Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow! Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin! Every sports columnist with opposable thumbs (about three in ten) has compared the New York Knicks point guard and the Denver Broncos quarterback, seeing one as a doppelganger of the other. Bill Simmons, perhaps the most read sportswriter in America, used the rapier wit that made him famous and summed up the general consensus by tweeting, “My Tebowner has been replaced by a Jerection!”
It’s not just sports columnists. Politico, our national source for electoral cliff notes, and the Huffington Post, America’s go-to site for finding out what Fabio thinks about education reform, both posted “Lin is the new Tebow” links.
It’s understandable why the comparison is made. Both players revived depressed franchises just by getting in the game. Both play with a joy that seems to infect their teammates and raise everyone’s level of play. Both had their doubters, no question. And both are devout Christians who aren’t shy about thanking God in post-game interviews.
It’s an easy comparison. It’s also dead wrong. The conflation of their stories does little more than burnish Tebow’s credentials at Lin’s expense.
Let’s really look at both players. Tim Tebow was a first-round draft pick who won a Heisman trophy and two national championships at football powerhouse Florida. Jeremy Lin was an undrafted player out of Harvard, cut by two other teams and riding the Knicks bench before his unprecedented emergence. Tim Tebow had his own army of supporters chanting his name and exhorting the front office to get him on the field. Jeremy Lin played because the Knicks had no other options. Tim Tebow based on pure statistics just isn’t very good yet. He completed 46 percent of his passes and ranked twenty-seventh among NFL quarterbacks in passing efficiency. Jeremy Lin in his first five starts just set a record for most points in NBA history. Think about that. This record isn’t held by Wilt, MJ, Kareem or Lebron. It’s held by Jeremy Freaking Lin. He is one of three Knicks ever to have at least twenty points and seven assists in five straight starts and he did it in his first five starts.
But it’s for reasons completely disconnected from statistics where the differences blare like a siren. Tim Tebow’s commercials and personal branding speak about how everyone has always doubted him, but in reality, he’s has every privilege and advantage. He was home-schooled but was still allowed to play Florida high school sports. He was allowed to play in a college spread offense built around his rather unique skill set. He was drafted in the first round even though many scouts saw him as a mid- to high-round project. He is treated like an All-American superstar even without the game to back it up. His clean-cut, Evangelical whiteness has caused Republican politicians, sportswriters and Katy Perry to simply swoon. His connections to the right-wing edge of the Christian evangelical movement have gone uninvestigated and escaped mainstream criticism. (And yes, he’s already making noise about running for office after retirement.)
Not to shock anyone, but Jeremy Lin is Asian-American. Clearly, this fact plus the Ivy League pedigree made scouts disinclined to see what’s clear in front of our face: that the young man has game for days. I and many others saw it in the 2010 summer league when Lin traded blows with number-one overall pick John Wall. Lin’s skills didn’t appear overnight: just his opportunity. Tim Tebow had the benefit of the doubt. Jeremy Lin was just doubted.
There are soft liberal sportswriters who say primly that they don’t notice color and just like Lin’s game. Hogwash. As former Georgetown coach John Thompson says, “The only people who don’t notice color are blind.” There is nothing wrong with noticing that Lin is an absolute trailblazer. We should celebrate the thrill and pride Lin is causing among people of Asian descent because he is making history.
One Asian-American friend of mine, wrote to me:
I love Jeremy Lin! As an Asian American, i take pride in the fact that he’s the first notable Asian American NBA player of my time. He’s completely inspiring to me because as a kid i gave up basketball due to Asian stereotypes of being “studious”. To me he represents a new inspiration for all the little Asian American kids out there who want to play basketball.
Another, whose family is from the Philippines, wrote:
This goes much beyond a straightforward racial pride thing. All of the often quiet forms of racism directed at Asians, his existence is actively smashing. Not just the joyless model minority thing, but all the things said about Asian men, all the perpetual foreigner bs, all the hokey idiotic long duck dong, Mickey Rooney characters.. In your face is what i think when i see him play… From the signs alone you get a glimpse of it encouraging other AA people to say F-U to that sh^#%t too. It’ll take a world of things to change anti-Asian racism, no doubt…. [but] I’m happy as hell thinking about my Filipino dad and brothers.
Jeremy Lin counts for something very positive, on and off the court. I would argue he has Tebow beat… on both counts.