and conditions had to fit together in precisely the right order at precisely the right time to create the conditions for Jeremy’s emergence. Looking back, it’s as though someone were assembling a time bomb for explosion at a later date. If the ingredients had not been fine-tuned, then the Seven Games of Linsanity would never have come to pass. Some of Jeremy’s greatest disappointments turned out to be his greatest blessings.
  • How Jeremy’s cultural inheritance as the son of Taiwanese immigrants has made him a better and more compelling athlete. Prior to Lin’s emergence, if five thousand people had been asked to imagine a 6’3″ NBA guard who produces 24 points and 9 assists per game in his second season, not a single one of those five thousand people would have imagined an Asian American player. Even today, of the 150 top high school seniors ranked by, not a single one of them is of Asian descent. This formed a kind of soft bigotry of low expectations that made it easy for coaches and recruiters to assume that Jeremy Lin could not reach the highest echelons of the sport. The implicit assumption has been that Asian Americans are not athletic enough, or not athletic in the right way, ro not genetically predisposed toward the right physical qualities, for success in the NBA. Jeremy does more, however, than shatter stereotypes. He also points to the plight of Asian Americans and particularly of the Asian American male. Many Asian American men have spoken openly of weeping at the sight of one of their own flourishing in the arena and then receiving the embrace and approval of the world. What’s unique about Jeremy is the way he explodes the negative images of the weak and timid Asian American, even as he embodies much of what is best in Asian American culture and brings that with him into his success. It’s not that Jeremy is a great basketball player in spite of his Asian American heritage. It’s that his Asian American heritage makes him a better player. The community and culture in which he was raised equipped him to strive and persevere and overcome through diligence and smarts. And when Asian Americans see the world embracing Jeremy, they feel the world embracing them.
  • How Jeremy’s particular kind of Christian faith has made him a better and more compelling athlete. As he would tell you himself, the Jeremy Lin story is not really about Jeremy Lin. It’s about something much larger. As athletically gifted as he is, Jeremy has never been able to rely on overpowering physical advantages. Jeremy has not prevailed against all odds on the basis of gargantuan height or Herculean strength or lightning quickness (though he is just as fast and agile as other NBA guards). He has prevailed in large measure because of the courage and persistence and power that his Asian American evangelical faith formed in him–and because of the providential opportunities he was given. Ultimately, he would say, the Seven Games of Linsanity can only be explained as an act of God.

In the memoir Through my Eyes, Tim Tebow tells the story of attending, in the summer before ninth grade, a men’s church retreat where the men and boys competed in contests of strength. The men made a fifty-five-pound curl bar and tested who could pull off the most repetitions. The numbers climbed higher as more men came to the contest. Thirty-five reps, forty, forty-five, fifty, and finally fifty-five. Near the end of the line, Tebow took his turn and won the contest–with 315 repetitions of a fifty-five-pound bar. He was not even in high school yet.

Jeremy cannot tell stories like that. He can tell a better one. He can tell a story of a mere mortal who persisted and persevered, who honed his skills and bettered his game and who made the most of his opportunities and saw his dream come true. As he sees it, this is not the story of an extraordinary person, but of an extraordinary God who accomplishes extraordinary things through ordinary people.

* * *

“Honestly, I see my basketball career as a miracle.”

Jeremy Lin spoke those words to me in his Harvard dorm room in February 2010–almost exactly two years before the Seven Games of Linsanity convinced the world of the same thing. It’s worth pondering. Jeremy thought his career was a miracle before he exploded into the firmament of professional sports stars, before he dropped 38 points on Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers, before he even entered the NBA.

He had good reason. The story of Jeremy Lin’s rise to the NBA is just as improbable as the story of what he did once he got there.


I’ll reflect on Jeremy, his career, and the process of writing the book in the weeks to come. If you have not already done so, please buy the book–it’s great for sports fans, for young athletes, for Christians, and for underdogs everywhere.

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