I loved the Jeremy Lin documentary, Linsanity. It’s one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen and I think it’ll resonate on many different levels for people who see it. OK, that’s me being reserved. Let me shed the reservations and say: GO SEE THIS FILM (if you can find it)! For one, if you love basketball, it’s something you should see because it’s one of the biggest stories in hoops- wait, one of the biggest stories in sports, period. Jeremy Lin is not just phenomenal because of his race, but because he’s a damn good baller. I’m sick and tired of people saying he’s only gotten attention because he’s Asian-American. Asian-American had nothing to do with him setting the record for the highest total of points in his first five starts since 1976-1977. That’s more than Kobe or Jordan (he also happened to score 38 points against the Lakers after Kobe claimed he hadn’t heard anything about “Linsanity”). More importantly, if you have an interest in seeing someone passionately pursue their dream and achieve it on a global scale, this is a film for you. The director, Evan Leong has directed a fast-paced documentary that goes by faster than the 90 minutes or so it lasts. It’s incredible that he began his filming two years before Linsanity broke out.
Part of the allure of the film is the charm and humility with which Lin carries himself. He seems like an everyday guy aside from, well, being a NBA star. But it’s more than that. He has a fire for hoops that he’s pursued since he was young. The films shows his rise and dedication, his knack for scoring the ball despite “not looking the part.” That last line is a theme that gets repeated over and over. If he weren’t an Asian-American, he states he probably would have been more heavily recruited by colleges. He did, afterall, lead his high school team to the state title and was named first team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year. Despite wanting to play for local universities Stanford and (further south) UCLA, none guaranteed a spot so he went to Harvard which, along with Brown, were the only two universities guaranteeing a spot. He played extremely well there and one of the most touching moments is when he talks about how his assistant coach actually told Lin he really thought he could go pro (nearly bringing tears). Lin worked out with several of the NBA teams and hoped the Knicks would draft him as he did really well during their workouts. Draft day, all the teams passed and it was painful to watch. The first pick of that draft was John Wall and I was excited Lin outplayed him during the summer league game.
(As an aside, let’s look at the 2010 draft. Skipping John Wall and Evan Turner, I don’t even know any of the players in the next twenty picks aside from DeMarcus Cousins and him, only because he’s always getting into trouble with the Kings. That’s the draft in which Lin wasn’t even picked.)
It is incomprehensible how someone so talented can be so overlooked, race or not. Some of the disturbing moments in the film was seeing the racism he faced, particularly with the footage in the college games with people yelling expletives like, “Go back to China!” and, “Open your eyes.” I mean, can you imagine the fallout if someone said something similar to players of other nationalities in corresponding terms? Lin’s assistant coach put it in a very gracious manner saying it was a form of respect that they would go so low to try to get into Lin’s head. But it was also interesting that Lin himself shrugged most of the racism off, never lowering himself to respond to it and instead drowning it out or just simply outplaying opponents.
(*As an ironic aside to this picture, fortune cookies, as pointed out in Iron Man 3, are an American invention)
It becomes clear a huge part of his success is how mentally fierce he is. He draws much of his strength from his faith and when things get discouraging, he fights through it. Adversity, whether in the form of an injury in his junior year in high school or getting cut by the Warriors and then the Rockets on Christmas, strengthens him. At the same time, he doesn’t hide his vulnerability nor his doubts which is again what makes the documentary so compelling. He questions whether this was truly destiny, and his candor is what makes him so relatable.
In terms of craft, the editing is very deftly done. Even though I knew many of the stories in the film, there were new insights and angles that made them feel fresh (for example, actually seeing the sofa Lin slept on before the Linsanity hit and he could get his own place). Evan Leong takes us back to the beginnings and shows us Lin’s roots. There’s interviews with his family, former coaches, friends, and even bloggers that help frame the context of the events from a basketball perspective, social perspective, and family perspective. It elevates his life from being a feel-good inspiration to a cultural phenomenon.
I couldn’t help but be impressed at how well Lin handled the “Linsanity” when things started going crazy. He has a lot of poise and doesn’t let the pressure change him. The basketball moments are fantastic. The juxtaposition of past and present accentuate the emotional impact of the narrative. Lin’s personal convictions anchor his drive. Though not in the film, Kobe Bryant had this to say about Lin: “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.” In other words, Lin never had the opportunity to showcase himself before New York. Through a combination of luck and timing, he got his chance. He could have gotten bitter before that, could have given up and walked away from the game. But he persevered, worked hard, and got himself ready so that when it was his time, he was able to step up. This is a story of both perseverance and luck, though luck in the sense of the Seneca quote, “opportunity meeting preparation.”
One of the more interesting thoughts the film provoked had to do with the idea of faith leading to success. There are many people who are incredibly religious but are, unfortunately, unable to achieve their dreams. In the rare cases where faith and success are so deeply interlinked, it’s incredibly inspiring. But for every person that makes it, there are thousands more that have failed miserably. What solace can they find? It’s like the Horatio Alger myth that Stephen Steinberg talks about in The Ethnic Myth with its stories of rags-to-riches. It is a little misrepresentative to call Jeremy Lin an “underdog.” On the surface, he has a lot going for him including an Ivy League education, parents who supported his “hoop dreams,” and the fact that he grew up in Palo Alto which helped him establish connections with the Warriors owner before he was the owner. This is not to take any credit away from Lin as he worked really really hard and is a talented basketball player. But as the documentary shows (and as Kobe pointed out), he didn’t just come out of nowhere. He had seeds and roots that helped him get where he is. The complexity and all the variables involved in achieving his success are reminiscent of the factors described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
Getting back to the film, even fiction couldn’t have done it better. Lin faced challenges every step of the way which he overcame. I loved Linsanity and can heartily recommend this film to anyone. I kept on wanting to see more footage. I know I am feeding the Linsanity but I can’t help it. I am officially Linsane.