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My Take: Linsanity vs. Tebowmania, key similarities and differences
Stephen Prothero says there are big similarities between Jeremy Lin, above, and Tim Tebow, but big differences, too.
February 13th, 2012
04:35 PM ET

My Take: Linsanity vs. Tebowmania, key similarities and differences

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Is the New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin the NBA’s answer to Tim Tebow? Let me count the ways.

First, Lin was underestimated throughout his career. The knock has been that Tebow couldn’t throw. The knock on Lin had been that he wasn’t particularly athletic.

Although he led Palo Alto High School to a state championship in basketball, major college programs did not want Lin. And after he blew away the competition at Harvard, the NBA didn’t seem particularly interested either. Undrafted, he warmed the bench at Golden State, then Houston and then New York before getting his big break this year with the Knicks.

Second, like Tebow, Lin came out of nowhere to bring a dying team back from the dead. While Tebow turned around the Denver Broncos at quarterback, Lin has led the previously struggling Knicks at point guard to five straight victories, each with 20 points or more. And his field goal percentage during this winning streak tops 50%, not bad for a guy who supposedly can’t shoot.

Third, Lin is also a born-again Christian whose fans love him as much for cultural and religious intangibles as for his ability in his sport.

In a 2010 interview with Timothy Dalrymple of Patheos.com, Lin said he was raised in the church and became a Christian in high school. In college, he played “for the glory of God.” After his career-high 38 point performance against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, he said, “I just give all the praise to God.”

But Lin, who told Sports Illustrated in 2010 that he wants to be a pastor post-NBA, also has another intangible going for him—his Chinese-American heritage. Yes, the “Linsanity” is driven by his performance on the court, but it’s also driven by his Taiwanese descent, and the fact that he is one of a handful of Asian Americans to make it to the NBA.

Lin also differs from Tebow in his approach to the faith, which is more subtle. On his Facebook page, Lin does quote Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." But the "Taiwanese Tebow" doesn’t “Tebow” after a game. His evangelism is decidedly low key.

In this way, Lin is a reminder that, like Christians themselves, athletic evangelicals come in all shapes and sizes.

Scholars of religion have been observing for years that the Christian tradition is rapidly moving south and east, finding its new home not so much in Europe or in the United States as in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

Lin exemplifies this trend, even as he reminds us that American Christianity is changing its face, too. The Asian immigration boom that began with the opening up of immigration in 1965 did wonders for Buddhism and Hinduism, to be sure. But it brought far more Christians to American shores, many of them (like Lin) non-denominational evangelicals.

Down the road, Lin will probably get some of the same grief that Tebow has gotten for his outspoken faith. And if he is as human as that faith says he is, his shots are going to clang off the rim some day, and with it some of the sheen on his celebrity. In other words, there is at least as much insanity in Jeremania as there was in the cult of Tim Tebow. To believe in either guy takes a little bit of faith.

But for now, "Linsanity" is crazy wisdom, driving Web pilgrims to view the couch where Lin (who makes a paltry $762,000 a year) been supposedly sleeping in recent days and even resurrecting the stock of Madison Square Garden–Linflation?–which owns the surging Knicks.

Lin headlines his Twitter account with “to know Him is to want to know Him more.”

At least for now, Knicks fans seem to be saying that to watch Lin play is to want to watch him more. A lifelong Celtics fan, I've never liked the Knicks. But I want to see Lin more, too. Until he comes to Boston.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Sports • United States

soundoff (691 Responses)
  1. Tommy

    The huge difference here is that Lin is good at his sport while Tebow is awful. You can have 1 or 2 good games in a row in the NBA and then fade out. Having 5 consecutive great games is not a fluke.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  2. Pete

    Even Michael Jordan loves Jeremy Lin: http://www.omdoubleg.com/sports/its-time-to-admit-that-jeremy-lin-is-the-greatest-player-in-nba-history/

    February 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  3. tony

    I doubt either of thse guys would perform any differently if they were Buddists. Except maybe give more money away.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  4. Christians are not allowed near children and other living things

    Christians molest your children, keep them away from them!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • tony

      It's the brainwashing of their innocent originally atheist minds that makes me angry.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Don

      Yes that seems to be the common thing about Christianity, those voice of their imaginary friends keep telling them to molest young children, not sure how that is supposed to be a god, but then ANYONE who hears voices from imaginary friends needs extreme mental health care to recover from schizophrenia which can become even more extreme when you start shooting abortion doctors and strapping bombs on your chest to blow up imaginary non believers.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  5. duckz86

    The only difference between the two is that Lin has skills.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  6. Bryan

    Why is this the lead story on what is supposed to be a real & legitimate new source. Very hard to take you guys seriously.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  7. tony

    When are we going to blog about how great it is that some celebrities are more publicly or more privately logically disbelievers???

    February 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Clif

      "For the word of the cross is folly to those that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'"

      February 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Don

      Sorry Clif but it is written in the DSM those who hear voices of imaginary beings are showing one of the signs of extreme schizophrenia and should seek mental health care ASAP as it can turn to strapping bombs on your chest and blowing yourself up in subway stations, bus stations or other people where you 'IMAGINE" non believers to be gathering. After your remark I would suggest you seek help as well because you truly do not act like you have a very sound mind and may be strapping a bomb to your own behind very shortly. Good luck, hope you get beyond those imaginary clowns who keep haunting you.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  8. dan dalton

    I'VE PLAYED BALL ALL MY LIFE, INCLUDING COLLEGE, AND I'M HERE TO TELL YOU THAT THIS KID IS GREAT! I SAW HIM WHIP THE LAKERS THE OTHER NIGHT, BECAUSE HE UNDERSTANDS THAT BY GOING TO THE BASKET, YOU BREAK DOWN THE DEFENSE. THIS IS SOMETHING KOBE HAS YET TO LEARN. IF YOU NOTICE, KOBE LIKES TO SHOOT FALL AWAY JUMPERS, AND FALL AWAY THREE POINTERS. IF YOU SHOOT ONE FOR ELEVEN, YOU GIVE THE BALL BACK TO THE DEFENSE TEN TIMES. LIN IS AS DANGEROUS AS CRIS PAUL. HE'S GOING TO BE A BIG STAR! GREAT TO SEE A KID WHO UNDERSTANDS FUNDAMENTALS. REMEMBER, KOBE HAD NO COLLEGE COACHING!
    Dan Dalton

    February 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • greybush

      Are you serious? Let me know when Lin learns how to win 6 rings or score 81 points in a game

      February 14, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • CJ

      Well, you'd have to give him a bit of time to accomplish said things, no?

      February 14, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • greybush

      Yes you do...but I doubt he ever will. Not with Knicks

      February 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • CJ

      .....and no college coaching for Kobe, means nothing. Did Lin's dad play in Europe, where he was also able to play against professionals at the age of 8 years old, like Kobe? Was Harvard known as being a great basketball school where you learn a lot? Why are you yelling? Hasn't everyone played basketball? haha I'm a Knicks fan so I like him, I'm just not crazy either, lol.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • CJ

      ....gotta wait till next year when Phil Jackson is the coach.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Don

      WOW you truly are delusional. You actually saw he was the only one on the court and he beat the Lakers all by himself? WOW, not sure what game you were watching but that is NOT the game I saw. I coould have sworn playing ball was ALL about teamwork and I did not see much that he could have done if his team had not been feeding him but then I am sure his imaginary friend he hears in his head did all the feeding and just like you said he was the ONLY one on the floor.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • greybush

      hahaha...good luck with that, Knicks doesn't have the funds to pay Phil

      February 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  9. greybush

    Seriously, these articles are so lame. Who cares if he's Christian, Asian...blahblahblah

    February 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Don

      The only people who truly care are the same brainless wonders who watch him and hear the saame imaginary friends talking to them. They all are suffering from the extremes symptoms of schizophrenia and need immediate mental health care before they start strapping on bombs and trying to blow up non believers in subway and bus stations.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  10. CJ

    Is this even worth discussing? If Lin is still this good at the end of the year, we'll talk.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  11. Vittorio

    I all about Linsanity, I can't stand Tebow

    February 14, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  12. fred figueroa

    well another empty contribution from the scholars. who sit and make things up that are shallow a person can`t have his 15 minutes without some hack. waxing poetic leave lin alone before you ruin him

    February 14, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  13. jesse

    SATAN IS BETTER THAN GOD AND JESUS PUT TOGETHER!!! LOVE HIM!!!!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • tony

      well Satan didn't split the Red Sea for Israel or cause the 250,000 or so innocent deaths from the Tsunamis. Those are acts of the "loving" god

      February 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Michael

      Jesse...how ironic you bear the name of one of the great Godly men of the Bible...

      February 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Don

      Uh neither did god or jesus split the red sea for an imaginary moses. When you clowns get done reading your fairy takes please do not try to apply them to real life, after all they are ONLY Fairy Tales

      February 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Don

      You want to see the acts of a 'loving god'? Go all around the world and see all the starving children, yep he loved them so much he saw that they all starved to death. Sure sounds like love to me. You need to get a mental health exam, hearing imaginary people from faairy tales is not good for children and other living things.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  14. Blake

    IIt's funny that people are even making this comparison. The backstory on Lin, at least to me, seems far more compelling. Despite what Tebow and his camp would have you believe, he was a highly recruited high school quarterback, an extremely overhyped college QB and a below average NFL QB with athleticism and ability to play well in the clutch.

    Lin was an underdog going all the way back to high school, and succeeded in helping to bring Harvard into the top 25. However, he continued to get overlooked, even when he got picked up by pro teams.

    So you have a situation where one player has been sold to us from the start and is enjoying success while underdelivering, and another player who rose from anonymity, is playing beyond expectation, and is winning. The only common denominator here is winning - other than that, these are two completely different stories.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • marko

      well said sir

      February 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  15. jesse

    i'm going to start to openly celebrate satanism and try to persuade my peers to join because he's really the good one and god the evil one. it got messed up in translation. actually they are both fake so it shouldn't matter 🙂 how are humans still this stupid and gullible after being around so long?

    February 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Steve

      Jesse, the funny thing is that if you ask a christian who murdered more people in the bible, Satan or Yahweh, they get discombobulated as they know the latter wins by a longshot. It is like Dahmer vs Hitler/Stalin. Who are they supposed to worship again? Hmm...the killer of Job's family or a genocidal, patriachial, slavery supporting, killing for the most minor of infractions, everyone who does not accept my son (er uh me) is going to be tortured for eternity in hell kind of guy who loves you. The biblical goal is to get people to follow by any means necessary, love and wisdom, cruelty and fear. You would think that it was a political campaign..oh wait....

      February 14, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Don

      Isn't it wonderful that christians like other believers in mythological gods all worship god and then you look through history and more people have been killed in the name of a supposed god than for any other cause in history. Yep, sure sounds like a loving god to me, NOT. Sounds more like people who are suffering from the extreme symptoms of schizophrenia and we need to get them all under care before they start strapping on bombs and blowing up people at subway and bus stations.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  16. Republitard

    Focus on basketball on the court and keep your faith in church. God has more important priorities, and maybe you should ask him how we can solve some of our issues. Anyway, keep playing like a superstar!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  17. hmm

    why are people so angry all the time?

    your beliefs don't need validation because you believe it. same goes for everyone else's beliefs. why is that so hard to comprehend?

    February 14, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Religion

      Because the Christian Taliban like Santorum keep trying to push their beliefs on us, and we want you people to leave us the hell alone.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • tony

      Hear Hear

      February 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • lol

      just refuse. aren't you good at arguing your points anyway? use some of that anger! maybe they'll get scared of you and leave you alone.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  18. Rigo

    Nice stories , but what is really SICK is how the press cover this things ..it seems the press as nothing better to say or do but spend 24 hours talking about LIN or Tim . Gees!!!!! I just turn off the TV for three hours and then when I come back is the same news about LIN again and again , then you come back three hours later at it seems they have benn in th same stuff. Just give us a break !!!!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  19. American Doc

    If my Christian faith leads some to consider me an idiot than so be it. This has been true from the beginning. We have watched the western world stray from its faith and not only deteriorate socially, but econcomically and in power and influence. We have had God's favor, but have taken it for granted and even denied it. Some young people recognize this. Especially those who have seen other "third world" countries as Tebow and Lin have. They know there is more to life than fame and fortune. I celebrate this trend (Kurt Warner, Drew Breese). The 15% who are offended just need to be more open minded, as they have often said themselves. Blessed be the name of the Lord God!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Sam

      American Doc : Lin was born and raised in Palo Alto,CA heart of silicon valley – not exactly the "third world."

      February 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • AB

      We have had God's favor?! What kind of talk is this? No, seriously, think about what you have said....If the so called god is real..he wouldnt favor one over the other...The god delusion is getting worse..Let me ask you a question, do you not believe there were humans about a few 200000 years back? What were they? Christians? Muslims? Hindus? They were humans and were selfish degraded souls trying to survive...just like today...Religion and its various facets for the most part suck...If Tebow wants to kneel down and pray to god at every touch down, it is very annoying..i am here to see the game, not an advertisement of religion..

      February 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • tony

      Go bury the Tsunami dead or give all your money to the poor survivors

      February 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Don

      Well guess what doc we do see you as an 'idiot' and we are all laughing at you. You as a doc should know that people who are hearing voices of imaginary beings are suffering from the extreme symptoms of schizophrenia and need immediate mental health care before they start strapping bombs on their behinds and running around blowing themselves up in subway and bus stations adding to the already extereme numbers of people killed in the name of imaginary gods, the one idea that has led to the deaths of mo0re people than any other cause in history. Sounds like an extremely severe illness to me.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • American Doc

      Keeps your shirts on boys! The anger in your comments seems to demonstrate a common theme. Perhaps Atheism has taken on a shared set of beliefs and responses to common problems. Sounds like dogma, or perhaps some sort of religion. GREAT! You call me names, and I will pray to the one and only God for my enemies. Christians do not strap bombs and blow people up, unless they have other intenions or mental disease. I am an ER doctor. I see everyone for everything you can think of and then some! And I know the Lord Jesus Christ, the father God, and the Holy Spirit. I have learned this, challenged this, and concluded that it is the truth. Go pick up C.S. Lewis and then get back to me. Until then, you prove your ignorance in your comments.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  20. Brad

    The difference between these two people (off the court/field) is that I never knew Lin was a B.A.C. Yet, for some reason, I was never able to escape the fact that Tebow is a Christian. That is why Lin will always face less backlash. Oh...and the fact that he is actually putting up numbers that are worthy of praise. Tebow only played because the Broncos were forced into a corner by publicity. Any other QB with those stats would have been benched.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Godless

      Exactly right Brad. Until I read this article, I had no idea Lin was a BAC. It isn't in people's faces the way it was with Tebow, and that's the big difference.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:39 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.