How does your faith shape the way you behave on the court? Are you a different basketball player because you are a Christian?
Not just in basketball, but I think in life, when you're called to be a Christian, you're automatically called to be different from everyone else. In today's world of basketball, it makes you really different, because the things that society values aren't necessarily in line with what God values.
Much of it comes down to humility. We as Christians are called to be humble. And if we really understand the gospel, we will be humble. We should be humble, and understand that everything that is good comes from God.
We are also called to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. There are times on the basketball court when people will say things to you, and you just have to bite your tongue and love them. It's almost as though you have to love then even more, and that love means more if they're wronged you.
Society focuses so much on individual stats and wins and losses. To a certain extent, you can control those things. But to play for God means to leave the records and the statistics up to Him and give your best effort and allow God to figure out whether you win or lose, whether you play or shoot the ball well that game. So I just try to make sure that I work hard and in a godly way. I prepare myself as well as I can, and at every point during the game I try to submit myself to God and let Him use me.
Everyone who steps on a basketball court will hear taunts and insults. Yet racial slurs are another matter, and you have had to confront them regularly throughout your career, as the first Asian-American to reach this level. Do you find it particularly difficult to respond in grace when racial slurs are used?
I'm naturally competitive and cocky. I love proving people wrong. I love competing. When I first started hearing those remarks, I would always want to say something back, or to play well to get them back. As I grew older, I realized that I shouldn't allow that stuff to effect me, and at the same time I shouldn't retaliate. I shouldn't say anything back. So at this point, now, this year, it hasn't really bothered me. It's just something I'm used to now, and it's a good opportunity to reflect the grace of God when you don't say anything back, or when you're really respectful in return. That says something powerful.
We've talked about how your faith shapes your approach to basketball. But how has basketball shaped your faith? Has God used basketball to shape your character, to teach you, to strengthen you?
Absolutely. I've learned so many things through basketball, and God has really molded me and tested and affirmed my faith through basketball. Given my experiences, if I look back at everything that's happened, it's hard for me not to trust God and know that he has a perfect plan for me.
In a sense, it's easy for me. Since I've been given so much through basketball, it's easier for me to be thankful to God. But at the same time, basketball has humbled me a great deal. The more I play, the more I realize that the outcome is less up to me, and there's less I can control.
But there's so much more, so many lessons God has taught me through basketball-everything from pride to self-control to worth ethic and love and unselfishness.
You mention humility. How could it be that God has used basketball to humble you, when you've achieved so much? Wouldn't your basketball successes only make you more prideful?
No, it really is humbling. You might be able to relate to this, since you were a gymnast. There are times when I'm out there on the basketball court and it feels like I'm not even controlling my own body. It's almost as though someone else is using me as a puppet. There are things I do, that, when I look at them afterwards, I wonder how I did that. In moments like that, I realize that there is something more to what's happening around me, something supernatural about it.
It's also humbling in another way. When I won that state championship with Palo Alto High School, well, we would talk about winning the title. Deep down inside, though, you're not fully expecting the victory because only one team in the entire state can win it. So, to be able to be there at that point in that tournament, to have that opportunity, I was, more than anything, just grateful. There were so many things that had to happen just perfectly. Tiny differences could have taken us out of contention for a championship.
The other reason that athletic success can be humbling is because, even after you win a state championship, it's not as fulfilling as you had thought it would be. That's humbling, too, and it says something about the way we chase after materialistic and worldly things.
Read Part 2 of the interview here, which focuses on Lin's Asian-American heritage.
Also see Patheos' new Faith and Sports Portal for more stories of faith and sport.