Faith and Basketball: The Sudden Rise of Jeremy Lin

The Story: Seemingly out of nowhere, New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has sent shockwaves through the sports world after mounting a series of stellar performances against some of the NBA’s top talent. The league’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, the undrafted Lin, 23, is an evangelical Christian whom some have dubbed “the Taiwanese Tebow.”

The Background: A little more than two years ago, Lin was a senior point guard at Harvard. ”He’s a special player who seems to have a special passion for the game,” one opposing coach said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the NBA one day.” Despite such optimism, however, the two-time All-Ivy League selection’s name wasn’t called in the 2010 NBA Draft. Though the Golden State Warriors eventually picked him up as a free agent, he warmed the bench for most of the 2010-11 season.

A little more than two months ago, Lin was cut from the Warriors and then from the Houston Rockets before finally being picked up by the Knicks. A little more than two weeks ago, Lin was reinstated to the Knicks’ bench after being demoted to their D-League squad for a game. And now, following a flurry of spectacular games, the once unwanted guard is more likely to be caught on Sportscenter than on the bench.

Why It Matters: Amid the excitement of Lin’s sudden rise to stardom, we give thanks that Lin is a devoted follower of King Jesus. Indeed, it appears that Lin has long been unashamed of his faith (see, for example, this March 2010 interview [Part 1Part 2]). He has even expressed interest in returning to pastor a church near his San Francisco Bay Area home. In another interview from around the same time, Lin said:

I think one of the most rewarding experiences in life is to see people come to Christ and make lifestyle changes. When that happens, you definitely see God behind it. . . . I’m really thankful that God is changing somebody, or sometimes he’s changing me. To see that transformation brings me a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment. I definitely want to do something in ministry down the road, maybe as a pastor if that’s where God leads.

Many will also be encouraged to learn that two of Lin’s favorite Christian books are John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and C.J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness.

Let’s be careful, though, not to invest our ultimate hope in Lin. Like Tebow’s triumphs on the gridiron, Lin’s success on the hardwood won’t last forever. Worldly hype is an ultimately shallow and short-lived thing anyway. Finally, and perhaps most vitally, let’s pray for our brother, that he’d faithfully steward his newfound platform by tirelessly deflecting praise to the only One whose glory never fades.

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  • Anthony G

    Well said, Matt. Especially your last paragraph.

  • Yalie

    Happy for Lin.

    Harvard still sucks.

  • Dan F

    Nice article, Matt! I think you could take him on the Basketball court, bro. Anyway, just wanted to give you a shout out. Nice article. Fun to watch JLin be a humble, Jesus-loving young man.

  • Ed

    Good post but one correction. He’s not the first Asian American player. Everyone knows about Yao Ming. He could be the first Asian American believer to play. Glad to know he’s a Christ-follower and is unashamed about it.

    • Collin Hansen

      Yao Ming is Chinese, not American.

      • Av

        @Ed – You are partially correct. He’s not the first Asian-American player in the NBA. The first AA player was Wataru Misaka followed by others. i.e. Raymond Townsend, Corey Gaines, Rex Walters, and Robert Swift.

        However, Yao Ming cannot be considered an Asian-American (as defined by those in the AA culture). As Colin pointed out, Lin’s nationality is American where as Yao Ming’s nationality is Chinese. Lin was born in the U.S. Yao was born in China, and he never acquired U.S. citizenship while he played for the Rockets.

        @Matt – To avoid further confusion, consider rephrasing “first Asian American player since 1947″ to “first Asian American of Taiwanese descent…” or “first Taiwanese American”. (You could also write “Chinese descent” or “Chinese American”, but many folks in the Taiwanese culture prefer not to associate themselves with the Chinese label due to their histories with the Cultural Revolution.)

        Besides that, great article. As an AA myself, I’m encouraged to see at least somebody in TGC cover subject matter dealing with Asian-American Christians.

        • Matt Smethurst


          Thanks for commenting, brother. I’ve updated the post to reflect your correction.

          Grace and peace,

  • D Carter

    Regardless of whether his success at basketball stay or fades, his love and devotion to Jesus our Lord will see him thru his life.

    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      “his love and devotion to Jesus our Lord will see him thru his life.”

      Amen!!! Amen!!!

  • Drew M.

    Thanks to Av for setting the record straight.

    Lin’s success means a great deal, and not simply because he is a Christian. Lin has given AA’s a modern sports superstar to look to as a popular, positive representation of their culture. It gives Christians the chance to celebrate the undeniable diversity of the Kingdom and God’s creation, as well as a special opportunity to connect in a new way to their AA brother’s and sisters.

  • Sebs |

    A good reminder at the end. We should ultimately put our hope in Christ, not on man.

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  • darrell creswell

    I always enjoy stories that glorify Christ in sports …Thanks Darrell

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