‘Linsanity’ Details Rise of Asian-American Basketball Star Jeremy Lin

A new documentary, Linsanity, captures the unlikely rise of NBA star Jeremy Lin. Heidi Chang produced a radio story about it for Voice of America.

NBA Star Jeremy Lin |  Photo courtesy Ketchup Entertainment

By Heidi Chang
December 3, 2013
Click here to view the story on Voice of America

A record 92 foreign players from 39 countries began this season in the professional U.S. basketball league, but none is from Asia.

At the moment, there is only one Asian-American player in the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) and his name is Jeremy Lin.

Listen to the Story (Time 4:12)

      Linsanity - Linsanity

 

Houston Rockets' Jeremy Lin (7) drives the ball around Atlanta Hawks' DeMarre Carroll (5) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game on Nov. 27, 2013 in Houston, Texas.

Houston Rockets’ Jeremy Lin (7) drives the ball around Atlanta Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll (5) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game on Nov. 27, 2013 in Houston, Texas. | AP Photo

 

Unlikely journey

A new documentary, Linsanity, follows Lin’s unlikely journey to become a breakout NBA star last season.

Born and raised in California, Lin has always loved the game and even led his high school basketball team to the state championship. But no college offered him an athletic scholarship.

Lin ended up playing at Harvard, a school known for its academics, where he broke Ivy League basketball records. Still, no NBA team drafted him.

As Lin struggled to prove he could play in the professional league, a group of Asian-American filmmakers began documenting his rocky start.

Jeremy Lin, right, playing basketball for Harvard in an NCAA basketball game in Boston, Dec. 9, 2009. | AP Photo

Jeremy Lin, right, playing basketball for Harvard in an NCAA basketball game in Boston, Dec. 9, 2009. | AP Photo

 

Rocky start

“We started this four years ago. You know, as a filmmaking team we went through the same journey that he [Lin] went through,” says Evan Jackson Leong, who directed the project. “You know, getting cut. As his downs were going down, we were also going down with our project, because no one really cared about what was going on with our project.”

Leong kept the cameras rolling during some of Lin’s darkest hours, even after the free agent point guard was cut twice from NBA teams. The filmmakers initially planned to create a web series about Lin, never imagining how things would turn out.

The documentary captures the story of an underdog trying to break through barriers in a sport where Asian-Americans are extremely rare.

Linsanity Filmmakers: Producer Chris, director Evan Jackson Leong, Brian Yang and Allen Lu | Photo © Heidi Chang

Linsanity Filmmakers: Producer Chris Chen, director Evan Jackson Leong, Brian Yang and Allen Lu | Photo © Heidi Chang

 

Breaking barriers

Lin recalls being on the receiving end of racial taunts from spectators and other players early in his career.

“When I was growing up, I was playing in the AAU [amateur] tournaments. We’d be playing games, and a couple times people would be like, ‘Yo, take your ass back to China,’ or like ‘You’re a Chinese import,’ or whatever. When I got to college, it just, like, got crazy. ‘You Chink, can you even open your eyes? Can you see the scoreboard?’ You know, just like crazy stuff.”

Despite it all, Lin fought to stay in the game. When the New York Knicks finally gave him a chance to play in 2012, no one expected he would lead his team on such an amazing winning streak, it would spark a global phenomenon known as “Linsanity.”

The film recounts how Lin became an overnight media sensation and also how some members of the media used racial stereotypes and innuendos to describe him.

One ESPN broadcaster commented about Lin, “He’s handled everything very well as you said, unflappable. But if there’s a chink in the armor, where can Lin improve his game?”

Another broadcaster showed an image that they had created, and said, “Yes, that’s real, Jeremy Lin coming out of a fortune cookie.”

Hawaii Five-0 stars, Daniel Dae Kim, who narrated the film "Linsanity," and producer BrianYang, along with director Evan Jackson Leong explain why making the film was so meaningful to them at the Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase in 2013. | Photo © Heidi Chang

Hawaii Five-0 stars, Daniel Dae Kim, who narrated “Linsanity,” and producer BrianYang, talk about the film with director Evan Jackson Leong at the Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase in 2013. | Photo © Heidi Chang

 

Changing perceptions

Hawaii Five-O stars, Daniel Dae Kim and Brian Yang also contributed to the project.

Kim, who narrated the film, says, “It really strikes at the heart of what it means to have dreams. And what it means to work hard, and how failure and success is seen in those terms. And so regardless of where they take this film around the world, anyone can sympathize and identify with Jeremy’s journey because most of us have dreams and hopes.”

By breaking stereotypes, co-producer Yang says Lin is changing perceptions and helping pave the way for more diversity in the sport.

“NBA teams are now giving other Asian-American athletes a second look,” Yang said. “I think Jeremy’s story has affected the way coaches and recruiters…think and that’s important.”

In the documentary, Lin credits his faith for guiding him throughout his journey. And that made it especially meaningful for his cousin, Allen Lu, who also helped produce the film.

“For me, the thing that I draw a lot from the journey that we’ve been through is that, is like, where do you draw your hope? Where do you draw your strength?,” says Lu. “And for Jeremy and myself, and a lot of us here, you know, we’re Christians. And that’s where we draw our strength.”

Christopher Chen, another co-producer, was moved by the audience reaction when Linsanity premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.”We had always thought that after Linsanity [premiered], this will hopefully impact the Asian community, the Asian-American community,” Chen says, “But what was most impactful to me is when you have middle-aged white women and Latino women, and older black gentlemen, coming up to us, [saying] ‘Thank you for telling that story. That was very inspirational.'”

NBA Star Jeremy Lin helps a young player during a basketball camp in Beijing, China, Aug. 25, 2013. | AP Photo

NBA Star Jeremy Lin helps a young player during a basketball camp in Beijing, China, Aug. 25, 2013. | AP Photo

 

“Now 25, Jeremy Lin continues to inspire children and young people through his charitable foundation. And on the court, he’s now making millions of dollars playing for the Houston Rockets, one of the NBA teams that once cut him from its roster.

Related:

The “Linsanity” DVD is now available at retail outlets including Amazon.com.

Houston Rockets trade Jeremy Lin to Los Angeles Lakers, USA Today, July 12, 2014

“‘Linsanity’ Details Rise of Asian-American Basketball Star” won the top radio award for General/News Enterprise Reporting in the 2013 Excellence in Journalism Awards contest sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter.

Judges comments: “An important story about the challenges Jeremy Lin has faced, told in a very conversational way.”

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One Response to “‘Linsanity’ Details Rise of Asian-American Basketball Star Jeremy Lin”

  1. Frank Parrino says:

    You astonish us with your reports. The stories you tell would never be TOLD if not for you. In true journalistic style you seem to sniff out the cracks and crevices of a topic and somehow KNOW that others will be interested.
    In these days of talking heads and beautiful television news personalities, your ability to sniff out a story is uncanny.
    Frank Parrino
    Moloka’i


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