When you see Bay Area product Jeremy Lin smiling on the court, tongue wagging, it’s not just because his New York Knicks have won five in a row. It’s not just because he’s become a national sensation, putting up big numbers night after night.
Lin is smiling, primarily, because he feels like he has been delivered. Lin agreed to speak with his hometown newspaper about how his faith has been tested in recent months.
“Sometimes you come up against a mountain and you end up making the mountain seem bigger than God,” Lin said via phone call Sunday night. “Last year, I was on pins and needles. I was putting all this unnecessary pressure on myself. Now, I feel like I’m free out there.”
He can no longer stroll down the streets of New York, but Lin has finally found peace. He’s bombarded with interview requests (he even turned down David Letterman), yet Lin is experiencing a sense of ease he’s never felt before.
His devout Christianity, bred at the Chinese Church in Christ in Mountain View, has been his guide since he was young. But Lin admits these last few months were a test unlike anything he had seen before.
Sucker punched by the cold business of the NBA — playing for his third team in a year — Lin suffered in silence. Before he was the talk of the sports world, before he was crowned star of the Knicks, Lin was ridden with doubt and anxiety. So he doubled down on his commitment to God.
Without that, he believes, there would be no Lin-sanity.
What the country sees is a Cinderella story, Lin’s meteoric rise from the NBA Development League to unstoppable star. But for Lin, it’s a story of faith, the beautiful struggle he’s now convinced he can win. Most importantly, it’s a story of how he’ll be completely fine if he doesn’t.
“I’m not playing to prove anything to anybody,” Lin said. “That affected my game last year and my joy last year. With all the media attention, all the love from the fans (in the Bay Area), I felt I needed to prove myself. Prove that I’m not a marketing tool, I’m not a ploy to improve attendance. Prove I can play in this league. But I’ve surrendered that to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore.”
It took some time, some rough nights, long prayers and countless Bible studies.
Blow No. 1 came Dec. 9. Disappointed in his rookie campaign, which saw him average 2.6 points on 38.9 percent shooting in 9.8 minutes with the Warriors, Lin said he went all out during the offseason. The hardest he’s worked in his life.
But before he ran a drill under new coach Mark Jackson, he was pulled from practice. General manager Larry Riley told Lin he was being waived. They gave him the song and dance about how they wanted to get him back if he cleared waivers. And Lin even understood, if not agreed, with the logic — the Warriors were making a play for the center they desperately needed and were forced to clear salary space.
That didn’t take away the sting.
Two days later, Lin hopped a plane to Houston with a heavy heart. Part of him was hoping to re-sign with the Warriors, his childhood team. That hope died when the Rockets claimed him off waivers.
The fresh start didn’t do much to help Lin’s anguish. The Rockets had so many guards on the roster, Lin said he couldn’t get reps in practice. In two preseason games with Houston, he totaled 7 minutes, 51 seconds.
“At the time, I was thinking if this doesn’t work out, I maybe needed to take a break from basketball,” Lin said. “I put in four months of training. I felt like I worked harder than anyone else. And now I was fighting for a chance to practice. I was questioning everything.”
Eventually, Lin started to settle in. He was developing relationships with coaches, getting good feedback. He was grasping the system and could envision a role on the team. Even the state of Texas was growing on him.
But on Christmas Eve, it happened again. Lin was waived. Same deal — the team needed to release him so they could throw big money at a big man.
“I was just starting to think that was a great situation for me,” Lin said.
Deja vu, he thought. Only this time, the disappointment was multiple times worse. It was at that point Lin said he gave up. As he headed back to the Bay Area, he gave up trying to control everything. He gave up worrying. Or at least he tried like crazy.
He started every morning with a devotional before heading to the gym to work out. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with his family and friends, his way of keeping his mind occupied. Whenever the anxiety tried to creep in, he whispered a Bible verse to himself:
And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28
Three days after being waived by the Rockets, Lin was picked up by the Knicks, just in time for him to join the team in the Bay Area. He suited up and made his Knicks debut at Oracle Arena, playing 1 minute, 27 seconds, missing his only shot.
No immediate signs of the Lin-sanity to come.
“I was playing garbage minutes the first two to three weeks,” Lin said. “On top of that, I had no idea what the system was and what we were doing. We couldn’t practice, so I had no opportunity to prove myself. There was definitely a little bit of “what’s going on?” in my prayers.
“It’s a constant battle. My flesh was constantly pulling at me. Whine. Complain. Whine. Complain. But the other side of me was thinking, ‘My God is all powerful.’ … That’s the sad part. When I look back, there are so many times in my life where I’ve questioned God. Why do I even doubt God? At the same time, it’s a growing process.”
Lin was eventually sent back to the NBA’s hinterlands — the D-League — for the fourth time in his career. But he wouldn’t stay long. The Knicks brought him back after he logged a triple-double in his first game. Then, on Feb. 4, at halftime of a home game against New Jersey, injured Knicks star Carmelo Anthony suggested to coach Mike D’Antoni tat he play Lin more in the second half.
Many would say that is a sign of divine intervention on its own, the team’s mega-star going to bat for the guy at the far end of the bench. If that wasn’t enough of a revelation, Lin responded by finishing with 25 points and seven assists. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Knicks to victory.
After that first big game, Lin became a starter. After the second one, he became the buzz of the nation. After the third one, he was a Hall of Famer in the making.
Now, the Knicks are 5-0 with Lin running the show. He’s gone from having a non-guaranteed minimum contract and sleeping on his brother’s couch to having America’s biggest market now concerned the Knicks can’t pay him enough to keep him.
“There is so much temptation to hold on to my career even more now,” Lin said. “To try to micromanage and dictate every little aspect. But that’s not how I want to do things anymore. I’m thinking about how can I trust God more. How can I surrender more? How can I bring him more glory? It’s a fight. But it’s one I’m going to keep fighting.”
There is so much now that Lin could be concerned about.
Can he keep this up? What will the media do to him if he fizzles out and returns to being a back-up point guard? What happens when Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire return to the lineup?
Lin is focused on ignoring those concerns. He said he’s not even worried about the pressure that comes with being a man of faith.
“It’s a platform I’ve been given,” Lin said. “I want to be real. I don’t want to have a false image. I want people to see who I am and what God has done in my life.
“If people don’t like me or are waiting for me to fail, that’s on them. I don’t want to offend anybody. I don’t want to be overbearing. But I’ve got to be who I am.”