As we moved past the Super Bowl on the sports calendar, there was only one question on my mind.
What or who could we find to replace Tim Tebow?
After all, Tebowmania swept the nation for months stretching from the late Autumn and into the Winter. It was all Tim Tebow all the time. We had magazines, superheroes, hour long television specials, the Tebowization of First Take and seemingly EVERYTHING ON ESPN, and even the national news media soaking it all in. Do I need to remind you that SportsNation brought on Hulk Hogan to cut a 1980s style promo on Tim Tebow? Come to think of it, it’s amazing we all emerged alive.
Tebowmania was a unique set of circumstances though. Here was a once in a generation athlete on a once in a lifetime streak of unbelievable wins that managed to captivate not just sports fans, but seemingly the entire universe. Everyone you knew had some sort of opinion on Tim Tebow. It could have been his funky release, his evangelical Christian values, how much credit he deserved for the Broncos success, whether or not John Elway and his coaching staff supported him (the most pointless of all Tebowmania related storylines) or even Tebowing. It was a nationwide obsession like we’ve rarely ever seen before in sports. But alas, when Tebow’s season ended, so thankfully did Tebowmania (for the time being at least). Nobody in their right mind could talk Tim Tebow 24/7/365, after all. If Skip Bayless has moved on from Tebowmania, you know it’s safe.
A funny thing happened though… as soon as the nation got out of rehab for its Tebowmania addiction, another craze has swept the sports world. It is simply known as Linsanity.
New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has developed into the story of the NBA season. By now you likely know the details of how Lin instantly went from anonymous D-Leaguer to putting 38 on Kobe and the Lakers in the World’s Most Famous Arena and leading the Knicks on a five game winning streak. He’s not just the biggest NBA story at the moment though, he’s the biggest story in sports. His heritage, his background, the city in which he plays in, and the shock to his success all play a role in Linsanity.
In a way, this is the present and future of how sports are covered. We go from season to season in search of one person or one story to apply a clever hashtag to and treat as the most important thing that’s ever happened in the history of forever. It is becoming the nature of the beast in covering sports. Our culture demands it.
So naturally, the temptation to compare the two biggest phenomena in sports in the last six months is too big to ignore. Tebowmania vs Linsanity. Linsanity vs Tebowmania. Which is bigger? Whose story is more unreal? Why are Lin and Tebow wasting their talents in sports and not dedicating themselves to stopping terrorism and ending global warming?
Go ahead and search “Jeremy Lin” and “Tim Tebow” together on Twitter and behold the seemingly inseperable bond that holds them together. There was even the predictable “Tebow inspires Lin” story that made the rounds. I’m pretty sure if the two of them were ever photographed in the same place at the same time, the universe would spontaneously combust in some sort of Reverse Big Bang.
Lin and Tebow do have some similarities. They are both significant role models in a sports world that has seen them become an endangered species. They are both outspoken about their faith (see this article in the New York Times for instance). They are both incredibly compelling athletes. But the truth is that Lin and Tebow’s stories are actually quite different. Jeremy Lin is simply not another Tim Tebow. Here’s why…
Before two weeks ago, Jeremy Lin was an unknown to most of the nation. One of the few Asian-American NBA players in the history of the league, it was a nice story that Lin merely made a roster as an undrafted Ivy Leaguer. Lin was a poor man’s Brian Scalabrine. He had spent his first year in the Association dangling at the end of the Warriors bench and been let go by two separate teams heading into the 2011-12 season. He played 55 total minutes and scored 32 total points for the Knicks this season before he began taking over New York City on February 4th against the Nets. In the last five games, he’s been one of the best players in the NBA averaging 26.8 PPG and 8 APG. Lin’s Twitter following has also grown more than six times in just a week and his first four starts in his career were better than anyone since the merger.
On the other hand, Tebow was one part of the Broncos winning streak, regardless of how much credit he received. From a neutral perspective, Tebow made several clutch plays to pull games out of the fire after being abysmal for long stretches. However, his play gave copious ammounts of ammunition to both the pro and anti Tebow camps. Those that never believed in Tebow could point to his first 55 minutes of sucktitude and the effort of Tebow’s teammates. Those who always believed in Tebow could point to his last 5 minutes of heroics and how his teammates were inspired. And round and round it went for months on end.
With basketball, Lin’s contributions to the Knicks are much more easily quantifiable. The contributions of 1 player on a 5 person team is much greater proportionally than 1 player on an 11 or 22 person team. Not even the world’s biggest troll or contrarian could poke a hole in 38 points and 7 assists against the Lakers on national television. The only debates around Lin seem to be how good can this get for himself and the Knicks or how long the ride will last. Well, there are people like Jason Whitlock that try to ruin everything I suppose.
Lin’s rise to prominence is the polar opposite to that of Tebow. They are not one and the same. Jeremy Lin is not the NBA’s Tim Tebow. When he came into the NFL, Tebow was already one of the 15-20 most well-known players in the league. We knew who Tebow was. He won a Heisman, two national championships, and painted Bible verses on his eyeblack at Florida. We knew Tebow wasn’t a quarterback who could robotically slice defenses apart like Drew Brees. We knew his transition to the NFL was heavily debatable. None of that has changed since the day he entered the league. And yet, the attention and obsession and debate surrounding Tebow did more to turn a section of the population against him than anything else.
And ultimately, that’s the main reason Linsanity seems like a less annoying and more enjoyable story than Tebowmania. The media simply didn’t have the chance to debate ad nauseum the merits of Jeremy Lin like they did with Tim Tebow. We didn’t have to endure months of pre-draft talk on Lin’s mechanics, or his shooting, or his defense. We didn’t have to endure endless calls to start or bench Lin. There were no Merril Hoges out there trying to make a name for themselves in bashing him or Skip Baylesses out there trying to make a name for themselves in championing him. Lin’s rise was so fast and so sudden that nobody had the chance to say “I was the first one on the bandwagon,” one of the most mind-numbing quests in all of sports punditry. There was no Jeremy Lin Bandwagon!
That’s why Jeremy Lin’s story rings as so refreshing. This is one of the few occasions in the 24/7 sports cycle that we weren’t in on the story from the before the start. We didn’t follow Jeremy Lin through Signing Day or his career at Harvard or his being a bust or a steal in the NBA Draft. We didn’t see Jeremy Lin become a meta narrative for everything that divides sports and society. We didn’t have to choose sides with Jeremy Lin, we merely have the privilege of enjoying his story play out for us to see… at least for the time being. The talking heads haven’t ruined Linsanity yet. After all, it’s only been a week.