Many things have changed since I interviewed Jeremy Lin for WORLD (see "Jeremy's call," Feb. 12, 2011) over a year ago. He's gone from playing in the NBA's Development League to becoming the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, from being relatively unknown to becoming an international sensation, from garnering few points and minutes to becoming the player with the most points in five career starts since 1973.
But some things haven't changed in Lin's life. He still turned to his mentor and pastor Steve Chen when things started getting crazy a few weeks ago.
Chen first met Lin when the basketball star was a freshman in high school in Palo Alto, Calif. The pastor, who had never played basketball, struck up a deal with Lin and his older brother Joshua: They would teach him basketball, and he would teach them the Bible. Lin recalls that it was at that time that Christianity really "clicked" for him and he started serving in his youth group.
When Lin moved back to the Bay Area after college to play for the NBA's Golden State Warriors, he met with Chen weekly for discipleship and reading through books like John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life and C.J. Mahaney's Humility: True Greatness.
Now they talk over the phone even though they are separated by thousands of miles. Chen said Lin has been able to stay upfront about his faith: "Everything you see on TV is Jeremy. He's very thankful for the opportunity, and he realizes that … it is only by God's grace that he has this opportunity."
Lin also still finds support from his family. With Joshua studying at New York University and his parents relocated to the city to be near him, Chen said they provide him with a "source of strength" even as he is away from his home church.
Lin's parents brought him to Chinese Church in Christ (CCIC) in Palo Alto as a toddler, and his father, Gie-Ming, instilled in him and his brothers a love for basketball.
"He raised us with a basketball in our hand and hoop in our backyard," Lin told me in 2010. "I fell in love with the game and any free time I had, I'd be playing basketball." When it got too dark to play, Lin and his brothers Joshua and Joseph would watch the Warriors on TV.
Joshua said the three brothers were close growing up, bound by a common love for basketball, video games, and just hanging out: "Now, when we're all here, it's exactly the same. Basketball, video games, eating, and hanging out."
Joshua's now-famous brother, Jeremy, said his parents have always been supportive of his love for basketball. He remembers his mom spending most of her afternoons driving him from practice to practice as he played for three or four traveling basketball teams in junior high.
Joshua always knew his little brother was good at basketball, but never imagined that he would get this far. "Although making the NBA was … realistically a near impossibility then, it had always been pretty clear that God was going to do something special with Jeremy using basketball," Joshua said in 2010.
Now, the Lin family is facing new challenges, dealing with the torrent of interview requests from media outlets from all across the country and around the world. Chen described them as a "quiet and private" family that isn't used to all the exposure, but now has to learn to deal with being under public scrutiny.
And in terms of Lin's mindset on the court, many of his recent public interviews have echoed his earlier sentiments.
"I think when it comes to basketball, he's genuine in that he wants to work hard for the Lord and not for men," Chen said.
Earlier Lin told me, "There is a lot more eyes on me, rooting me, supporting me or hoping I fail, but that's where I have to be careful to play for God's glory, and when I start playing for everyone else, that's when I lose my passion and the joy of the game, that's when the pressure gets too burdensome."
He described the difficulties of having the humility to realize that "nothing I do on the basketball court will make God love me more," while still being confident of the abilities God has given him to stay competitive in the game.
The last time I spoke to him, Lin mentioned that in his future he planned to "continue growing as a basketball player, continue developing my career, and be able to become a dominant player in the NBA." He also mentioned working with inner city kids through the Jeremy Lin foundation and possibly going into ministry.
While he's progressed in his former goals, Chen said ministry is still on the table: "We as a church are happy for his passion for the gospel, his eagerness to care for others. … Right now he's playing basketball and will continue to do so, but he also expressed a desire for pastoral ministry, and we leave that up to God's timing."
Perhaps the biggest difference from a year ago is in the pews of CCIC. Suddenly, the congregants have abandoned the Warriors and have become Knicks fans.