If you’ve checked your Twitter timeline anytime over the past week, you’d be hard pressed not to have come across at least one tweet about the latest NBA phenomenon, Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting caught up in the hype – I snatched Lin up on both my fantasy basketball teams after he torched the Nets and quickly renamed my teams “General Lin’s Army” – but one comparison in particular has really bothered me: the one’s calling Jeremy Lin the NBA version of Tim Tebow.
In fairness to the lazy, uncreative people making this comparison, they are both professional athletes that have experienced surprising success, and are devout Christians. Lin himself undoubtedly fueled the fire by acknowledging that he sees Tebow as somewhat of a role model with the following statement:
“I actually want to be able to do some of the things that he does in terms of the amount of charity work and the non-profit work, and the way he impacts people off the field. I think that is what is most inspiring to me about him.”
That’s a fine goal to have, and Tebow should be commended for the way he has used his celebrity to affect positive change off the field, but let’s not ignore the key phrase in that quote “off the field”.
On the field, Lin and Tebow have very little in common, aside from their fiery approaches to playing the their respective games. Whether people realize it or not, Lin is a highly skilled basketball player that has a long track record of success against superior competition dating back to his high school years. The he-came-out-of-nowhere angle seems to be an easy way out for the talent evaluators and analyst who, if we are being completely honest, overlooked Lin’s potential largely based on his ethnicity, because the talent and production were always on full display. Don’t believe me? Check out this ESPN article on Lin from December of 2009.
Stereotyping aside, the biggest problem I have with the Lin/Tebow comparison is that the success of the individuals, and the teams they play for, are happening for very different reasons. Tebow came into the NFL with lots of questions about whether he could succeed at the quarterback position, and despite the epic comebacks, long winning streak, and upset playoff victory, Tebow has done very little to answer those questions heading into 2012. Credit the Broncos’ coaching staff for adjusting the offense to mask his limitations, and for fixing a defense that was one of the league’s worst in 2010, but despite the hype, there is a less obvious connection between Tebow’s performance and the Broncos’ ability to win the AFC West and a Wild Card game against the Steelers.
Lin, on the other hand, has succeed for one reason and one reason only: the kid can hoop! He doesn’t have elite athleticism or any other physical tools that give him an obvious advantage over his competitors. What he does have is a high basketball IQ, a genuine love for the game, and a skill set that fits perfectly into coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. The Knicks have won four games in a row with Lin starring in all for victories, and unlike Tebow’s fourth quarter heroics, Lin has done it for entire games. With New York all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire out for all or most of all four games, you can draw a direct correlation between Lin’s exceptional play and the Knicks’ team success, something that is still up for debate with Tebow and the Broncos.
I’m cheering for Lin to succeed, just as I hope that Tebow can have a long and successful career as an NFL quarterback. Unlike Tebow, however, Lin already has the skills, the Knicks just need to keep the rock in his hands.