Jeremy Lin! Why the Knicks' New Star Is Not the New Tebow

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in America, used the rapier wit that made him famous and summed up the general consensus by tweeting, “My Tebowner has been replaced by a Jerection!”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.

5 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Needed to be said

THANK YOU for this great column that counters all the mindless ESPN spouting: The difference between Tebow and Lin is precisely the level of competitive talent. Lin has the game and incredible talent to go head-to-head with the top players and legends--he proves it minute after minute in each game he gets to play.

Tebow? Well in my opinion, he's one of those people that started on 3rd base and thinks they hit a triple. In addition to all of the privileges you listed, and his success last season was based on an incredible amount of accommodation and enabling, smoke and mirrors, and a fluky/divinely-helped good play here and there.

I watched Lin today, and it was simply amazing and inspiring to see him play like an accomplished and brilliant professional player. Moreover, I think his team-first attitude and good nature have been a far better witness for his Christian faith than any of Tebow's commercials and displays.

More B.S. from "White Guilt" Master Marxist Zirin....

Seriously, Dave, give up. Why do you think people were clamoring for Tebow!? If he sucked for the last 3 games of 2010 no one would care. But he showed real promise, and yet he still was benched in favor for the do-nothing Orton for the first 4 1/2 games of 2011.

Tebow led the Broncos to 6 wins in a row and then beat the Steelers in the playoffs where they were a heavy underdog. He scored 6 regular season rushing TDs in 2010 and 6 rushing TDs in 2011 -- the most of any QB. But I guess since he doesn't have the poise and throwing arm of a stud like Mark Sanchez he sucks.

When Lin leads the Knicks to the 2nd round of the playoffs -- a FAR more loaded team offensively than the Broncos, if you can compare the two sports -- to the playoffs, then the comparisons can be made. But until then, more racial self-flagellation from Zirin and his acolytes.

Lin Has Faced Real Discrimination

I like this anecdote from Lin`s Wikipedia page:
"The first time Lin went to a Pro-Am game in Kezar Pavallion in San Francisco someone there informed him: `Sorry, sir, there`s no volleyball here tonight. Its basketball.`" Lin also was subjected to racial slurs throughout his college career. The notion what a basketball player looks like (tall athletic black guy) is so strong now that it no doubt explains Lin`s under recruitment for college and not being drafted.

Meanwhile, it has been African Americans who have been discriminated against at the quarterback position. A white golden boy like Tebum, who sucks at passing, hardly fits the profile of a victim of discrimination. The guy sucks at his job, so his flock brings up the diversion of his religious beliefs.

Undercurrent?

Unstated, but important, current below the surface of all this is the present role of China in world politics. Isn't there a deep underlying anxiety in this country about China's (and Asia's) rise to power? I think we felt it when Japan was on the rise, and somehow came to terms with it a little bit - buying Toyotas and Hondas - but maybe not really that much.
Maybe this has been stated - I don't read all the comments. If so, let it be stated again.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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