Lin vs. Tebow: Because Someone Had to do it…
Linsanity has taken hold here in my light-less bog cave. Even though I’m a huge Celtics fan and long-time Knicks hater, I have to admit that I’m rooting for Jeremy Lin’s continued success. The honest truth is, I can’t think of another time that a player has come out of as much obscurity as Lin to post these types of numbers. Since being inserted into the Knicks’ starting lineup, Lin has filled up the stat sheet, he’s averaging 22.7 pts, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in just over 30 minutes per game in February. And while the competition hasn’t exactly been the strongest out there (last 5 opponents: Minnesota, LA Lakers, Washington, Utah, New Jersey), he’s done this without the help of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire and there’s some reason to believe that this performance is sustainable (more on that later). One of the things that surprises me most about the Lin phenomenon is that I haven’t seen a rash of columns comparing Lin to Tim Tebow. You know it’s going to happen — sportswriters LOVE writing about Tim Tebow — so I figured I’d get out ahead of this and break down why Jeremy Lin is much easier to root for than Tim Tebow (leaving aside the respective popularity of their sports).
Personal Back Stories: Tim Tebow is the culture war personified and he makes no bones about it. His parents are fundamentalist missioaries and Tebow has appeared in a Super Bowl ad put together by James Dobson. While a lot of people view Tebow’s religious views as a quirk, and Christians tend to view them as inspiring, non-Christians (practitioners of other religions and atheists like your’s truly) tend to be uncomfortable with such aggressive Jesus-talk. Sportswriter laziness interprets this as people begrudging Tebow his religion, and fundamentalists view it as Christian hate, mostly because they like to get butthurt at any perceived slight. That’s not the case, I personally don’t mind the fact that Tebow’s a Christian. I just find it hard to personally root for a guy who believes I’m going to hell because I don’t subscribe to his religious worldview, and no amount of niceness on Tebow’s part is going to change that. Perhaps it’s an insecurity on my part, but while I won’t hate on Tebow for his successes, I won’t openly root for him to succeed either. In the end, I don’t care that much, and Tebow leading fourth quarter comebacks isn’t going to change my worldview any more than a fundamentalist would be swayed by this post. I’m just laying it out.
With Lin, there’s no such problem. He’s an Asian kid from the Bay Area, and while he’s been open about his Christianity, he doesn’t have to be viewed through the lens of the culture war. If you don’t see the nuance, let’s just leave it at the fact that Lin has never appeared in an anti-abortion advertisement with a guy who once said same sex marriage would lead to men marrying farm animals. There’s been some talk of Linsanity being driven by race, but I really don’t see it. Most of my friends who love Lin are white, and while I realize that’s hardly a representative sample, I haven’t seen any evidence that Lin’s popularity is race-driven. Honestly, there simply aren’t enough Asians-Americans to create a buzz this big on their own. The fact is, Lin is just a good story, a guy who played in the D-league last year, and was cut by a number of teams before landing in a seemingly perfect situation in New York. He’s much less of a controversial figure than Tebow and as such he has appeal to a much wider audience.
The Unlikeliness Factor: On some level, Tim Tebow’s success has been unlikely, but hardly so much as people have made it out to be. Tebow played at one of the best college football programs in the nation at Florida, in the perfect system for his skill set. He had a large section of the press corps cheering for him to be drafted in the first round — Drew Magary made an art of mocking Peter King’s “draft Tebow and pop the bubbly” line — the Broncos traded up to draft him. Since he was drafted Broncos fans have been clamoring for him to be the team’s starting quarterback, even buying billboard space to express their desires. Sure, at the beginning of this season John Fox and John Elway clearly didn’t have much faith in Tebow, but they might have been the only people in Denver who felt that way.
Lin, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. Harvard grads are successful in a number of walks of life, professional basketball it not one of them. Lin was undrafted and bounced around the league before landing on the Knicks’ bench. It’s a bit unfair to compare fan reaction for Lin to Tebow, mostly because no one knew who Lin was, or what type of player he could be. That said, in terms of unlikeliness, it’s really no contest, there have been people expecting success from Tebow for a while, no one ever expected anything from Jeremy Lin except Lin himself.
Sustainability: At least on the surface, Lin doesn’t have a fatal flaw like Tebow’s inaccuracy. At 6’3” Lin isn’t undersized for an NBA point guard, he clearly has the footspeed and athleticism to get to the rim, he’s shown quite a few basketball moves, he’s shown some range, and he’s done a good job of facilitating for a sub-par supporting cast. I know that Derek Fisher is about 10,000 years old (ballpark estimate) but Lin absolutely abused him on Friday night, and Fisher has long been considered a solid defender at the point. Furthermore, Lin is in a system that works for him, which increases the likelihood that he’ll continue to be an effective player. The Broncos really simplified their playbook for Tebow, but at some point they’re going to have to throw the ball to win games and then Tebow becomes a real liability. Lin, on the other hand, can run the pick and roll all day long once Amar’e returns, just like Stoudemire and Steve Nash did for so many seasons in Phoenix. It’s not hard to envision Carmelo Anthony adjusting his game a bit to become a kind of super-Shawn Marion, and the Knicks becoming one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Even if he comes back down to Earth, which is likely, Lin should continue to be a productive player for New York.
I hate the Knicks, but I’ll be rooting for Jeremy Lin from here on out. Tim Tebow? Meh.