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. jones

    Linsanity will die down right after they play the heat and lebron dunks on hishead a few times... carmelo and amare are still the headlines lin is just a cute story something to sell tickets

    February 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Miami Buttheads

      Oh yeah. Here's RISK.... One Year Contract. He won't sign Miami Heat . He's free agent dude.

      February 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  2. Tim

    I'm so glad to not idolize and even know who these people are. Stupid nick names, way too much money. They might be good at what they do, but sports are given a way higher priority and respect than they deserve.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  3. joe jones

    Do you even realize what your saying? No interest when its a bunch of black guys tossing a ball around but but a chinese guy out there and all of a sudden it becomes interesting?

    Can you say racist to the extreme?

    February 13, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • TooManyBlacks

      The real racism is there is only one Asian American in the entire NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB combined!!
      Fuuck you Affirmative Action thief and welfare-check parasites!!

      February 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • TooManyBlacks

      Your two $33 million black pigs can't get job done like a skinny Harvard kid. Shame on you!!!! No wonder you have no brains, even affirmative action can't change your genetic deficiency!!!!

      February 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  4. MW3

    Loving lin rite now. 🙂

    February 13, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  5. Truth

    . Jesus Ioves 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 11:33 pm |
  6. David

    Um. Tebow did not "come out of nowhere". He was a freaking first round pick. And the knock against him about not being able to throw – the stats say he still can't! He completed less than half his passes in a league where most starting QBs complete 60% or more of their attempts. Any random backup QB in the league should have done at least as well as Tebow with the team Denver had. I don't have Tebow for his religion, I hate him for being so horribly overhyped.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  7. sinned

    Am a Celtics fan also, but I really appreciate how Lin delivers for the Knicks, I liked the comparison the Asian connection. Lin has Chines heritage while Tebow has Filipino background being born in the Philippines. But the most important thing is both of them attributed their success to God.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  8. clyde

    The only thing more absurd than the belief in an imaginary god, is the belief that such a god favors specific athletes or sports teams.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • VanHagar

      I agree–no point in believing in an imaginary god. Good thing God isn't imaginary.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  9. Jesus

    This is very simple.

    Tebow: Had CRAZY hype since High School. Great QB in college. In the NFL was one of the worst QB's in the league. Let me say that again...one of the WORST. And he still got the hype even after that.

    Lin: Literally came from nowhere playing at Harvard, went undrafted, and no one thought he was anything better than an average 3rd or 4th stringer. Got cut by numerous teams and was considered a bum. Then out of nowhere he puts up monster numbers including his best performance against the Lakers. He actually earns his hype. Tebow doesn't.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  10. chuck

    I think if we're going to compare Lin to religious football stars, Kurt Warner might be the better way to go because both Lin and Warner had the "who is this guy" effect of coming from obscurity and both being religious whereas everyone and their grandmother knew who Tim Tebow was when he came into the NFL.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  11. Dhulfiqar

    Remember Hakeem Olajuwan?

    February 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  12. groan

    he'll change, now that he has enough bread to get laid

    February 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  13. bob

    Don't let this guy play against any Syrians.
    They'll kill him.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  14. AgnosticInCO

    Bob, I abstain from drinking Alcohol.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  15. groan

    he was a great, great story....until now

    February 13, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  16. One Year Contract

    Golden State, Hoston Rocket, LA Lakers, and Miami Heat.... PLEASE GO AWAY. Leave Linsanity alone!!!

    February 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  17. Lenny Pincus

    I'll be honest. I had no idea Jeremy Lin is born again. I like his game. I'll be honest again. I've watched fair football teams get really lucky for stretches of a season, but over a couple of seasons it all works out. Tebow has terrible mechanics, and next year when he loses 7 in a row, people will be looking for a new savior.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  18. On my knees for God's pleasure

    Isn't it kind of weird that this guy still has an imaginary friend?

    February 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  19. Jack spratz

    Do we have to have more of these clowns sprouting off about mythical gods and other junk and nonsense. I do not care about sports, but hope these characters break their necks so they can see that a god cloud is all in their head.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  20. AgnosticInCO

    Willie, and anyone else who shares his POV, Tebow won five games in a row – in a season that is much more abbreviated than the NBA's. In the game against Miami, with barely more than two minutes left in the fourth, he led the team to two touchdowns to beat Miami with a field goal in overtime. With Orton as QB, the Broncos were 1-4; when Tebow was the starting QB this season, his regular season record was 7-4, do you see the difference? He helped take the Broncos to the Playoffs for the first time since 2005. He won his first playoff game in dramatic fashion as well. He did all this without having had the benefit of the offseason last year, without having been able to practice with the first team, and all with a receiving core that has much to be desired – can you actually name any of Denver's WRs? I'm not some blind fanatic who thinks he's the next Rodgers, or Brady, or Brees and that he's destined to be inducted in Canton. I'm just saying that I've seen things that look promising. You should never discount someone because you don't like them as a person, nor should you do it because so-called "experts" and paid analysts discount him. We none of us know the future, nor do we know what someone else is capable of. That being said, I like Jeremy Lin, but I've yet to make up my mind on Lin as a player. He's brought some much needed relief to long-suffering fans of that woeful franchise that is the Knickerbockers, that's for sure. Knick's fans have every right to hope. If he performs the way he has been performing, for another four or five games and with the return of Anthony, then I'll see him as a star. But for some to say that what little Lin has accomplished so far (though 38 pts is extremely impressive) is superior to what Tebow accomplished with the Broncos this last season (i.e. ESPN sportsnation) is just an ignorance of sports, or blind hatred of anything Tebow. That blind hatred and belittling of him is called Tall Poppy Syndrome, look it up.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Bob in LG

      AgnosticinCO: you really have to lay off the bottle.

      February 13, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • chris

      You are a fool if you ignore how weak the broncos schedule was. They barely won against a Jay Cuterless bears and basically their idiot running back HANDED the broncos the game by fumbling twice. Against the only two decent teams they faced, the lion and patriots, they gave up over 40 points! They also gave up 40 against the pathetic BILLS. They can't win a game where the other team scores more than 20 because tebow's running game and inability to pass doesn't generate enough points to do so.

      During the playoffs they beat the steelers because rothlisberger was so hurt they couldnt score more than 20 and the defense underestimated tebow's ability to throw the ball to wide open people. In round 2 the pats completely solved tebow's playbook and they obliterated them.

      tebow is good enough to play in the nfl but he will NEVER be elite or win a championship with that style unless he learns to throw the ball better.

      February 13, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • chris

      also they backed into the playoffs on a losing streak and the only reason they got in is because the raiders are MORE inept and couldnt win the last game to get in

      February 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
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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.