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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. jesus liked it up da backdoor

    religion is for mental re t a r d s!
    the p o p e is a child abusing, n e c rop h iliac, nazi loving p e dop h ile

    February 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Truth

      Jesus loves you more than you may know, he wants everlasting life for you but the decision is yours. If he's knocking, will you answer?

      February 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  2. Truth

    I love Jesus, he loves atheists too! I'll pray that some of you can find the peace amd love that is Jesus.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • jesuswore womens undies

      jesus was a pedophile!
      he loved to bang little boys
      jesus was also a cross dressing, hermaphropditic pimp!
      jesus sucked more c 0 ck than anyone!

      February 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  3. tcaros

    It's like watching a Jackie Chan and Chris Rock movie... he's always pulling a rabbit out of a hat each time he gets the ball.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  4. John

    Golly Gee! Do you think if I break down and become a born-again Christian that God will help me play basketball like Lin? Oh, I can only hope and pray.

    Who let this story get by the editor without becoming scrap paper on the floor? Christians try and portray God as just a good ol' boy who helps them catch 10 lb bass on the first cast or guide their favorite sports character. If true, it would explain why he's too busy with all those meaningful tasks to pause and cure little children who's lives are being cut short by terminal cancer, or providing famine relief around the world, or instrumenting peace of the sake and preservation of mankind.

    I guess his time and attention is simply too overcome by everyone needing their fav-o-rite sports figure to win, win, win. "Dear lord, let us pray and hold special blessing over brother Lin, that you watch over his point spread and see to it that he makes every shot Lord and that you guide his hands to winning the championship. Amen."

    Hot Dang Buddy! I think he heard me. My prayers are answered.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • dosjhaguy

      You don't watch sports...do you?

      February 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • KB

      Now I don't care who you are.... Thats...

      February 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  5. Popcorn

    Stoudmire should win NBA championship for his brother who died car accident.

    I like to see them in NBA FINALS.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  6. tcaros

    It's like watching Jackie Chan play basketball. He makes the bros. look stupid.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  7. Wow

    I'm a Knicks fan and EVEN I can see that this is the NBA being desperate to make up for earlier lost revenues.
    Give the kid room to breathe, sheesh!

    February 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  8. ashrakay

    Only in America can you be proud of something you should be ashamed of. Professing your belief in an invisible, fairy, superhero in the sky as a badge of honor is like bragging to your friends about having he.rpes because it proves you had s.ex.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • ArcFire213

      Amen to that (irony intended.)

      February 13, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  9. ken

    sports journalists are fools and should mate with insects.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • whaddya mean?

      C'mon! He's had 5 great games less than halfway through the season. He's the greatest athlete in history.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  10. Jesus

    Jesus loves sports. He cares about people throwing a leather ball successfully into a rectangular area. Jesus would put effort into making sure you throw an orange ball into a circular hoop. That's why poor children die every day. because jesus is too busy making sure you don't pass the football to a person with a different color shirt on. that would be an interception. jesus hates interceptions.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  11. Gerald Shields

    But unlike Tebow, Lin can "BALL"!!!!!

    February 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  12. Abolish All Religion

    "Religion scholar"? Now there's an oxymoron if I ever saw one. Those two words don't even belong in the same sentence, let alone next to each other. Kind of like a "towering midget" or "luxury Ford Pinto".

    February 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • sleepyinsf

      Wow. I don't even believe in God and I think you're a mor0n. Of course there are scholars of religion, just as there are scholars in mythology, medievalism, etc. You are seriously stupid, sorry.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Cheesekun

      I wish the world I lived in were as simple as yours.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • dosjhaguy

      Guys, it's a troll, just make fun of him, or ignore him. Atheist trolls are rampant on CNN.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Golden Bear

      Hey Genius,

      You don't have to be religious to be a religion scholar. A scholar of religion studies the phenomenon of religion within human culture(s). It's one of the humanities. Whether or not you are particularly religious, religion plays a massive role in most cultures. To study the beliefs, values, and motivations of religions is more fully to understand human beings. You may personally choose to remain completely ignorant, but there are scholars who spend years studying languages, history, archeology, sociology, and anthropology as they pertain to religion. All Ivy League universities, Oxford, and Cambridge offer PhD programs in religious studies. You may be an atheist, but lambasting anything with the word "religion" in it does not always make you appear particularly intelligent. Go do a college degree and give up your second rate impersonation of Richard Dawkins.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  13. KB

    $762,000 a year...

    Wow – So what I took from this story is that it costs $762,000 a year for someone to travel around the US with his buddies and sit on his butt? Seriously? He doesn't even put on his palm palms? Don't get me wrong, this is a great feel-good story and I really hope that Mr. Lin has a terrific career and is maintains his dedication to and conviction to his religious beliefs... I doubt anyone would disagree that it is imporant to stay true to your convictions. However, from a pure business and sports standpoint – It would seem that somone is finally *beginning* to earn that nice salary. Again, good luck Jeremy Lin and I can only hope that you are able to sustain a positive impact (to Society and the NBA) over time.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  14. sybaris

    What does athleticism got to do with religion?

    February 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  15. Gohard

    Lin, is the real deal. Tebow, is WHACK!!!

    February 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  16. Jack

    media doesn't know what to do with non black stars in sports... they act like they are poison... seems racist to the bone...

    February 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Gabe

      That's why Linsanity is a top CNN story and Tebow was the top story in the NFL last year.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  17. Linsanity

    Check out this incredible Linsanity shirt.
    http://SportsCrack.com/tees_Linsanity.html

    February 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  18. bob

    Oh great, giving another American job to the Chinese.
    Americans need to smarten up and not let these minorities take our jobs.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Willie

      Bob, you're an a.s.s! Lin is an American with Chinese heritage. Bigots like you have been ruining the world for far too long.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • El Diablo

      He's American. He grew up in Palo Alto.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • bob

      Nothing, but American traitors on this site.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Harry McDavish

      Nothing, but misplaced commas here.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • joe in tucker

      well, go out there and take his job away from him since you must have the skills!! – but most pro ball of any sorts pretty much sux...

      February 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • tizok

      how stupid can you be Bob? did you read the article he was born in America I'm sure you are just a fat lazy as$ that is collecting checks every week, you are the future of this country. good job Bob

      February 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Bob-less

      Bob, anyone who is a citizen of this country is much American as you are. I'm sure your ancestor was not born in this country as we all migrate from every continents. If Lin is not American, I would advise you to trace back to your root to see where you came from.
      As for giving another job to another Chinese, Lin is giving back more jobs to all that is related to his Linsanity. The writer who wrote this article. The news, the advertisers, the tickets sold and many more.

      You sir are a very close minded person and a racist. Would you have said the same thing if this was giving to Pal Gausol, Dirk Nowitzsky or Hakeem Olajuwon? This only show me how tiny you are in this evolving world.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Josh

      His family is from Taiwan...

      February 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • vic

      bob was being funny but if he's serious thats really funny

      February 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Mike

      If you guys didn't realize, it was a joke........ A pretty funny one too.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  19. Willie

    Lin is making waves in the biggest city in America, with his phenomenal play. Tebow is a phony with minimal talent who is playing the media. Like many Americans, he sold his soul to the born again movement, that is the only reason he is in the news.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Greg

      What an ignorant comment.Tebow won the heisman and is considered by many to be the best college player of all time. Hee basically was a rookie QB this year and turned around a lousy team that was 1-4 before he took over(4-12 last yr). He led them to the playoffs and beat the #1 defense in the league, Pittsburg. Playing QB in the NFL is probably the hardest position in all of sports.

      February 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  20. Halo of Flies

    Sports Fan passed out.

    Lin dropped what was it, 38 on MY Lakers? Ridiculous. MAYBE IF THE LAKERS HAD A POINT GUARD THAT WOULD NOT HAPPEN. Where is Phillip and the Triangle when we needed it? This guy is nothing special, believe me. As soon as Melo and Stoud are back, he will be back on the bench. Granted he will get a few more minutes.

    February 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
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About this blog

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.