Evan Jackson Leong, the director of the entertaining and inspiring documentary “Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story,” tells interviewers that Lin’s story “transcends sports, race and culture.” That’s true enough, because Jeremy Lin‘s story — a determined young man loves basketball above all else but is ignored by colleges and the NBA despite his talent, and perseveres in the end by sheer determination and religious faith — is universal.
But as an Asian American, Lin’s story is inspirational for me precisely because he’s Asian American. His ethnicity was the main reason he was dismissed by colleges and the NBA, even though he was an all-star leader in high school.
I hope everyone watches “Linsanity,” which went on sales on DVD this week, and is inspired by his universal story, or his incredible accomplishment as an Asian American.
I know many Asian Americans watched it at film festivals, or during one of many special fundraising screenings for Asian and Asian American nonprofit organizations across the country. In Colorado it was screened by an Asian American fraternity at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a Japanese American history group in Denver. If Asians didn’t watch the documentary in a theater, they probably watched it on cable TV — Comcast featured it in its Asian American channel for months.
But it’s great to revisit “Linsanity” on DVD (wish there were some extras added, though).
If you’re like me and not a rabid basketball fan who followed college hoops assiduously, the Chinese American athlete’s story exploded out of the blue on the national consciousness in February of 2012, when he came off the New York Knickerbockers’ bench and led the team to an unexpected winning streak. His playing sparked an international media frenzy and ginned up fans (especially Asian American fans) to a foamy froth of enthusiasm that got coined “Linsanity,” a perfect description of the mania that suddenly surrounded him.
Luckily for those of us who hadn’t heard of Jeremy Lin until that winning streak, director Leong began paying attention when he first heard of the player while Lin was playing in relative obscurity for Harvard. He was tearing up the Ivy League because he wasn’t even recruited by his hometown school, Stanford.
“Linsanity” isn’t a wiz-bang work of filmmaking, but because Leong was there before Linsanity happened, the filmmaker has incredible access. That’s what makes this film special.
Like a reality TV show where participants give ongoing interviews during the episodes commenting on what’s going on in “real time,” Lin is captured on camera giving ongoing commentary about the ups and downs of his career. Leong began filming the athlete when he made it onto the Golden State Warriors, and hung in there even when the Warriors dropped him, and the Houston Rockets picked him up then cut him, and the Knicks signed him only to leave him on the bench. Leong and his camera were there when the spotlight clicked on and Lin suddenly got his chance to play two years ago, and lit Madison Square Garden on fire.
The game highlights are great, but so are the home movies provided by Lin’s family throughout his childhood, high school and college years, and the insights into Lin’s relationship with his parents, siblings and his religion. Leong traveled with the family to Taiwan to visit extended family, and the insight into Lin’s cultural roots adds a familiar layer to any Asian American who’s visited relatives
in the “old country.”
“Linsanity” doesn’t follow Lin after he signed with the Houston Rockets in late 2012, when the Knicks declined to match Houston’s three-year, $25 million offer. Lin’s career with Houston hasn’t had the electrifying arc of his time with the Knicks, but, as Leong says in an interview, the Linsanity that overtook his quiet documentary project was the perfect place to stop the narrative anyway.
No matter where Lin’s career path leads, the period that’s captured in “Linsanity” is a special moment that I’m glad was captured as it unfolded.
Here’s the trailer for “Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story”:
Had to include a link to the Oregonian’s fine short piece correcting Adidas’ incorrect assertion that Jeremy Lin is the first Asian American in the NBA. He’s actually the sixth, if you include Wat Misaka, the Japanese American who was drafted by the Knicks in 1947 (yes, before Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in Major League Baseball) back when the Knicks were part of the old Basketball Association of America.