Caveat: For those of you who are not religious, this post might sound like I’m spiritualizing this Jeremy Lin story, and to some degree I am, because faith in God informs the way I see the world. I hope you can read this and get a window into how my faith informs my everyday life. Most of this post is basketball-related anyway.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
- Soren Kierkegaard (Danish Philosopher).
Jeremy Lin dropped 38 points and 7 assists on the Lakers last night, continuing an unbelievable run the past four games.
In his last three starts, Lin has scored more points than anyone in their first three starts since the NBA merger. In other words, that’s more than Jordan, Magic, Bird, Lebron, Kobe, etc.
This is crazy. Really crazy.
I posted on my facebook wall that this story is getting more ridiculous every passing game, and it’s so amazing that it’s hard to believe that God is not involved.
My buddy asked about whether I was speaking about the outcome of these games, again bringing up one of the age-old debates about whether God cares about who wins or loses sporting contests.
I’m not smart enough to know about whether God cares about the outcomes of games, I explained. I was speaking more about Lin finding himself in this position in the first place and now making the most of it.
There are so many obstacles for Lin to have fought through to get where is today, and as a Christian who sees things through the lens of God’s sovereignty, I’m really amazed at how Jeremy has ended up here in New York for this very moment, and how easily this could NOT have happened.
Some call the workings of various circumstances toward a teleological end fate, but as someone who believes in a transcendent yet personal God, I call it God’s sovereignty.
The thing about God’s sovereignty is that it’s by-and-large a mystery. The only way we can get a glimmer of understanding, if any, is if we can look back and see the ways God has brought us to where we are today. The topsy turvy hills and valleys of our journeys can all be better examined looking backward, rather than in the moment, because then we can see some of the rhyme behind God’s invisible hand.
So as Kierkegaard reminds us, we are to live forward in light of God’s sovereignty, exercising our human will to move ahead with all the stuffs that a godward life entails – integrity, perseverance, servitude, justice, and benevolence.
And then we can look back on the things we had no control over, and then possibly be able to say, “wow, God was in it. I didn’t see Him, feel Him, or hear Him – but He was behind it all.”
In the present, we often don’t realize what He’s doing or why He’s orchestrating things the way He is. But we live forward, trusting that God will “work things to the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28), a verse that Jeremy himself has quoted in recent days.
With that said, I want to share how I believe this Jeremy Lin story is pregnant with themes of God’s sovereignty and Jeremy’s perseverance, working together in what theologians call divine concurrence for a reason that is still unfolding today.
These are just my thoughts as a pastor – I have never talked to Jeremy, nor do I want to represent his thoughts. I’m simply tying his improbable story to some insight into how I believe God works in our lives.
1. The Story of Jeremy’s Perseverance.
There are so many things that Jeremy had no control over that could have led him to quit basketball through the years.
Consider the following list:
- He’s Asian American. There are no other full-blooded Asian Americans playing in the NBA, and none who have made it in the recent past. I’ve mentioned why I believe this is the case in a previous post, but the fact that there are virtually no models of success in the NBA can be a challenge for anyone trying to be the first.
- He wasn’t offered a Division 1 scholarship, so he “settled” for Harvard. He led his high school team to the state title in California (a very impressive feat), but still wasn’t recruited to a Division 1 team.
- Harvard didn’t make it to the NCAA tournament. Even though he led a renaissance at Harvard, Cornell toppled them and he didn’t have a chance to showcase his game in the NCAA tournament for NBA scouts.
- He wasn’t drafted to the NBA. By this time, he had a Harvard degree, and probably had college friends with many job offers or grad school applications lined up. I’m sure there was a huge temptation to “just” get a job at McKinsey.
- Jeremy had to claw for minutes on a Las Vegas summer league team that already had two heralded guards ahead of him – Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones.
- After performing in summer league, He got signed by the Warriors, but he languished on Golden State’s bench last year, and was assigned to the D-League for several stints.
- Golden State drafted two guards in the 2011 draft, Charles Jenkins and Klay Thompson, signaling their lack of confidence in Lin to come in and be a contributor in 2012.
- Golden State waived Lin at the start of training camp, not even giving him a chance to show his improvement over the offseason.
- Lin signed with the Houston Rockets, but was behind Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, and Johnny Flynn on the depth chart. He barely got any run in a shortened training camp and pre-season (Lowry and Dragic are proven players, and Flynn was once a high first round draft pick in the draft), and he was waived again after a couple of weeks.
- Lin was then claimed off waivers by the Knicks at the start of the season.
- Throughout December-January, Lin barely played any minutes, mostly in garbage time, and saw the Knicks fall to 8-15 as their point guard play was atrocious. Lin still had the highest PER on the team during that time, but still no hint that D’Antoni was going to give him significant minutes. Tom and I went to a game where the Knicks lost to the now 3-23 Charlotte Bobcats at MSG. Lin didn’t get any playing time in that game.
- The Knicks were about to cut Lin before the weekend. Lin already got sent to the D-League once.
- Even after the first three Linsanity games this past week, doubters have said he’s a fluke and a flash in the pan, and that he’ll revert to being a marginal player.
Through all of these reasons to “quit”, Jeremy persevered. He worked on his game and body, and did whatever was asked of him. He didn’t complain, he just went about pursuing his dream, playing in d-league games at empty arenas, sleeping on his brother’s couch, working out as much as possible.
In other words, he worked his butt off to become a legitimate NBA player. Even with every setback, he persevered.
The guy has a Harvard degree. There are so many other things he could have done with his life, especially as the demotions mounted for him. But he kept at it, believing that God was at work too.
2. The Story of God’s sovereignty: Where else besides the 2012 NY Knicks could Jeremy have gotten this opportunity?
Consider the following:
- If Jeremy had stayed with his hometown Warriors, would he have had a legitimate shot at being the starting point guard? No. Monta Ellis, Steph Curry, Nate Robinson, and Charles Jenkins would have to have all gotten hurt or played horribly for Lin to have gotten significant minutes. Ellis, Curry, and Robinson are all young, proven players in the league.
- If Jeremy had stayed with the Rockets, would he have had a legitimate shot at being the starting point guard? No. Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, and Johnny Flynn would have to have all gotten hurt or played horribly for Lin to have gotten significant minutes. Lowry, Dragic, and Flynn have all started for teams and are all young, proven players in the league.
- Is there another team in the league that had as bad a point guard situation as the Knicks? Maybe… the Lakers? The only proven guard on the Knicks is Bibby, but he’s past his prime and is a backup at best. The Lakers have Fisher whose also past his prime, but he’s a landmark on the Lakers and there’s little chance Lin could have started above Fish and/or Blake.
- D’Antoni had his back against the wall – He tried Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, and Bibby at the point, all to very little success. People were calling for D’Antoni to get fired, as the pressure was building for him and the Knicks continued their atrocious play, especially at point guard. It had gotten to the point where it was almost as if D’Antoni was forced to play Lin – what could possibly be worse than the production the Knicks were getting?
- D’Antoni’s system actually plays to Jeremy’s strengths: savvy point guard play and the pick n roll. Even if Lin had played on the Warriors or the Rockets, he would not have had as suitable system (I believe) as the Knicks.
- It’s New York – Of all the places he ended up, he’s in the one city where there’s an opportunity for having a global impact. And to tell you the truth, more than most cities, New York is the kind of city that will give you props if you get results, regardless of how you look (to some degree – I do believe personal and systemic racism/sexism exists). If you don’t produce, then the city will be unforgiving. But if you do produce, you’ll get the love.
And so somehow, of all the places Jeremy could have ended up, he comes to MSG, the most historic basketball arena in the world, and lives his dream.
- Despite all the naysayers, Jeremy had a group of people around him – notably his family – who continued to encourage him and support him through everything.
There’s a story in the Bible of a guy named Joseph, and it’s a bit silly to compare Joseph to Jeremy considering Joseph was dealing with significant betrayals, family strife, and the future course of nations, plights a bit more arduous than getting waived by a basketball team.
But Jeremy’s story is similar in that he’s had to persevere through all the setbacks, live with integrity and not take any shortcuts, and somehow be in a place where he can make his unique impact on the world.
At the end of an improbable journey of trial after trial, Joseph utters these words, “What you intended for evil, God meant for good.”
And that’s the Christian story – not that everything is happy go lucky, but that there are many “deaths” along the journey, moments when hopes are dashed and the feeling of quitting is a constant, rattling noise in our subconscious. Some of the “deaths” are a result of actions we had control over, but it can be really frustrating when the “deaths” are things we have no power over (things like accidents, our health, job losses, getting waived, etc).
But the Christian story says that resurrection is available for those who stick with it, for those who will trust and obey, even in the darkest times, as God does his invisible work to accomplish His purposes. Life is about persevering through the “deaths” because we believe a gracious God is at work, working in us that we might experience rebirth day by day.
Death and Resurrection – That’s the improbable story of Jeremy Lin.
But much, much larger than that is the story of another death and resurrection, a moment in history where the Son of God would come to this world out of His great love, persevere so that people might know the miracle of God’s heart for people and an abundant life that is found in Him. He would die too, a literal death on a cross, as a real way of demonstrating his love for us. You see, this death was necessary for God to take on our grief and shame and all the trappings of human sinfulness by dying a death we all deserve and will encounter one day, just so that we might know…
Death and Resurrection.
That’s the original, improbable, yet ever so compelling, story of Jesus.
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.
- 1 Peter 1:3-5 (The Message Translation)
So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
- 2 Corinthians 4:17 (The Message Translation)