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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. Dave

    How sweet would it be if Jeremy Lin came out and admitted to being an atheist?

    February 14, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  2. yeah

    We are talking about NBA vs the NFL. If there had been no NBA season, there would have been some tears in beers in sports bars. If there had been no NFL season there would have been blood in the streets.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  3. Camty

    I will take Jeremy Lin over Tebow any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Lin can actually play and his story is truly the sports story of the year. Best of all, he does not feel the need to preach his religious views to people. Congrats Jeremy Lin, your fans wish you the best!

    February 14, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Funker

      It's kind of funny that people feel the need to draw out Tebow's beliefs, and then accuse him of "preaching," when he expresses his views. Just sayin'.

      February 14, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  4. chelsea

    Lin did not come from China, he is American!

    February 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  5. Year of the Dragon

    @Halo of Flies: He's nothing special? He's a undrafted player who demolished John Wall in the summer league in 2010 & set records in high school & in college. Oh & let's just overlook that his first 3 start in the NBA broke records over Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, LeBron James, etc. A guy who was undrafted, got a belittled 36 minutes of burn the first 2 years till now & played against elite points such as Deron Williams, Devin Harris, John Wall (Overrated)...yeah who cares about D.Fish but he took a non star team & ignited a 5 game winning streak.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  6. Donna

    We should honor them for their great athletic skills, and forgive them for their arrogant and childish assumption that their religion is better than others.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • RealityChecker

      Donna is a hypocrite. She should start practicing what she preaches. Pun intended.

      February 14, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Bobs Friend

      The whole point of having a point of view is making a choice that one is better than the other, so your statement makes no sense. You have made your choice; I have made mine, whether or not that makes you or I "arrogant" is irrelevant.
      All people who believe something are arrogant, because that is the essence of belief.

      So, welcome to the arrogant club..

      February 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • DidMyResearch

      We should be kinder to them. They are just kids. give them a chance to grow into the world a bit more and learn more about others' belief systems. I was sure I was right when I was 22. One of the great things about being 60+ is that now that I know so much more, I know what little we all actually know.

      February 14, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Funker

      To Bobs Friend:
      You say: All people who believe something are arrogant, because that is the essence of belief.
      Really? Kids that believe in Santa Claus are arrogant? Poor people who live paycheck to paycheck and believe in a better tomorrow are arrogant? People who believe Christ can make them a better person are arrogant? People who believe they should join Greenpeace and try to make a difference in this world are arrogant? I feel sorry for you.

      February 14, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  7. Ohsnaps

    I'm a fan of Rodney Mullen. Youtube it. Beautiful to watch, and competeing against no one.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  8. tebos is better than montana

    how tall is he anyway? most asians are only about 5 ft.. never seen an asian basketball player over 6 ft before.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • mcmcmc

      You are kidding, right? Lin is 6'3" and ... did you forget Yao Ming who is 7'6", or you actually never watch basketball?

      February 14, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • yeah

      Do you live in a 1940's cartoon or what?

      February 14, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • Dave

      To be fair, Kim Jong Il was only about 5'2" and he played a mean basketball. (by mean, he used to have opponents who outscored him killed).

      February 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  9. ryan

    god is imaginary, you're all atheists against every god -we just go one further...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  10. god is my beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeatch!

    we need to hunt down and kill, torture and maim every single religious freak in the usa!
    start with gwb!nobody would miss that freakazoid!

    February 14, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • josh

      dnt worry itll happen 1 day but only 2 the christian cuz god is tru n ppl hate truth n there is a deference between religious ppl n follower of christ u see the deference is tht a religious person would say i am righteous n a follower of christ would say i am practicing righteousness i am a sinner u judge god on wat u seen n heard off of fleshly eyes till u are truly able to see n open ur spiritual eye u will see everything for wat it is u speak bad about god but he is the reason u live the reason u have clothes the reason u have love family when u speak bad about god u speak about all thts good jesus loves u n he is lord we will all come to his great white thrown of judgement seek his loving face turn away from his fearful eyes u wonder y things go bad in life its cuz we sin n sin n dont ask for forgiveness why should a judge let a murder roam free same with god his wrath is just he loves u come to him no im not blinded by religion i cn see threw the spirit of relationship with god jesus loves u take care

      February 14, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Annie

      LOL good luck with that. Remember, we cling to our religion AND guns.

      February 14, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Mirosal

      Hey, Josh, when you finish that third year of second grade, let us know, ok? You might learn things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Until then, no one will take you seriously. Even your 'god' isn't meant to be taken seriously. Just ask the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Norse what happened to their 'gods'.

      February 14, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  11. god is my beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeatch!

    my hairy blue b#lls are ready to pop!

    February 14, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  12. joe

    tired of watching another group of black guys throwing a ball around? So you throw in a Chinese guy and all of a sudden the game is worth following.

    Stupid racists.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • sharoom

      Well, just look at the numbers. Jeremy Lin is the best performing NBA starter EVER. Even better than Jordan, Bryant, Lebron, etc. Look at the highlights for the Knicks-Lakers game last Friday. He outscored Bryant's 34 points with a 38 career high. As much as this guy is being hyped for his race, the fact is he is living up to the hype. His stats right now are just phenomenal.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  13. biglio

    the fact they are born again christians and wear their religion on their sleeves disqualifies both.....

    February 14, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Funker

      How so? Lin was asked and answered.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Annie

      If your dumb azz opinion doesn't disqualify you from commenting here, then why would they be disqualified from their opinion?

      February 14, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  14. DesMoiner

    So why does this athlete's choice of incantations and indoctrinated beliefs in the unknown have anything to do with his ability to put an inflated ball through a metal hoop? Short answer, nothing. He's the product of lucky breeding, that's about it.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • Funker

      And I guess you're the product of inbreeding to even bother to comment.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  15. Frank Sinatra's Lucky Day

    Why are christians allowed to vote and drink alcohol?

    bunch of scumbags

    February 14, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Go see a psych

      Huh? Probably because they need to take a load off after hearing the idiocy of people like u.

      February 14, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  16. Ouch

    How do you get all the blacks out the ghetto?

    Fly overhead and drop a bunch of job applications into the streets.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  17. chf

    It's kinda funny watching people here trying to compare the skillsets of Tebow vs Lin. Tebow can't pass worth a crap and barely knows his plays. Lin makes pinpoint passes, handles the ball extremely well, shoots well (albeit streaky) and finishes at the rim. Too bad the author didn't pick a better comparison, but I guess the religion angle was just too tempting for him. In any case, good for Lin that he stuck through it and persevered. Mere mortals would have given up long ago to the discrimination that Lin faced.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  18. Realness

    Why are blacks so dumb? Seriously, their avg iq is atleast 20 pts behind the white man. Id ask a black to respond, but not many of them now how to use a computer, much less make a comment.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • all priests molest choir boys

      blacks are monkeys
      fact!

      February 14, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • McLovin

      Realness,

      Should you be chowing down on pickled pigs feet, while you're waiting for your little brother to pass out on the floor naked?

      Trailer chimp much?

      LMAO at you!

      February 14, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • McLovin

      Realness,

      Answer this question:
      A solution is prepared by diluting 25.00 mL of a 0.308 M solution of NiCl2 to a final volume of 0.500 L. What is the concentration of nickel chloride in this solution? What are the concentrations of nickel ions and chloride ions in this solution?

      Basic chemistry every trailer chimp should know... tee! hee!

      February 14, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  19. McLovin

    What a ridiculous article.

    1) Tebow didn't come out of nowhere. He won the Heisman in 2007, and he was drafted #25 in the 2010 NFL draft. Hence it's a poor comparison.

    2) Most NBA and NFL players are Christian... and they all do their little "point to the sky" gesture when they do something good. So the fact that Lin and Tebow are both Christian isn't saying much. Hence, another poor comparison.

    3) Lin is not a eastern Asian. He's American born, and thus influenced by the majority rule religious influences. He probably would have been Muslim if his family had immigrated to Indonesia.

    4) Jeremy Lin actually has talent. Another reason your comparison is lame.

    Please stop talking about Tebow, his moment has passed. Let Lin be his own man... he deserves that much respect.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Annie

      What a jealous little man you are!!

      February 14, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • UPSIDE DOWN

      @Annie – I am not getting the jealousy part. How's is McLovin jealous for stating facts. It sounds like you've got too much wax in your moustachio. Stop fantasizing about Tebow's pint-sized unit, and get your head out of your _ _ s. Then go make someone a sandwich.

      February 14, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  20. god is a imaginary toy for mentally retarded pinheads!

    god is a f 0 0k ing moron!
    jesus s00ked off more men than anyone in the history of mankind!
    jesus was a f$g

    February 14, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Get some help...please for us

      Dude Youre weird

      February 14, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • t

      More like Jesus is Santa for grown ups

      February 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • josh

      so wats ur problem with jesus or god is it the fact tht he loves u u hate to accept why deny perfect do even believe in god n if u dnt why speak on some1 u dnt kno
      if ur atheist thts cool we all have are own belief but tell me atheist believe tht there was no purpose for mankind we were just here right well if tht was tru we wouldnt have realized tht there was no purpose we wouldnt have feelings wouldnt have to work wouldnt have familys wouldnt have love
      why spit on a name u havent known only heard of get to kno him urself n ull wish u cn take it back
      by the way i was once just like u i said the same thing
      jesus loves u take care he keeps his promise he made 1 in ur life to are u willing to accept it were will u make ur home heaven or hell its all done by ur actions repent come to jesus he loves u

      February 14, 2012 at 1:46 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.

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