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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. Jo

    I think Lin needs a BIG raise and some BIG BONUSes for what he's doing to help the Knicks.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  2. ngmcs8203

    Really wish I could downvote this article. Here's the main reason why Lin and Tebow aren't the same. Lin isn't sponsored by his god. Lin may be Christian, but this is the first time I ever heard of it. Tebow? He made it clear that he was a loon through that first Superbowl advertisement.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • talbet

      Lin wasn't offered a Superbowl commercial.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  3. Lin's Jersey Shirt

    One Year Contract.... If Lin Signed Miami Heat and join LeBorn James or Signed LA Lakers and Join Kobe Bryant.
    I would called him "LinFraud", "LinTraitor", "LinDevil".

    February 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  4. CnnWhat

    Is CNN serious? Why does the religious blog keep making such a pronounced appearance on the front page all the time? Ridiculous.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Duh

      Bc those stories get a lot of clicks duhhh you clown

      February 14, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  5. Tyrone shaniqua

    Awwww shoot mayneeee. Dis kid be gettin all dem props. Hes got some gangsta leans but it aint last. My homies be back before long yo.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  6. Realness

    The hierchy of race is as follows:

    1) white
    2) asian
    3) indian
    4) latino
    5) blacks

    Thats some truth. The nuckas come in last again haha.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • VanHagar

      Easy to post c.rap when its anonymous. You're a coward.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Jo

      What?! Are you serious? How do you come up with that?

      February 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Realness

      Vanhager,

      If we met in real life id whoop that ass son. You aint shlt bltch.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • McLovin

      Trailer chimp much?

      February 14, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • McLovin

      Realness,

      Post your home address. Let's find out! But my money is on VanHagar! You stink of cowardice, desperation, and flop sweat! That not a winning combination.

      LMAO!

      February 14, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Realness

      @mclovin

      1537 west daleville drive, los angeles ca – ask for big mike

      Care to prove me wrong chump? Id whoop your ass too.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • McLovin

      Fake address...

      But here's mine... 2404 Davidson Ave, apt 6D, South Bronx. Ring the bell and I'll come downstairs.

      I'm bored... haven't had a good fight in about 6 months. Let's do it. 🙂

      February 14, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • Realness

      Im not gonna meat you Im a coward who just likes to talk big sorry

      February 14, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  7. t

    Really CNN? You are turning into a drunk who wants to talk politics after polishing a couple of bottle of wines. Religion and sports? As if they are related at all. And then the Lin / Tebow angle... Like an empty tin can – hollow but loud. No substance in the article but you get a click anyway. And this is on your front page. I used to like you CNN but I think we should see other people.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  8. AgnosticInCO

    Chris, I never said he was now, or ever will be, an elite QB. Nor did I say there wasn't a need for improvement. He needs to be able to throw the ball into tight coverage, create tight spirals (some of those balls he throws come out wobbly and just looking downright ugly) and he has to be able to get the ball out quicker. I'm just arguing that improvement is possible. And what ever happened to a win is a win, no matter how ugly? lol. And of course Tebow's stats are hideous, but that too could be improved upon. Now, I'll stop discussing potential from this point on. I'm not arguing that Tebow's climb to get to where he is, is more impressive than Lin's climb – Tebow was a household name who was the 25th overall pick for pete's sake. I was talking about the breadth of accomplishments in both their subsequent professional careers, so far. If Lin continues on this path that he is currently in the process of forging, then yes, his professional accomplishments will be superior. As it stands now, I feel that Tebow's are superior, I'm not at all saying they will remain that way. I guess the question to ask ourselves, is whether we feel stats or wins (including playoff wins) are more important in an athlete's evaluation. I tend to lean towards the latter, but I see the other side of the coin as well. I may even fall into the former viewpoint sometimes, depends on the individual case which is presented (i.e. the Manning brothers).

    February 14, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  9. steve

    I doubt if New York basketball fans would care if he was Buddhist as long as he keeps winning.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  10. QUEST & M,ORGAN

    COLLEGE
    ST LAWRENCE
    BALAGTAS BULACAN

    UNDERGROUNDRIVER

    INC REPRIMANDS VS GO CHARLIE
    & GOVT FILING

    February 14, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  11. Wowsers

    Jlgaboos aint good for nothin but takin welfare and makin baby mamas......get ur ghetto ass a job

    February 14, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  12. Joe

    Has anyone even watched the clips? The defenders are just moving aside and letting him drive straight to the hoop.

    This is ALL ABOUT GETTING VIEWERS IN CHINA. And sure enough, it's up 38% in the last three days alone in China.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Ur a d00fus

      So u think the nba has explicitly told the players to fold amd let lin takeover? Ur such a clownface

      February 14, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Asian

      That's because he's too fast.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  13. Holy moly

    Asians not only have a monopoly on math and numerical efficiency but theyrentaking over basketball too!! Atleast the white man still owns businesses. The blacks still own laziness and thievery.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • montyross

      and more and more white women, just noticing...

      February 14, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • katie

      are you an idiot?

      February 14, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • please

      Don't exaggerate and distort. You're putting a curse on Asians.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Holy Moly

      Asian men dont take any white women, its quite the opposite actually. Black men take the fat ones bc theyre the only ones that want those monkeys......leavin all the good ones for the white man.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • steve

      Penis envy?

      February 14, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • t

      holy moly you are one of the many, fortunately decreasing, reasons why the world is not one. We still live with people like you who cannot go beyond the way people look – be it in color or size. Join those who are able to find a bit of good in everyone when your Southern Cessationist Party membership expires.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  14. Rofl

    Atheists are jealous, bitter, and angry......nothing new here folks, move along.....just your standard run of the mill atheist.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  15. RK

    How to get into Harvard (great video) by Jeremy Lin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9yVnKQNj58

    February 13, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  16. montyross

    so i cant say the truth about the culture of the N.B.A.? on youre comments

    February 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • montyross

      the N.B.A. has so many bad stories in the past few years that anything that can be perceived as a positive will receive a spin or two, the story is about him being cut by teams and then finally being allowed to play and making the most of it. Most people do good at their jobs the first year and then slack off why should sports be any different?....

      February 14, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Superspygaru

      I agree with you that this could easily be a one year thing..but no reason to wish poorly on him. Hope he does well and if he doesnt then he was just a one season wonder and move on...in the end he is just a man and will die one day like us all.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  17. Superspygaru

    I think its great that he is playing well.....but will he be like this for the long run or even produce the same next season? Not sure i mean he doesnt have great athletic ability nor is he super fast...which Nash may not have been able to jump but his – to 60 at one point was very good. He is already wearing a knee brace/warmer, I feel like if hes great it will only be for a few seasons based on that. He also is still very fresh to the league so teams have not really had the chance to figure how to stop him and the pic n roll. He uses alot of the same moves which are actually very defendable but most people dont use them because they are college/playground spin moves that usually dont work in the NBA. So im not sure how long it will last but it has been nice to see a fresh new face. I do agree that him being Asian has alot to do with the current buzz..and asians are a close nit family so all the supporters even those who dont really care about basketball will come out. The holding of taiwanese flags is a little much because he is not taiwanese...he is american period (born and raised here).

    I do wish only the best for him but it he does fall flat his quick rise will go to a very quick low. The expectations now are so high for him hes looking alot like Lebron, now hes going to be compared to the best like Nash and a few others...and if he doesnt live up to it he will mostly seem like a failure to most (Kind of like lebron to jordan).

    Definitely too much too soon but lets wait and see!

    February 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  18. montyross

    maybe he can bring good character back to the N.B.A.....

    February 13, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  19. LIberalsSux

    It's called LINBOW!

    February 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  20. HP

    This guy is the Jackie Robinson of the NBA for the Taiwanese people

    February 13, 2012 at 11:44 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.