Love and Basketball (My Ode and Caution to Jeremy Lin)

I love basketball. I love it. I get all giggly inside when I get the chance to run with the guys, talk smack, point fingers, and “oooh” and “ahhh” with the rest of them. I love that the game can grow with however many people are there and people of various skill/effort levels can participate. It’s just one of those games/sports you can invite people to join in, even right in the middle of the game. It’s a great game.

But I have to admit, I’m terrible at it. Don’t have a reliable jumper. Turn it over like pancakes. Can’t dribble.  I just sweat a lot. Basically, I’m the equivalent of a human folding chair that players use to dribble around in practice. But what can I say, I love the game.

And now, though I’ve been watching him with hope and anticipation for some time now,  Jeremy Lin has struck the NBA like lightning. And suddenly this game  I love is now featuring this guy that could have been one of my youth kids, it could be one of my college friends, and in some fantasy world, it could have been me. He is the embodiment of many of us – those half moon eyes, the deference to the other players, his eye for technical detail, and the sweat of someone who kills you with consistency, not necessarily jaw-dropping athleticism. On top of all of this, Jeremy speaks the name of Jesus into the press microphones. He talks about being blessed and answered prayers. Wow. And an Econ degree from Harvard? If He Got Game, this is about the closest we get to Asian Jesus, ain’t it? 

But I can see the signs of the vultures already. The barricades against his Christian witness are being laid out. The commoditization of Jeremy Lin has already begun, he is already moving from player to pawn in the schemes of the media and business. Why polarize him as a Christian? Because they’re still trying to figure out which market he will be more accessible to — especially if he can’t maintain the 25 point, 8 assist pace. But he’s Chinese American, so if he can keep up this level of play, there’s a nation of billions waiting to buy his image and jersey.

Color me a cynic, but it isn’t like we haven’t seen these methods employed before. Even those of us with the best of intentions and highest of hopes contribute to applying so much pressure, it will be amazing if Jeremy can make it out of this knot without coming undone himself.

So here’s some unsolicited advice from a fan, #17:

  • Play your life like you play your game. In other words, don’t get flashy now. Keep your faith and your public witness minimal. Remember what you do in secret is where your reward comes from (Matthew 6), so don’t worry about the charities and the public relations yet. You’re saying all the right things now, just stick with them.
  • Keep your game and your faith in different pockets. People will assume that “your God” is there to help you win and so they correlate your performance on the court to “your God.” Don’t let them. That’s cheap religion. Bless those who curse you. Pray for the other team if you have to, but don’t mix basketball and Christ. They will only see basketball. Let Christ speak through the whole of your life, not just your press conference.
  • If you should decide to speak on matters of faith, I encourage you to put something out there that would subvert the impression of the masses that evangelical Christianity is a faith obsessed with behavior of the individual – people who ask you about your virginity, or if you pray before meals, or whatever. Not that personal piety isn’t important, but remember James 1:27 is about widows and orphans. That’s the religion our Father accepts – both personal purity and a keen awareness of those who have no home.
  • And if I were you, I’d call out your Christian brothers to do more than buy tickets to your game. I’d also call out your Asian Christian brothers and sisters to address our issues. That’s just me, but I never had as much game as you, so take it for what it’s worth.

Oh snap, the game’s on. Peace.

25 thoughts on “Love and Basketball (My Ode and Caution to Jeremy Lin)”

  1. David Park: “Keep your faith and your public witness minimal.”

    A. “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26)

    B. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: Great Commission)

    C. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22: Greatest Two Commandments)

  2. truth,

    you seem to assume that minimal public witness = shame. i don’t. i just have trouble with the effectiveness of celebrity Christians actually affecting the caricature of Christians in America. “wise as serpents” is the name of the game from where I sit, particularly when you have an Asian American who can have a great effect with many Asian Americans/Asians. Lin doesn’t need to subscribe to the “Tebow” effect to represent Christ well. But we can agree to disagree on that one, but know that your presupposition that i am ashamed or that Lin should shrink back is not what I’m saying. I just said keep it minimal.

    Secondly, with your Great commission reference, I still think the onus is on you to prove that his basketball playing and his ability to make disciples are correlated. so i think that’s kind of a strange verse to throw in there. I don’t know if you can tell by the majority of my post, i am commenting on his christian witness with respect to his basketball career. You can see that, right? I’m not way off base there, am I? I mean, within the context of his basketball star rising…that’s all I’m saying.

    Your third reference, while a wonderful verse, doesn’t preclude anything that I’ve said here in the post. Maybe I’m missing your critique here, but I think I’m trying to ask Lin to have a little bit more awareness about the media effect on his Christian witness. More publicity and media are not simply an amplifier, it’s a distortion of Christianity. And the effect for non-believers is off-putting even though it can be very reassuring for believers. I guess if you want to make sure that Christians are represented in big money sports, then fine; but if you care about potential evangelistic impact, then I think Lin would actually benefit from being a bit more subtle. But hey, it’s just an opinion. Feel free to judge away. 🙂

  3. David Park: “Keep your faith and your public witness minimal.”

    D. One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18)

  4. T.
    And if the Apostle Paul played basketball in the NBA in the 21st century, we’d have a true analog for what to do, eh?

    Let me guess, you don’t like the color grey, do you?

  5. David Park,

    Do you object to anything Jeremy Lin has done so far this past week (and even earlier) in regards to his giving the glory to God in his media interviews?

  6. David Park,

    I’m pleased with Jeremy Lin’s witness thus far, and I hope that the Holy Trinity is pleased as well.


  7. Great T, i’m glad we agreed that the Holy Trinity is pleased at every Knick press conference.

    Just kidding. Wow, you’re a pretty intense person. 🙂

  8. It’s VDay – why cant we just all love each other? Besides, JLin has a day off the other night. Enjoy the ride of that magical week. I am sure God has a wonderful plan to get his Glory through this young fellow at some point…

  9. It’s all good Kev~

    I hope Truth knows I’m just having fun. In the end, we just want God to be glorified. It’s all good. Doesn’t matter much what I think anyways. 🙂

  10. Interesting. Not sure that I agree with you, but something to think about. Personally, I think Lin needs to be true to his faith & his relationship with Christ. He needs to do what Christ tells him to do publicly. If God tells him to be vocal about his faith, then for his sake, he better to do it. If God wants him to witness by example, then he better do it. Not for anyone else to decide. He’s the one that has to give an account before God one day. I personally cannot separate my faith from my life. It is the foundation of EVERYTHING I do or choose not to do. My unsolicited advice would be just to make sure you walk the talk. People are going to be watching. People are going to be waiting for him to trip up. People are going to encourage him to mess up & have cameras waiting if it happens. As Christian brothers & sisters, we should be praying for him to hold on to his faith and walk accordingly.

  11. When you’re an athlete, it’s not uncommon to get people yelling from the sidelines about what you should be doing and what you can do better. I guess when you’re a Christian athlete, you also get people telling you not only how to improve your game but the way you ought to live out your life and witness. I don’t envy Lin’s position, but I am proud that there’s someone out there who is unashamed to give God glory and make His name known to a world that needs Him. ( 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”) God bless you David Park.

  12. Funny, how Jeremy is stereotyped for his ‘half moon’ eyes. You haven’t met any Asians with “full moon’ eyes. Let’s not stereotype!

  13. Just 2 questions:

    One: Is keeping Jesus Christ and Basketball ‘in different pockets’ the way we’ve been called to live?
    Two: Have you practiced any of the advice that you’ve just given?

  14. @Blossom — Thanks for dropping by NG.AC and leaving a comment. As a friend of David, both through social media and “IRL,” I can assure you that David strives to practice what he preaches.

    In response to your first question, it sounds as if you might already have an opinion about that? If so, please weigh in and share. We’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

  15. Tracy- I couldn’t have said it better! You echo my thoughts exactly! I don’t understand why one has to keep one’s faith and public witness minimal…and keeping your game and your faith in different pockets. The JeremyLin story is inspiring in itself but because his story and his game is tied to his faith it makes it exponentially more awe- inspiring. His faith, his walk, his witness is between him and Christ. Let’s pray for him that his witness will stay strong and untainted.

  16. Thanks David! I agree a word of caution is good here. JLin has been mantled with a great responsibility as all eyes (regardless of shape!) are watching. He can’t control how messages are taken, but he can be deliberate about what he sends…which I think he has done really well. The message of Christ’s love does not begin and end with JLin, but it is a great opportunity for him to be a different kind of NBA player on a world wide stage. I can imagine how easy it would be to get caught up in the hype and marketing, but God knew all this before and prepared JLin for such a time as this.

  17. Blossom, great questions (and thanks Daniel for having my back!). Here are a couple of initial responses:
    1) “in different pockets” is trying to articulate a complex problem. One is yes, Lin is a Jesus follower, but how does that relate to basketball? Do you try to evangelize while playing basketball? In the interviews that follow? In his non-playing time? Does he try to “win” for Christ? This is getting a little silly here, but there are a lot of levels to his Christian witness, right? All I’m trying to say is that even though as believers, we want him to glorify God in all that he does, the fact of the matter is that those who are non-believers don’t see it that way. And therefore the rhetoric of the Christian faith can seem like a non-sequitur to basketball. That’s the problem with Christian sports celebrities. What they do on the field has very little to do with what they preach. It may have a great deal to do with how they respond to things on the field, but still, it may not correlate to the result on the field. So all I’m saying is be wise about that distinction and know that his greatest impact doesn’t come from his accomplishments on the court, even if that’s what earns him the platform. Does that make sense? It’s not hypocrisy, it’s simply understanding that your witness is different in that circle than it is on a celebrity pastor or a celebrity musician. There is very little that’s subjective in the sports world. And therefore, Lin’s witness to Jesus doesn’t need to be made a token. It needs to be made manifest in either a subversive or profound way, or in a completely different arena. That’s all I’m saying with that.

    2) Have I practiced any of the advice I gave JLin? Well, I’m trying to. I’m a bit older than him, different season of life, and different station (and much smaller platform), but I’m also wrestling with what it means to faithful and iconoclastic to myself. what I mean by that is I think anything that gives me a platform, which as a local church pastor, I have a platform, I need to keep myself in check. And I do that by striving to make sure that my private faith (what I practice when no one is looking) is greater than what little people see on a Sunday, or my public faith. I think that’s extremely important in a day and age where we self-publish, self-broadcast, and basically everything is marketing. It’s why I team-blog here (not just or something equally pompous). Does that make sense? And I try to be true to who I am as an Asian American in a mixed race/culture marriage, knowing that we are called to something greater. So I practice some of what I preach, but I mostly make mistakes and try to caution other people from being as pretentious as I once was and still am. 🙂

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