WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 08: Landry Fields #2 of the New York Knicks and Jeremy Lin #17 celebrate after the Knicks defeated the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on February 8, 2012 in Washington, DC.
When basketball fans observe the now-famous “nerd” pregame handshake between New York Knicks guards Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields, many do not realize that when Jeremy flips through an imaginary book, he is actually skimming through the Bible. Moreover, with a concluding point up to the sky, they complete the ritual together with a spiritual nod to God–something often obscured by the prevailing storyline that both players graduated from prestigious universities.
Since entering the NBA and throughout his breakout with the Knicks, Jeremy has consistently been outspoken about his Christian faith. Last week, he even went as far as to give an exclusive interview to the San Jose Mercury News on the condition that the questions would pertain only to his spirituality. As such, his public declarations of faith have drawn comparisons to those of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Fields, on the other hand, has never been publicly known for his religion. Nevertheless, in recent weeks, he has become increasingly vocal about his faith, exemplified by his tweets glorifying God following wins against the Lakers and Timberwolves. As much as Jeremy has revitalized Fields’ basketball game during their winning streak, the young point guard has also seemed to influence his teammate’s boldness in his Christian beliefs.
Jeremy’s spiritual leadership on the Knicks is no anomaly. During his time at Harvard, even through his hailed senior year campaign on the basketball court, served as a leader of a Bible study group for the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Christian Fellowship (HRAACF). He would regularly invite both Christian and non-Christian friends, especially other Harvard athletes, to join in on the discussions and explore spirituality in the context of their lives. The mission of HRAACF was “to know God, and to make God known” and Jeremy took it upon himself to reach out to his immediate community of athletes–even as he wrestled with his own faith and accountability amidst a transition from high school to college that can be jarring for many.
The environment of a university fellowship is unique: College students often face existential crises as they grow into adulthood while a closed campus community provides ample opportunities to influence and be influenced by others. Within this setting, HRAACF promotes principles of community-building, outreach and service, and encourages both a boldness and generosity that rose above the everyday experiences of its members.
For example, during Jeremy’s time at Harvard, the fellowship would regularly hold outreach events, extensively publicized to the entire campus, with speakers who touched on broad issues affecting most college students regardless of faith. Similarly, students would often venture out into Harvard Square in the evening and buy meals for the homeless or walk into the library and pass out bubble tea to stressed students cramming for exams the next day. It was a form of ministry that was not in-your-face, but grounded in the idea of ministering through example as a “servant leader”–a concept that Jeremy embraces on and off the court.
For a unique demographic that was constantly seeking to balance filial piety and independent assertiveness, personal achievement and selfless giving, the fellowship provided a forum for active engagement and accountability. Often, the values of an Asian-American heritage, Christian faith, and Harvard ambition clashed, and it was through vibrant Bible study discussions and venturing outside our comfort zones that we began to reconcile those tensions. It was at these crossroads from which the Jeremy we know today emerged: a basketball star who actively engaged the tensions of his heritage and faith in relation to his role in various communities at Harvard.
Today, Jeremy openly embraces his Taiwanese and Asian-American heritage while being honest about where he draws his confidence and perseverance: his faith. This self-acceptance leads to his ability to transcend such pressures with assurance and poise that fuel his leadership on the Knicks. Whether it is motivating his teammates to play team defense or empowering Landry Fields to become a vocal partner in his expressions of faith, Jeremy possesses qualities that may seem contradictory but join to define who he is today–a “servant-leader.” He genuinely overflows with humble praise for his teammates and coaches while still possessing the fiery confidence to drain a game-winning three-pointer. It is a paradoxical display of bold humility that can only be explained by the unique background and journey of Jeremy Lin.
June-Ho Kim is a medical student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who attended Harvard College and became friends with Jeremy Lin through the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Christian Fellowship and their Bible study group. His blog can be found at http://junehokim.tumblr.com.
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