By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) I’ve been watching a lot of people progressively get grumpier about Jeremy Lin.
Look, I can empathize a bit with that knee-jerk reaction to the flavor of the moment. Make something the SportsCenter lead four days in a row and people will snipe. Include him in a poll asking who the best player in the NBA is and the vaguely intelligent will grumble. But that knee-jerk kickback impulse should always be counterbalanced with a simple question to yourself: Is this attention actually warranted?
Or more directly for our line of interest: Does the player or team involved show true excellence?
See, there are a ton of people, columnists, writers, tweeters, pundits, Score texters and friends of yours that suddenly hate Jeremy Lin and his story with the same attitude and zealous dismissal with which they hated Tim Tebow and his story. The direct comparison between those two men and their narrative arcs has been made repeatedly, and lazily. You’ve seen it. Hell, there are columns on this website about exactly that. Verve has been found to root against Lin and the Knicks because of his “similarities” to Tebow. What is similar is the reactionary response, and not remotely the phenomena themselves.
Lin and Tebow have dominated professional sports media at times within the last six months and they share an obvious faith in God.
And that’ll do it folks. Goodnight everybody.
Is that enough for you, really?
I find it’s often useful to go back to, you know, the sports of it. Remember sports?
The athletic essence of the tales is such: Tim Tebow was one of the most sought after high school footballers in the country. Jeremy Lin (despite being the best high school player in California) was offered zero college scholarships. Zero, even though he lived essentially across the street from his dream school of Stanford. At Florida, Tebow won two BCS titles and a Heisman trophy. At Harvard, Lin was quietly brilliant and I read an article about him in Sports Illustrated once. You may have caught a single buzzer-beater highlight a couple times. Tebow was an anointed, endlessly hyped first round draft pick who soared on fan pressure to get his perhaps unwarranted chance. The undrafted Lin is on his third NBA team THIS YEAR and saw garbage minutes for weeks as the rudderless Knicks sputtered. And most importantly, Tebow and the Broncos succeeded while he played mediocre if not flat out terrible at quarterback. Lin has been the best point guard in a great point guard league for two weeks. There is no grand experiment being carried out in which the very fabric of the game is being questioned here either. Emulating Bobby Douglass is one thing, doing a Steve Nash impression is another.
Lin wasn’t sitting on the bench as fans chanted his name for weeks like Tebow, until the organization had no choice but to give him his shot. Lin was nowhere, no one. This is a top tier producer amidst the best athletes in the world who Kobe Bryant had genuinely never heard of.
If you need more, go ahead and get personal. Is it that hard to look deeper at these guys? Tebow is a home-schooled, impossibly naïve mass of pure earnestness (I stand forever by my comparison to him as “Buddy the Elf.”) Lin is a Palo Alto high school, Harvard-educated rational and thoughtful interview. If you felt proselytized to by Tebow, has Lin really done the same? Is any mention of his faith, which he believes is fundamental to his personal success, an affront? Lin has in no way put God front and center of every postgame and pregame (in the considerable volume of content I’ve seen), maybe cognizant of the sidetracking and counterproductive effects of Tebow’s declarations.
If you’re one who says “Linsanity is just like Tebowmania!” and hope for his failure, then what you’re really saying is that you just don’t like popular things. You are allowing yourself to be willfully cynical by default, just resenting a classic rags to riches sports story. I hated lots of popular bands at different times earlier in my musical appreciation life because they were… popular. But then I grew up just enough, actually listened to some of them, thought about it, and hated the ones that merited it. You see, good is good. Just because I thought N’Sync was awful and popular didn’t mean Justin Timberlake solo couldn’t be very good and popular. I think Nickelback sucks because they suck, not because they sell out arenas. And if that purely headline-induced cynicism is your mode here, one can then freely question whether it was your mode with Tebow too, despite what you might have found and clung to as justifiable rationale.
Bitter anti-Lin rooters have to justify their leanings in a new way, a different way, a REAL way. Hate the pick-and-roll point guard game? Fine. Think he’ll be dominated by Rose, Paul, Deron and Nash? Okay. Believe defenses will adjust to his tendencies? Let’s go ahead and debate it. I personally think Mike D’Antoni is a hack, and that Lin is benefiting greatly as this year’s system creation, like an Ivy League Raymond Felton. I can’t wait to see if he’s good enough to maintain some excellence as the league sees him over and over.
Just don’t hate Jeremy because Timmy drove you Linsane.
Matt Spiegel is the co-host of The McNeil & Spiegel Show weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @MattSpiegel670.