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. Christians are not allowed near children and other living things

    Christians molest your children, keep your away from them!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  2. Doc Vestibule

    A Poll:
    What to Americans worship more devoutly?
    1) God
    2) Sports

    They sure give a lot more money to the Sports Pantheon than they do to religious charities...

    February 14, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      I guess the churches will just have to buy up sports franchises to fund their charities then. Thanks for the tip.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Russ

      @ Doc: good point. Certainly the fully engaged (mind, will, body) people at football games look more like what the Bible calls worship than all too often what happens in churches...

      February 14, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Nii Croffie
      It's a nice idea, but what do you think would happen if the NBA said to all it's players "we are going to garnish 1% of your exorbitant salary in order to build a homeless shelter and hospital".
      I guarantee there'd be a players strike wihtin minutes.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      Doc there are ways to get money if u own the company without shylocking your workers. All the churches will do is to divert a percentage of the profits to the charities.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Those profits are all ready allocated, I'm afraid. The shareholders of a particular franchise wouldn't give even a fraction of a percent.
      Instead of shylocking the workers (if you can call people who get millions of dollars to play a game a worker), they'd raise ticket prices and stick it to the fans (worshippers).

      February 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      If you can sell a 0.25l bottle of olive oil for a 1000 dollars you can do anything to fans.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      How do you think the Vatican got all that gold?

      February 14, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Noname Joe

      'Shylocking'? Wow guys, there are plenty of other words you could use.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  3. compton9196

    Jesus was a girl, right? I so sorry. I new to America. Who is be the Jesus?

    February 14, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      We might even sign endorsement deals with players to attend church regularly so it wud be a win win situation. More money, more fans and more congregants.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Barry G.

      Jesus was a man, whose mother was named Mary. He was a Jew and a teacher. He was crucified by the Romans about 33 C.E..

      We who are Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God, and we believe that he was curcified in order to pay the price for our sins.

      For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. That whoever believes in him will be saved and will receive the gift of eternal life. (John 3:16)

      February 14, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Brian K

      Wow, can't believe that troll worked.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Pray without ceasing in 2012

    February 14, 2012 at 5:48 am |
    • Mirosal

      "productive"?? yeah, right. Two hands hard at work accomplish a lot more than a thousand hands clasped in prayer.

      February 14, 2012 at 5:51 am |
    • Prayer changes things

      Matthew 15 :13-14

      February 14, 2012 at 6:08 am |
    • Stuck in the Middle

      Delusion may be a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

      February 14, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • compton9196

      do you's also prays to the Jesus? He give you money when ask?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Nope

      **~~The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs."""""`~~~~

      February 14, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  5. goforthanddie

    One big difference between Lin and Tebow: Lin is good at his job.

    February 14, 2012 at 4:52 am |
  6. dude

    Wat if Lin was a MUSLIM and he's playing to the get 72 virgins...would the Christians here shut up 🙂

    February 14, 2012 at 3:23 am |
    • Mirosal

      NO, he'd have to die as a martyr for "the cause" to get his 72 vir'gins.

      February 14, 2012 at 3:25 am |
  7. Dairo

    "Although he led Palo Alto High School to a state championship in basketball, major college programs did not want Lin. " This is simply ridiculous. Who in their right mind would pick going to a State school over Harvard??

    February 14, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • nobody

      a lot of top tier schools have high ranking div 1 sports programs. harvard just isn't one of them. i think the point was that he had the talent for top bball programs but wasn't recruited and had to go to Harvard, albeit a top tier academic school, but a second or third rate bball program. Either way, it should be evident that his motivation for going to Harvard was not solely academics, if at all. His first career of choice is a pro ball player, and second, a pastor. Harvard – not a theological seminary.

      February 14, 2012 at 4:37 am |
  8. Francisco Suels

    In case there is a (she or he) God or Gods, It is very arrogant and even ignorant to suppose "he, she or they" pay attention or even care if the ball goes inside the basket or not during any type of game, when there are so many real important problems, for example: all the people that are dying from hunger and curable diseases every minute only in this planet imagine in the universe.

    February 14, 2012 at 3:10 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      The beauty in the real problems u expect God to solve is that He expects u to solve them too. And like Obama he says,"YES, YOU CAN!". Get out there and solve some.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  9. AgnosticInCO

    By the way d-bag, a.k.a. "Smart" A**, I'm a woman. I bet you don't get away with that vulgarity with the women in your life. If there are any women in your life, that is.

    February 14, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  10. AgnosticInCO

    Preaching is giving sermon, telling of the evils of those who are not righteous, shaming others for being immoral in the eyes of God, claiming the everlasting truth that is their own religious beliefs, and lastly, degrading all other beliefs. I wasn't implying my mother's quoting bible verses was comparable to Tebow's statements. I was using it as an example of how sensitive I am to what I feel is religious stubbornness and lack of respect for others beliefs. I feel that anyone's quoting the bible to prove another wrong is somehow wrong in and of itself. I just used it as a counterpoint to show that I find Tebow's statements, while mildly annoying, not at all offensive to those who do not share his beliefs.

    February 14, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      Your definition of preaching is too narrow which makes your post seem like an atheist version of preaching. Preaching is actually encouraging people to abide by the tenets of their faith. Evangelism is closer to what u r talking about. Here u r trying to recruit someone to ur particular faith.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  11. AgnosticInCO

    Sunny, you've obviously never actually watched one of Tebow's press conferences after a game. He thanks God first because he feels that God gave him all his opportunities, then he goes on to thank his teammates. Now here's the kicker, and what makes what you said so funny, he then frequently says that his teammates make him look better than he really is. Also, thanking God in front of others is not preaching. I'm an agnostic who gets irritated with my own mother whenever she quotes bible passages to me and then ignores my arguments as to why I don't heade them, and I'm not offended by his beliefs. You know why? Because he doesn't foist his beliefs off on others, oh yeah, and because I'm a mature adult who actually believes in religious freedom – not "you're free to believe as I believe".

    February 14, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • Smokin with the J-Man

      What do you qualify as preaching, sir? I'm not sure how you distinguish your mom's actions from Tebow's...

      February 14, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Smart A$$

      Maybe his mom gets down on HER knees in front of him lol 🙂

      February 14, 2012 at 2:32 am |
  12. sanifax

    Realness...You are so dumb and lazy that's why you wrote this..."Id ask a black to respond, but not many of them now how to use a computer"....it's Know not now,ok?Do you even have an IQ?Let a child read and explain the above Article for you so
    that you can know what the article is about before you come here with your irrelevant garbage!!

    February 14, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  13. USA

    Math, science, economies, and now basketball? what next, Asians? You want to take over our women too?

    February 14, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • dude

      Well u forgot we're dominating boxing too.. ask Manny 🙂

      February 14, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • bigot

      lol Manny wont even fight Floyd Mayweather...so until that happens he is second to floyd money

      February 14, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  14. Bernard

    Don't what the author is talking about. Lin's faith is not more subtle at all. Besides Tebowing, Lin speaks about his faith and refers to God more often than Tebow.

    February 14, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  15. JiminTX

    What? Another Christian sports celebrity wearing their religion on their sleeve? gasp! How very un-biblical...

    February 14, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • Funker

      How so?

      February 14, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • JiminTX

      Praying in the closet, being humble, and all those other things that Jesus taught. WWJD? Well, he wouldn't play pro basketball or football and rub everyone else's nose in his beliefs, that's for damn sure.

      February 14, 2012 at 2:22 am |
    • nobody

      First off, I'm a Christian, though I don't walk around preaching that I am. But to say it's unbiblical to wear your beliefs on your sleeve? Pretty bold. where else would it be? If its in your heart, mind, soul, thoughts, wouldn't it bleed out onto your sleeve? WWJD? For the love of Jesus I hate this saying. Why couldnt Jesus be the greatest basket ball player that ever lived? Why couldn't Jesus be the best football player that ever lived? He was a carpenter for decades before "rubbing it in people's faces" for three of his last years of life. He overturned tables and condemned. Pray in the closet? Where in the word does it say to do this? Where in the word does it say Jesus ever did this? He didn't say be "secret" Christians. Yes, his teachings are in the Bible, and sure the word does say to be humble, but it never said that Jesus had to be. He wasn't. He had no reason to be. I write this not to condemn your post or upset you, but from a fellow Christian, to encourage you not to be a closet Christian and to be encouraged when you see other Christians publicly thanking the Lord for the triumphs in their lives even though they get persecuted for it. Tebow's a happy Christian and it shows. He can't help it. gotta love that man.

      February 14, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  16. Huh?

    Quiz Question: Which one of the two was born in Asia?

    February 14, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Funker

      Answer: Who cares?

      February 14, 2012 at 1:53 am |
  17. bob

    Christians are cool. You guys are just jealous. Especially you Sunny. Now go throw ur tantrum.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  18. TexInd

    Now comparision between Lin and Tebow. One of them is a closet case gay athlete and the other plays basketball.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Funker

      Really? Go to bed, 1990's bad joke.

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


      February 14, 2012 at 1:51 am |
    • Annie

      Is that wishful thinking Tex?

      February 14, 2012 at 2:03 am |

      @Annie – Now I now why they fed Christian to the lions. Annoying lamebrains like you, it's probably the only way to shut you up. I'm imagining a female troll... all hairy... Eeeew! Go get a full body wax.

      February 14, 2012 at 4:08 am |
  19. DidMyResearch

    I think the kid's great. It warmed my heart to see him smoke the Lakers after Kobe Bryant's low-class comments saying he didn't know who he was the night before their game. My guy Blake wouldn't have said that, but face it, the Clippers have earned modesty.

    What puzzles me is why a guy making even the rookie NBA minimum of $457,000/year had to sleep on someone's couch. I somehow managed to afford a bed of my own on $65k.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Funker

      I wish I made as much as you, but I still have my own bed 🙂

      February 14, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • sharoom

      He had to crash on a couch because his position with the Knicks was pretty uncertain before his first phenomenal game against the Nets. Remember this guy went undrafted and was cut from the Warriors and the Rockets in the preseason. That should be what's puzzling you, because even his preseason stats were pretty good. I'm guessing no one thought an asian guy could play in the NBA. He even twittered that all the security guards at Madison Square Garden kept mistaking him for a trainer rather than a player. Almost everyone believed he would be no good in the league, but I'm glad he's proving them all wrong.

      February 14, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • nobody

      first, he was'nt sure how long he was gonna be there. second, he wasn't making rookie salary. he was on a 10 day paid conditional hire. basically he was a 10 day bench temp lol.

      February 14, 2012 at 4:29 am |
  20. Sunny

    I take offense people are comparing Lin to Tebow. Tebow comes across as pious and self-righteous. 1. Lin is humble and a teamplayer. He gives credit to God and his teammates. Tebow just thanks God. It takes a whole team to win! 2. Lin has no political agenda. Tebow's mom has to remind us she almost aborted her son. I can't imagine a Chinese mom doing that. 3. Tebow was never racially profiled. Lin is breaking more barriers than being just a Christian. He's Asian American. Undrafted.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Kyle

      Tebow self righteous??? He thanks his team mates all the time and knows they the other half of the equation. Not once have I see tebow keep the glory to himself. Maybe if you actually watched him speak instead of reading articles online and just hating him with no actual research done, you'll be able to not look like an idiot.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Hmmm

      Really? You can't imagine an Asian mother having an abortion or killing their child?

      Old artcile (2010) but time haven't changed: http://www.economist.com/node/15606229?story_id=15606229

      February 14, 2012 at 10:23 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.