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. Adam

    Martin: It's just the media. Not one Knicks fan gives a hoot about Lin's religion, just his play. And while his Chinese-American heritage makes things more fun sometimes (in terms of puns, word-play), none of us care what race our star PG is!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  2. Greg R

    Tebow and Lin are completely different in terms of the mania that is around them. Tebowmania was based purely off of his popularity/faith and not anything he had done on the field. His jersey was the highest selling jersey in the NFL his rookie year and he was sitting on the bench. Linsanity however is based purely on what he has done on the court. He has played well and thus the mania around him is based purely on his performance. Yea it's blow up a little because he is an asian american and there aren't many in the NBA and he plays for the Knicks so the NY Media blows it up too but they are completely different. Linsanity is here to stay, Tebow is in his 3rd year and still can't throw the ball. He won't be a QB for more than a year or two. And Tebow didn't lead the Bronco's to victories, the defense that kept holding teams to 10 points and keeping it close for Tebow did.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  3. Martin

    Why is there such a fanaticism towards religion in the USA at the current time?

    You don't see this in other countries, almost anywhere else in the world.

    The far right have their clutches into people so much that even someone who just happens to be good at sport is seen as a sign that god is at work.

    Are Christians that devoid of signs of their god at work that they have to look to sports professionals to give them any hope at all? To me, that is a very empty void.

    Far right politics mixed with borderline fanatical religious fervour is going to create a major problem inside the USA.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • AtheistDude

      Well said! My thoughts exactly. The religious rights is so inadequate that their only hope is a couple of athletes. It is pathetic

      February 14, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Brian

      No fanaticism towards religion in the rest of the world? You're joking, right?

      February 14, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  4. Tuan Bui

    Is Jeremy Lin The Real Deal? https://www.mobosurvey.com/PBU

    February 14, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  5. Tuan Bui

    Is Jeremy Lin The Real Deal? see this poll https://www.mobosurvey.com/PBU

    February 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  6. Adam

    If you want to do the best SPORTS comparison between Lin and Tebow look at their stats during their rises to fame. Tebow: won some big games, but put up UGLY UGLY numbers. Lin: won some big games, putting up ALL STAR numbers. For gord's sake, I haven't even seen ONE fan mention Lin's religious beliefs – only the media! (and I'm a Knicks fan, if you couldn't tell yet)

    February 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  7. Jon

    This is the worst article I have seen posted in a while.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  8. Denver Broncos Fan

    There is no comparison, Lin knows how to win games.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • heythere

      . Compare the Broncos this past season when Tebow was starting and when he wasn't. He obviously has many weaknesses, but knowing how to win is one of his strengths

      February 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  9. kd

    The story on both of these athletes is just that – their superb athleticism. The religion stuff is just a media-created/bored public sideshow and, unfortunately, a divisive one at that. Football players have been praying before, during and after their game from the get-go, and so have all other athletes that follow a religion. Tons of civic meetings and clubs start with prayers.

    This thing is also fed by the false 'war on religion' story pushed by the far-right. It gets tiring. I don't watch these guys to know about their faith, I watch them to enjoy how they excel at their sport.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  10. Fn0rdz

    Some religious people need so badly to have someone validate their "faith" that they cling for dear life on to sports icons who profess the same brand of beliefs they do.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  11. ODA155

    This is so F'ng stupid... why can't the guy just be a very good basketball player who is making the best of his opportunity?

    February 14, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. Denver Broncos Fan

    ....also, Lin is not gay.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • William Demuth


      Sad, but true. Tebow sets off the gaydar big time.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • theleader

      haha awesome!

      February 14, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  13. hitobito

    As a Celtics fan, I too plan to watch Jeremy Lin play tonight. I really don't care about his religion. He is an exciting, extremely articulate and humble budding superstar. Who wouldn't like him? Plus, he can play!

    February 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • LAborn

      Amen to that! And he put Koby in his place. Anyone who does that is a friend of mine. I'll take humble and enthusiastic, to arrogant any day.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  14. Dean

    Good for Lin, the NBA needs to open there eyes, and Recognize that you don't need to be black to play in the NBA, and i love how Lin is breaking brothers down-

    GO LIN

    February 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Aces2Jokers

      That doesn't sound racist at all. Somebody has a problem with black people. Do you remember who the Finals MVP was last year? It was Dirk Novitski. Clearly not black. You really need to open your eyes to the reality of life and not assume that because there are a lot of black players in the NBA that you need to be black to play in the NBA. Moron!

      February 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  15. Edward

    Eack of these men are doing their own thing as per their conscious and religious beliefs. An antheist should just learn to respect their religious beliefs plus believers and non-believers should be happy to have good role models out there. As to those that don't like "to hear so much about someone's religion" – well I don't like hearing so much from anti-Christians, atheists, pro-abortionists, rappers, etc. but I live with it. So just live with it.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • kd

      Ed, you have some deep-seated problems to deal with, and religion isn't at the top of the list.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  16. Cameron Townsend

    Both of these players are vastly overrated. How many good games does Lin have...5? Get back to me after he's had a couple of good SEASONS. It's the same thing with Tim Tebow. He isn't a solid player. He isn't a good quarterback. When teams figure out his unique style (physical rushing QB), he won't go very far. Look at his completion percentage. These two players receive more praise for a few games than other players do for several fantastic seasons. Ridiculous.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Edward

      Everybody loves an underdog when they far exceed what the "experts" say they can do. They may not be the best out there, they may not "measure up" currrently to others out there – but they are underdogs that exceeded what most expected and generated a lot of excitment doing it. No one knows what their futures hold – but for the past year they far exceeded their underdog status and that was their justified claim to fame. People make their own heroes for their own reasons – if you like it or not.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • kd

      Exactly right. Sometimes I think these stories are dreamed up in the team PR headquarters to sell jerseys and souvenirs.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  17. JohnOBX

    Prothero, thanks for redefining what "paltry" means these days. My wife and I both work and live comfortably, but don't bring home 1/10th of Lin's salary. I feel like I need to go apply for food stamps now.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  18. jim

    Gives a whole new meaning the word "scholar".

    February 14, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  19. Corrector

    To nobody... actually, Harvard did start as a Theological seminary... so.

    February 14, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  20. teepee

    Just shows how more and more stupid americans are becoming every day...

    February 14, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Jason Jacob

      Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. -1 Corinthians 1:25

      February 14, 2012 at 10:40 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.