My Take: The real miracle of Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin, right.
February 15th, 2012
04:02 PM ET

My Take: The real miracle of Jeremy Lin

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

I don’t believe in miracles. But I believe in Jeremy Lin.

I grew up rooting for the Celtics so I have hated the Knicks ever since another Ivy Leaguer, Princeton's Bill Bradley, patrolled Madison Square Garden in the 1970s. But I tuned in last night to see “Linsanity” cross the border to Toronto. When Lin drained a bomb at the buzzer for three points and a Knicks win, I found myself cheering, almost against my will.

Why? Why is this story blowing up? What is so “Linfectious” about Jeremy Lin?

Obviously, there is what in political parlance is called his “base.” There are Knicks fans. There are Asian Americans eager to cheer on the NBA's first Chinese American. And there are evangelical Christians, who love Lin for loving Christ and, in his own quiet way, turning NBA courts across the nation into his own private mission fields.

A few days ago, I compared him with Tim Tebow, and that script is definitely in play here: the underdog leading his previously sputtering team from triumph to triumph, perhaps with some help from The Man Upstairs.

In fact, last night Lin gave us his own version of Tebow Time, bringing his team back from 17 points down by scoring 12 points in the final quarter (including the “miracle” 3-point shot at the end to seal the deal).

When the United States won the gold medal in hockey in the 1980 Olympics, sportscaster Al Michaels famously asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” Lin does. After Tuesday's game he said he sees “God’s fingerprints” on the winning streak, and referred to his phenomenal run as “a miracle from God.”

I don’t believe that any God worthy of the name is making the Knicks’ pick-and-roll roll. As the Saturday Night Live cast suggested in a recent Tim Tebow skit, God probably has more important things on his plate than deciding the outcome of beauty pageants or sporting events.

Moreover, at least some of Lin’s story can be understood without resorting to divine intervention.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather wrote on his Twitter feed on Monday that “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Not exactly. Lin scored more points in his first five starts than any other player in the modern NBA. But Mayweather, however wrongheaded, is right to bring up the race question.

I have no doubt that racism exists in sports as it does in American society, but it is not directed exclusively at any one race. Lin himself has endured racist taunts throughout his career. At Harvard, opposing fans called him a “chink” and told him to go back home to China, even though he was born in Los Angeles.

After watching Lin’s “miraculous” six-game run, my question is this: Why were his obvious talents overlooked for so long? How does the high school player of the year in California not get a single scholarship offer from a Division I school? How does a guy with the game Lin displayed at Harvard go undrafted and then ride the pine for so long in the NBA? Why didn't Lin get a chance to play for the Knicks until a series of injuries pressed him into service?

Perhaps God’s hand is at work here. Still, I can’t help suspecting that the analysis called for here is sociological rather than theological. Isn’t racial stereotyping at least one explanation for this “Linderella” story?

Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji studies what is going on in our brains when we see an image of someone of a different race. Through her Project Implicit, she has demonstrated that most of us are subject to all sorts of “implicit” biases that our rational brains would never affirm or even recognize.

While working on this blog post, I took a test on her web site that measures how closely we associate “European American” with “American” and “Asian American” with “foreign.” And like the overwhelming majority of those who completed this test, I showed, much to my chagrin, an “automatic association” (moderate in my case) of “European American” with American and “Asian American” with foreign.

In other words, I am one of those people who is more likely to see Jeremy Lin as “not one of us.”

But that is not the bias I am writing about here. What held Lin back in his basketball career, in my view, was not the perception that he is foreign but the perception that he is less athletic, or less committed to basketball than his peers.

If “White Men Can’t Jump” (as the 1992 movie puts it), Asians aren’t supposed to be particularly athletic either. And who among us does not associate Asian Americans more with “model minority” professional success than with physical prowess?

“You can try to call it coincidence,” Lin told the press yesterday, “but at the end of the day there are 20, 30 things when you combine them all that had to happen at the right time in order for me to be here.” Among these things, as I see it, was a subtle yet widespread perception, by power brokers in the ranks of college and professional basketball alike, that a Chinese-American kid wasn’t going to work as hard at basketball as he would at getting into medical school.

Like I said, I don’t believe much in miracles. But there might be something miraculous in the making here, and something far more important than the swish of a winning three-pointer: an awakening across America to our own subtle prejudices. Asian Americans can jump–all the way to the NBA.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Celebrity • Christianity • Prejudice • Race • Sports

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. donna

    I thought the same about Lin as Prothero when I read that tweet by Mayweather.

    February 16, 2012 at 5:47 am |
    • Lisa C

      1st let me say that I'm Black......Mayweather is a Jerk.....Yes, J Lin is doing what every other "Player" not just Black is doing in the NBA...however J Lin was overlooked becasue he was not Black or White or even Spanish.....He has played and work at what he loves and he is good at it....Had he been recruited like he should have been, this would not be a story right now....but it goes to show you that even in 2011 RACE still matters and it shouldn't!!!!

      February 16, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  2. opAZ

    It aint miracle bro. ... bc JLin is really that good.

    February 16, 2012 at 3:20 am |
  3. tallulah13

    I used to love basketball during the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era, but Jordan, while probably the best ever, changed the game. Now it's all just running (not dribbling) and dunking. I don't really follow hoops anymore.

    February 16, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • bigot

      Jordan was all about running and dunking? Do you not remember his unstoppable turn-around fade away? Or his game 1 in the NBA finals vs portland in '92? or the 98 finals? He had an amazing jumpshot.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • tallulah13

      You must have missed the part where I acknowledged that Jordan was probably the best player ever. I guess I didn't think it needed spelling out that the players who followed weren't Jordan and could only copy the splashiest part of his game. I stopped watching when the official pretty much stopped calling traveling.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:12 am |

    The United States did not win the gold medal for hockey at the 1980 Olympics. Remember we boycotted those games. I think they won in the 1976 Olympics.....

    February 16, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • tallulah13

      We boycotted the Summer games in Moscow.. The American team won the gold in the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. I made my entire family watch those games. Those players are still my heroes.

      If you're not sure about something, google it. You obviously have access to a computer.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  5. Timurlang

    Asians not athletic? Where do you think Martial Arts came from? We have less obese people and we do a lot of manual and mental work. And Asians don't rely much on welfare.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • VballRod

      Not to mention that the Chinese won a lot of medals in the last Olympics

      February 16, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  6. Lou

    Jeremy Lin is a true inspiration to all- inspite of so many hurdles, he has managed to emerge as a real star; Go Lin-Possible. two weeks ago he was just someone...n today he has shown all of us what can be done with determination. Just love Lin! Here is another article I found in the list for lin-spirational articles:
    Jeremy Lin: Against the Odds He Succeeds : http://bit.ly/wkKZ3Y

    February 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  7. paulthinkingoutloud

    Nice column but Prothero wrote about Lin just two days ago. How long is a columnist allowed to keep working the same topic?

    February 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  8. Reality

    Ending the "Lininsanity" and the "Tebowstupidity" with a prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    February 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • ......

      Hit report abuse on all reality garbage

      February 16, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  9. jrt1098

    Any white kid who has ever stepped on a basketball court full of "brothas" ....KNOWS why Lin's talents were ignored !
    Racism is a 2 way street !!! Nobody wants to say that....but it's the TRUTH

    February 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  10. John Thomas

    If Jason Whitlock was white he'd be gone. Since he's not everyone just looks the other way. Jesse Jackson, c'mon weigh in here and explain it.

    February 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  11. yannaes

    I believe in miracles, and one ask why, well, the author was born!

    February 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  12. Halo of Flies

    There is no race. There is no story. This is as "racist" as you can possibly get! This is an American kid getting his shot and making the most of it. Great for him and his team and fans. Where is the NEWS story????? I don't get it.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  13. jack patience

    Everyone realizes the really, really great players need a little Kunta Kinte in their gene pool.................right?

    Apparently not.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Professor Xzavier

      I prayed that your commits wouldn't show up, prayer didn't work for the billionth time in my life. You know I don't think my talking to myself will end wars, heal the sick or get me a lottery win.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  15. JEremy

    haha "moderate, in my case"

    what a tool.

    February 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  16. Russ

    Stephen Prothero: "I don't believe in miracles" but my entire career is about studying those who do (religious).
    Why the obsession? If there is no such thing, why spend all your time studying the so-called miraculous?

    February 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • bigot

      he isnt studying the Miraculous....he is studying the people who believe in "miricles"

      February 16, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Russ

      @ bigot:
      so, he's obsessed w/ people who are obsessed w/ miracles...
      again, for someone who claims he doesn't really believe in miracles, that's an oddly ironic way to spend your life.
      it would be like an atheist who is obsessed with theology...

      February 16, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • The Bobinator

      I'm an atheist and I'm obsessed with theology. I find it interesting the idiotic nonsense people are able to swallow if only they're told it enough times.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Russ

      @ Bobinator: that might make sense if we were only talking about a casual interest. but – taking you at your own words – if you are "obsessed" with the study of God as one who does not believe in God... that's like saying you subscribe to Playboy for the articles: at some point, we've got to be honest about the real motivation here.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  17. Halo of Flies

    There is no such thing as "race".

    I spoke to Sports Fan and he said he was reminded of the way people call the Miami Dolphins the "Fish" even though Dolphins are mammals. They are the "Fins" the "FINS" dammit.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • William Demuth

      your an ldiot

      February 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Halo of Flies

      Fake William, it is "you're"

      February 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  18. William Demuth

    I love Lin!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go Lin!!!!!!!!!

    I wish I was as good at him, unfortunately the only bucket I can make is the P00P into the toiler.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  19. J.W

    Although I think that Jeremy Lin/Kurt Warner is a better comparison.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  20. J.W

    I saw the ti.tle and I knew who the author was already lol

    February 15, 2012 at 4:24 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.