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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. myklds

    Power of God manifested upon his people.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  2. .

    .

    February 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  3. Judy

    He can play B-Ball and is not black so this is a miracle?

    February 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  4. Unsanitary Jesus

    Reblogged this on Mattr of Fact: On Seeking the Truth in Time.

    February 16, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  5. Praise for Obamacare

    I'm waiting for Lin to do this for a month before I jump on the band wagon. I do find it interesting that he was the player of the year in the state of California and Div I schools passed him up. That's unbelievable-that has to have some racial motivation to it. I don't care about his ethnicity, I care about whether or not he can produce and do it well. We have to stop looking at folks and making assumptions about them. (I'm black by the way). He has provided a feel good story and people tend to exagerate feel good stories (not including the fact that he has scored more points in the first 5 games than any other player-with the highest turnovers during the same time frame in the league). He is a welcome change to all the nonesense that has been going on in Washington. Wouldn't it be nice if his play started to thaw the divide between African-Americans and Asians.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  6. Sarah

    He is not Chinese. He is TAIWANESE.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Linsanity

      His parents moved to the US from Taiwan, but his paternal lineage is actually from China...

      February 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Greg

      The only difference between Chinese and Taiwanese (unless you're aboriginal Taiwanese) is that one side won the war, and the other side lost and ran away to Taiwan. But I'm sure Bostonians don't like hearing that they got beat two times in a row in the Super Bowl by the Giants either

      February 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  7. David

    This author clearly does not have a relationship with the Living God Jesus Christ. To think and or agree with the statement that "God has more important things to do than be concerned with the outcome of a sporting event" is to say that God is not omnipotent or omnipresent. He is both. He does care about Jeremy Lin as well as everyone who has ever picked up a basketball. The fact that Jeremy Lin is using his God given talents and abilities on and off of the court should not come as a suprise to anyone. The media is making a fuss out of Him, but if he has one bad game they will start looking for the next rising star to find. I say way to go Jeremy Lin. Keep playing the way you do and always give the glory to God. People will ridicule you for your belief, but remember that it is more important what God thinks of you than what the critics are saying.
    To God be the Glory.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Praise for Obamacare

      Totally agree. My God is everywhere at all times and knows what's going to happen in every nook and cranny of this pewny little world we live in.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • DCB

      Don't go looking for persecution where there is none. I have not heard or read about a single person ridiculing Lin's belief. I have respect for Lin's achievements and his outlook, even though I do not personally agree with his interpretation of Scripture. He is free to believe as he chooses, and I respect his choices. I am also free to believe, as are you.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  8. bakie

    Yes, miracles happen everyday. If you don't believe ,then, you don't deserve to use that word.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  9. quinn

    The unwritten commandment-Thy shall Lin
    qoollad.blogspot.com

    February 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  10. quinn

    The unwritten 11th commandment-Thy shall Lin

    February 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  11. yannaes

    We are all victims of bias and what is the point?

    February 16, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  12. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    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
    Jerusalem.

    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.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)

    February 16, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • ......

      Hit report abuse on all reality repeat garbage

      February 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  13. George

    I like the story of Lin, but its really not news. Its the same as Kurt Warner or any football player who went to a D2 school. The reason he was overlooked was because people evaluated his game and didn't think it translated well to the pros, those people are human and make mistakes. Darko was drafted ahead of Wade and Melo, Oden over Durant, it happens all the time. Can we just say good job Jlin and not get into some philosophical or theological debate about why he succeeded. He worked hard and didn't give up, enough said.

    February 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • RapidOne

      No. It is news. That's just about it.

      February 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • DCB

      You totally nailed it. He worked hard and didn't give up. And no, the religious angle isn't new - not even for the Knicks. I believe Allan Houston and Carlie Ward were/are also evangelical Christians, back when I cheered for the Pacers against them.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  14. mikrik13

    He is only a "victim" if the media decides to make him one. I seriously doubt if Mr. Lin even cares. Oh, the drama...

    February 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Greg

      He's a victim of a society that treats him as the perpetual outsider and foreigner, regardless of whether he's 6th generation Chinese American, or just got off the boat this morning. But of course, you wouldn't understand this

      February 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Hi

    You said that God had more important things to do, but do you think God handles things one by one? I feel like he is in everyone's life. He loves each and every one of us and when we seek him He is there...

    Nice writing

    February 16, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  16. The Bobinator

    > Like I said, I don’t believe much in miracles.

    So, you're no longer a Christian?

    February 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    February 16, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • mikrik13

      Yes, it does. Money from your pocket to theirs.

      February 16, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  18. Awesome

    All this hubbub is due to ESPN's pimping of players

    February 16, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  19. JTJ Winnetka, Illinois

    I never get tired of inspirational stories. In a World where injustices are accepted as the daily practice, young people and others yet to be jaded by the media brainwashing efforts can identify with the Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow stories for hope and salvation. I haven't A doubt that both of these young athletes have used Faith as a road map when they faced their most difficult challenges. The conditioning these athletes go through to perform at this level take a degree of mental toughness. Many successful athletes today are born gifted, but the spoils they receive direct their passions elsewhere.

    February 16, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  20. Chronix

    My take, I'm sick and tired of hearing that overpaid athletes are somehow miracles just because there delusional. In 2012 people are shocked just because a Asian guy is good at basketball, it'd be a miracle if people didn't notice or care he's of Chinese dissent. I'm starting to think America is dead last when it comes to education.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • waynebrady

      we are dead last because people like you do not know the difference between 'there' and 'they're'

      February 16, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Awesome

      Yes oh yes

      February 16, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Praise for Obamacare

      Typos happen all thet time. The lost of civility we have towards each other is what's killing this country. We lack respect, understanding towards one antoher.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:02 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.