DIR: Evan Jackson Leong | Documentary | Blu-Ray | Colour | 2012 | 88 min | USA | English
Fri, Nov 8 7:15 PM | Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas
Everyone loves an underdog. More than that, everyone loves a good pun. The Linsanity phenomenon has it all. A documentary by first-time filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong, Linsanity chronicles the unexpected 2012 breakout of undrafted NBA bench-warmer Jeremy Lin. A film built around faith and determination, Linsanity highlights the ups and downs of Lin’s non-traditional path to the NBA, and how fans and commentators dealt with the rise of an Asian-American star.
Growing up in Palo Alto, California, Lin hated practicing piano and loved playing basketball. Luckily, his parents were encouraging of his passion. As Lin’s younger brother Joseph recounts, “Not every mom, Asian mom especially, is going to support their child’s playing basketball.” Like many young boys, Lin and his brothers grew up dreaming of the NBA, never thinking it could be a reality. The film is sprinkled with wonderful home movies from Lin’s childhood, as well as a plethora of old game footage from high school and university.
As a 6’3” Asian American, Lin doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical profile of an NBA player. Often overlooked and underestimated, race played a large role in his journey to professional sports. After winning the high school state championship and being named Northern California Division II Player of the Year, colleges still weren’t interested in recruiting him. Lin states, “If I was black I would have gotten D1 scholarship, but that’s my personal opinion.” The only offer to play basketball he received was from Harvard. Even in the Ivy Leagues, the racism was surprisingly brutal, with Lin regularly faced with derogatory taunts from opposing fans.
Following university, another disappointment – Lin was not selected in the 2010 NBA draft. Some say that issues of race played a factor in this as well. For the next two years he bounced around between various teams and the D-League before landing with the New York Knicks in 2012. On the brink of being released, which would most likely end his NBA career for good, Lin unexpectedly led the team to a seven game winning-streak, sparking the world-wide Linsanity craze.
While Lin isn’t the first Asian American player in the NBA, he’s certainly one of the most recognized in modern day sport, with covers on Time, GQ, and Sports Illustrated. In fact, the first non-Caucasian player to ever play in the then known Basketball Association of America was Wataru Misaka in 1947. Of Japanese decent, Misaka served in the U.S. Army prior to playing three games for the New York Knicks. It’s perhaps somehow historically poetic then that Lin had his legendary breakout season in New York.
Partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the film Linsanity raised $167,916 from 2,102 backers for post-production. From their campaign, the filmmakers state, “We have had the exclusive permission to document Jeremy’s personal life for several years now, capturing never-before-seen footage of him at the highest and lowest points in his basketball career.” Filming started well before Lin’s breakout season, and could just have easily become the story of a struggling player who loses his dream. While footage is candid, and there is a lot of insight provided into Lin’s life, there is also a highly evangelical tone to the film. A primarily faith-based documentary, Linsanity focuses on Lin’s devotion to God as the source of his success – something that he has been very open about throughout his time in the NBA.
Although prominently discussed, I felt that the film could have gone even further into the racial issues currently present in professional sport, and especially the commentary around sport – although, that’s a meaty enough topic to be a film unto itself. As highlighted in the film, Lin is the first prominent Asian American to play in the NBA. While Yoa Ming was a star (retiring from the NBA just last month), he is Chinese and represents Asian as the exotic ‘other’ to American audiences. Lin, on the other hand, is a typical American boy from the suburbs – he just doesn’t necessarily look the part of an expected NBA star.
Chock full of home movies, high school and university basketball footage, NBA highlights, newspaper clippings, and the heavy-handed use of motion graphics, Linsanity is well done for what it is. The interviews range from Lin’s family, to Phil Yu of angryasianman.com, to various sports writers and coaches who followed Lin throughout his development. Go into this film expecting a faith-based underdog story that will leave you uplifted. It’s the story of a charming boy-next-door turned superstar, who just might look like you. I left with a Linsane crush.