ESPN probes Jeremy Lin's 'inner life,' while paying little or no attention to his soul

I think it's time for a short break from the Indiana wars, at least for a day. So what do you remember about "Linsanity"?

I am referring, of course, to those crazy weeks in 2012 when an unheralded point guard from Harvard University took over professional basketball, which is the kind of thing that can happen when you start playing out of your mind in Madison Square Garden wearing a Knicks jersey.

Jeremy Lin also received attention here at GetReligion because of the role that his Christian faith played in his life. Two headlines capture the tone  -- Sarah Pulliam Bailey's "Jeremy Lin, the Knick's Tim Tebow?" and a piece that I wrote, looking ahead, called "So, is Jeremy Lin a good fit in New York City?" One quote from the New York Times coverage says it all:

If Lin’s storybook week captured the imagination of New York City and the wider sports world, it hit the community of Christian Asian-Americans like a lightning bolt.

You get the picture. The world is not full of over-achieving evangelical Christians from Harvard who are also Asian-Americans and play point guard in New York City. So what happened? First he was traded to a city where, to be blunt about it, he was not as unusual -- playing for the Houston Rockets. But then he was shipped to one of the darkest black holes in the current NBA universe, the rebuilding with little to build with Los Angeles Lakers.

This brings us to the current ESPN: The Magazine feature on Lin, that ran under the massive double-decker headline: "Isolation Play -- It isn't Kobe's taunts or humiliating viral videos that have made this the toughest year of Jeremy Lin's life. It's the feeling that, as hard as he tries, he just doesn't fit in."

So while examining this young man's dark night of the soul, want to guess which part of the Lin story ESPN all but ignored?

Let's just say that, in the past, I urged mainstream reporters covering this story to take seriously whether or not Lin was able to find a good church where he fit in while struggling with the unique pressures of NBA life. That's still a good research angle. However, it helps if you are even willing to follow up on the faith angles in the original coverage. Duh.

Remember that the whole purpose of this story is talk about Lin's sense of not fitting into the whole LA scene in Southern California. This is a story, readers are told, about his "inner life." It's about his loneliness, his sense of losing direction. Asian-Americans are, of course, a major force in Southern California life -- so that could be a positive factor in the story. So why does Lin feel so out of place with the Lakers, other than reasons linked to the personality and talent structures of this collapsing team?

Maybe a believer like Lin would think that faith has something to do with coping during a crisis like this? Does he have a church? Are there any other believers linked to the Lakers? Come to think of it, what is the state of, as evangelicals would put it, Lin's faith and "walk with the Lord"?

This is about as close as readers get to information that addresses these obvious topics:

WHENEVER VISITORS ENTER Lin's first-floor two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, just a 10-minute, palm-fronded walk from the hiss of the Pacific Ocean, their verdict is always the same: This place is very ... you.
Stuffed pandas and toucans cling to stalks of fake bamboo in the foyer. Racks of sneakers, a dozen rows tall, cover one wall in the living room, near an electric piano holding Lion King sheet music and the computer where Lin, now 26 years old, plays Defense of the Ancients online. Floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the patio, where he grills nutritionist-approved slabs of grass-fed steak. Outside the kitchen hangs a white canvas board where his family and friends have used different-colored Sharpies to inscribe, among other messages, an inside joke about Chipotle and Bible verses. With a floor plan just shy of 1,200 square feet, rent is a fiscally conservative sliver of an expiring three-year, $25.1 million contract.

Close, but the shot clanks off the rim. Later on, there is this description of the crisis that surrounds him:

When it comes to talking about work, though, those walls instinctively shoot back up. He cannot help but tune out his dad and mom, who call from Palo Alto with concerns about his well-being. He refuses to engage friends' complaints about Lakers coach Byron Scott giving his starting job to little-known Ronnie Price in December, then to littler-known Jordan Clarkson in January. The backup's backup isolates himself from the loved ones featured on that canvas board, from the people who cannot help but watch the games, read the articles, scroll down to the comments and emerge, in Lin's words, "just super pissed off."
"It got to a point where I had to tell all of them, 'Look, I appreciate you guys being on my side,'" he says. "'But all this stuff about how upset you guys are, or how bad you think this is, I don't want to hear any of it. I can't carry that negativity to work.' "

This is the kind of moment in which believers tend to talk about friends, community, Bible studies, church, etc. Perhaps Lin brought that up. Perhaps he declared that topic off the table. Who knows? Certainly not ESPN readers.

There's lots of talk about Kobe and the super-macho cursing world of hoops ego, and how Lin just doesn't fit in there. This is addressed as a matter of race. Might it have more to do with faith and lifestyle? What do other Christians on the team say? Just trying to think like a journalist, here.

Finally, at the very end, there is this brief glimpse into, well, Lin's inner life.

"There are times," Lin says, playing with a sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies at his dining table, "when I just need to go out there and hoop."
This is something of a paradox, inconveniently, and antithetical to Lin's human impulses, which call for introspection and obsession as his method of problem-solving. If he's not yet confident enough to stop thinking, he needs to think about why he's not being confident. "I can look at his body language on the floor and tell when he's in his own mind," says one of his agents, Roger Montgomery. "Like, 'If I do this, I can show everybody I can go left now.'"
All of which leads Lin to sleeplessness and, well, God. "I pour my heart out after games," he says. "I don't have to sugarcoat anything. I complain, I vent." Then, "I start to regain peace. I want to be present, in the moment."
I wonder whether Lin's life being this cinematic makes him more eager to confide in an unseen, mysterious force. "One hundred percent," he says brightly. "I thought my career in the NBA was over. And then New York happened." He hasn't stopped talking to God since.
Now, as his clock's hour hand ticks toward shrimp sushi, Lin points behind my head, to his white canvas board. He begins to break down John 3:30, written out in purple Sharpie: He must increase, but I must decrease.

Yes. Continue. Nope, that's the end of the story.

Perhaps this topic should have been the beginning and the the end of the story?

Just saying.

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