The New York Knicks were in free fall losing game after game. They were quickly becoming a cautionary tale about the danger of hiring big egos who can’t play with each other. Their coach Mike D’Antoni was on the hot seat. But then after a rash of injuries, a desperate D’Antoni pointed to the Chinese-American player on the end of the bench who graduated from the Ivy League. The guy who’d been sleeping on his brother’s couch most nights.
And then everything changed.
The Knicks have won six straight games with Jeremy Lin, who has recorded 20 or more points and seven or more assists in each. In his past three games, he has torched the Lakers on national television at the Garden, hit a winning free throw in Minnesota and nailed a winning 3 with a half-second left in Toronto, according to ESPN.
Going from benchwarmer to a huge basketball star is one of the most improbable stories we’ve seen in a long time in the world of sports. And yet I can’t help but think if something more improbable is that Lin’s professed Christianity survived the Ivy League.
Check out this interview from Patheos where Lin discussed his faith in 2010:
My faith and my basketball began separately, then slowly converged, and now they influence each other. But when I first started playing basketball, I was five years old, and my dad put a ball in my hands. Ever since I was a little kid, I just loved to play this game. I was always in the gym. I loved playing. That’s what I did for fun, all the time.
My parents also took me to church ever since I was a little kid. I grew up in the church, but I didn’t really become a Christian until I was a freshman in high school. That’s when the gospel really started to make sense to me and I was ready to give my life to God.
Then, Christianity didn’t become a significant part of my approach to basketball until the end of my high school career and into college. That’s when I began to learn what it means to play for the glory of God. My parents had often talked about it and told me that I should play for God’s glory, but I never understood quite what that meant. That was something that really boggled my mind. My parents hadn’t gone through what I was going through, being an Asian-American basketball player in America. I thought, “I want to do well for myself and for my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God?”
Slowly, God revealed more to me. I started learning how to trust in Him, not to focus so much on whether I win or lose but to have faith that God has a perfect plan. For me to put more of an emphasis on my attitude and the way that I play, rather than my stats or whether we win a championship. I learned more about a godly work ethic and a godly attitude, in terms of being humble, putting others above yourself, being respectful to refs and opponents. There are really so many ways you can apply your faith to basketball.
Lin mentioning his faith so often has invited comparison to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Perhaps we’ve come to a point in this country where faith expressed openly in a positive way is anomalous. That’s worrisome but it also presents such an opportunity for so many to surprise others with their faith.
Now, Lin’s faith has also caused some indecision in China. His jersey is selling like hotcakes in China but state news media have covered Lin’s basketball exploits heavily but avoided mentioning his faith.
But word is getting out about Lin’s Christianity. It’ll be interesting to see how China handles this. Heck, it’ll be interesting to see how America handles this.