My friend Brett is an avid Derek Fisher fan. And when I say avid, I mean the only thing keeping him from stealing a lock of Fisher’s hair and performing a creepy, voodoo ritual in his closet shrine is the fact that Derek Fisher is bald and has no hair. So after Jeremy Lin torched the Los Angeles Lakers with 38 points in his third career start, I texted him, “Looks like your D-Fish couldn’t handle guarding my Asian tonight.”
To which he cleverly responded, “Oh, so you decided you’re Asian now?”
For most of my life, I’ve considered myself a product of a white, Southern Californian culture, stressing the “American” much more than “Asian-American.” He had very appropriately called me out for suddenly leaping onto the Linsanity bandwagon.
Also, I wish they would have instead called it “Linception,” and then played the ominous boom from the “Inception” soundtrack every time he scored.
Jeremy Lin has been called a symbol, but a symbol of what? If you don’t follow basketball/don’t have any Asian friends on your Facebook news feed, Jeremy Lin has exploded into the league out of obscurity and is making history in the NBA. For me, it isn’t really an encouraging story of Asian-American empowerment. Even though this theme is incredibly important to those with a strong Asian identity, the fact of the matter is: he is 6-foot-3 and I am 5-foot-3. For me, it’s not the empowering “If He, Why Not Me?” Jackie-Robinson-of-basketball story.
It’s just like the “Christian sports hero” line, which doesn’t resonate with me either. Jesus often empowered the poor, obscure and rejected, but I still haven’t found the verse that says, “Blessed are the rock stars and sports heroes.” I’m not saying that his success is wrong or shouldn’t be celebrated by Christians as a brother in Christ (especially in the case of Lin’s incredible humility), but it seems like idolatry to place him on a billboard for Christianity, as if his success makes the faith and message cooler or more compelling.
This is scientifically known as “The Tebow Effect.” However, I don’t think the label of an “outspoken Christian” is fair either. After all, he isn’t half-court proselytizing. People are asking personal questions about his life and sticking a mic in his face, and he is responding honestly; this is what Christians should be announcing over his statistics.
David Brooks of The New York Times recently wrote a misinformed and unconvincing article titled “The Jeremy Lin Problem” about how “the moral ethos of sports is in tension with the moral ethos of faith.” Brooks claims today’s sports hero is an assertive, self-touting, center-of-attention-seeking athlete that puts himself on display. It’d be difficult to argue against the worldwide coverage (and violent mob of New York Knicks’ fans) that Lin is not a sports hero. But, does he fit Brooks’ definition?
In last week’s win over the Sacramento Kings, Lin scored only 10 points on 4-6 shooting (but with 13 assists) and then commented he felt he was taking too many shots. Imagine Kobe Bryant (averaging 23.9 attempts) saying that.
When asked to comment on his recent success, Lin stated he was uncomfortable with the limelight and wished people would pay more attention to his teammates’ accomplishments. And in the Knicks’ only loss in eight games with Lin at the helm, he publicly took full responsibility for the loss. Imagine LeBron James saying either of those things.
In response to questions about taunts, insults and racial slurs, Lin answered, “As I grew older, I realized that I shouldn’t allow that stuff to affect me, and at the same time I shouldn’t retaliate…It’s just something I’m used to now, and it’s a good opportunity to reflect the grace of God when you don’t say anything back, or when you’re really respectful in return.” Just like in that Sprite commercial when Kobe says his thirst is to “prove them wrong,” right?
Perhaps Brooks is right in claiming that the self-soliciting superstar we know is not compatible with the morality of faith. And perhaps the flashy, adventurous, take-charge superstar we know in our Western world is not compatible with a more Eastern understanding of masculinity. But, perhaps Lin has no intention of being the superstar we know, or a superstar at all for that matter. Rather than downplaying or dropping his Christian and Asian values to meet the current archetype of a superstar, Lin has fully embraced his fundamental identity. He’s shattered the mold. All he does is Lin.
If you’re thinking, “Forget Jeremy Lin. That 5-foot-3 Asian guy sounds like a real score!” then email Chase at ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.