|Yao and Lin in Taiwan|
Watching Lin is fun. He is like a spinning top. His last-second 3-pointer beating Raptors was mesmerizing. He smiles after his spectacular shots and pumps his fists. We smile with him and enjoy the ride.
Onto his 6’ 3” and 200-pound body, many scripts have been projected, since we can look at his unexpected rise from so many angles at the intersections of race, gender, nation, sports, and faith.
The fact that he is the first American of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to excel at the NBA is no small matter.
China won 51 gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The men won shooting, weightlifting, diving, gymnastics, table tennis, badminton, canoeing, and swimming. They excelled in events that the bodies don’t even touch each other’s.
Nation and manhood are often intertwined in popular imagination. Chinese men have been called “the sick men of East Asia” for a long time. China’s national soccer team has become a laughing stock and a disgrace. Can Chinese men compete in physical games in which bodies collide and crush into each other?
Before Lin, we had Yao. But Yao Ming is exceptional. He is 7’ 6”. He was groomed nationally to be a basketball star.
Lin is Linderella. No one gave him a chance, even though he captained his Palo Alto High School team to a state title and led his Harvard team to the best records in the team’s history.
Now, everyone wants to claim a piece of Linsane. Asian Americans and Canadians wore T-shirts with his name to the games and rooted for him instead of for the home teams. Some Asian American women in New York went to sport bars to watch Lincredible even though they seldom watch basketball. His family underscores his Taiwanese background since both his parents came from Taiwan. But China claims him too since his maternal grandmother grew up in Zhejiang.
David Brooks in today’s New York Times looks at competitiveness in sports not through the national narrative, but through the lens of religion. Lin was brought up in a Christian home and became a Christian when he was a freshman in high school. He founded and led a Bible study group when he was at Harvard.
Brooks writes, “The moral ethos of sports is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.” He says that modern sports emphasize assertion, competitiveness, and the display of prowess. Religion teaches humility, self-abnegation, and serving as an instrument for a larger cause.