Beliefs Culture Ethics Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

NBA’s Jeremy Lin talks about faith, fame, and racism

Jeremy Lin is the first Asian-American NBA player in the modern era. But his journey is one of deep faith and overcoming obstacles.
Jeremy Lin is the first Asian-American NBA player in the modern era. But his journey is one of deep faith and overcoming obstacles.

Jeremy Lin is the first Asian-American NBA player in the modern era. But his journey is one of deep faith and overcoming obstacles.

When a basketball player is not drafted out of college, the story’s supposed to be over. But if you’re Jeremy Lin, the first Asian-American NBA superstar, yours isn’t. He’s one of sports’ greatest underdog stories, climaxing in 2012 when Lin led the New York Knicks to an amazing winning streak. The tale is now being told in a big way, hitting the big screen today with the premiere of the film, “Linsanity“.

Lin believes that his story hinges, not on chance, or even on his remarkable talent, but on God. Here, we discuss his journey and what hurdles he’s had to overcome in order to become an inspiration to so many.

JM: You’re often recognized for your strong faith. In light of that, how did you make sense of not being picked in the 2010 NBA draft? Did it test your faith? Strengthen it?

JL: This definitely tested my faith as I was crushed at not being signed, but the people around me kept reminding me that God is still in control.  They encouraged me to stay focused on playing well in the Summer League.  Thankfully, I signed with the Warriors coming out of Summer League which tremendously strengthened my faith and confirmed that God wanted me to play in the NBA.  Before the draft, I had been eating very healthy for a long time.  In my frustration at not being drafted, my family and I went to Wingstop where we collectively ate one-hundred chicken wings.

JM: Have you struggled to maintain your faith in a sport that often glorifies things that run counter to Christian values?

JL: It’s definitely tough to constantly fight the pressures of modern society, especially when it comes to glorifying ourselves.  I think pride is something that I’ve struggled with tremendously my whole life, and having everybody tell you how great you are only makes it more difficult to stay connected to God.

JM: Have you connected with other NBA players who are as committed to their faith—Christian or otherwise—as you are? Who are some of these?

JL: Definitely. Guys like Landry Fields and Steph Curry immediately jump to mind.  Before every game, there’s a chapel service which is a great opportunity to meet other believers in the league.

JM: Because this film about your journey has solid Christian values, and a message about overcoming obstacles, I think a lot of my friends will want their kids to see it. Is there a message you hope young people would take away from it?

JL: I guess the takeaway that I want people to see is that the engine behind all of Linsanity was God.  I want people to see that God has taken so many tough situations in my life and turned them around for good.  I hope through the movie people are challenged to think about what they live for and what their purpose is on this earth and hopefully it inspires them to explore who God is.

JM: I know faith was important in your family. Was there a face—mom, dad, coach, pastor—along the way who reflected hope and possibility for you? Who was that face that said, “I know you can do it, Jeremy”?

JL: I think all my family and close friends have been instrumental in that area.  God has blessed me with a tremendous support network and in many situations where I didn’t feel like I had the strength to go on, God used the people around me to give me the strength to continue.

JM: An ESPN employee was famously fired last year for writing a headline about you with a racial slur in it. What racial hurdles have you faced on the road to success?

JL: Sometimes it’d be outright verbal racial attacks and other times it might be a little more indirect in terms of not getting the benefit of the doubt or not getting a certain opportunity.  Being Asian American, I feel like I naturally have to prove myself a little more because Asian American NBA basketball players are somewhat of an unknown concept.  But the beauty of basketball is that once the game starts it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.