Have you ever been shooting hoops by yourself and after hitting a few fade away jumpers like Kobe, an array of sky hooks where you channel Kareem and finally whip around the horn dropping 3’s like Ray Allen, you decide you’re pretty much an All-Star and challenge yourself to something more akin to your otherworldly talents: the miraculous half-court shot.
Sure, it takes you a dozen or so tries to bank it in, but after you do, you raise your arms in glory, point to the heavens above, and look around to see if anyone saw your remarkable achievement. They didn’t. That’s almost how Jeremy Lin’s career went down, with nobody watching, until early February of 2012 when he finally broke through, becoming the starting point guard for the New York Knicks and absolutely crushing it during a five-game stretch that left jaws permanently stapled to the floor. “Linsanity” had arrived, and overnight Jeremy Lin became a household name. The journey itself was much, much longer.
Those of you that somehow missed the frenzy, can catch the recap as Ketchup Entertainment’s PG-rated biographical documentary, “Linsanity,” which screened at Sundance and South by Southwest, takes the court October 4th in select US cities, and unspools in Taiwan on October 11th.
Director Evan Leong’s film follows Lin’s journey from his modest suburban upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area to his historic emergence onto the biggest stage at Madison Square Garden. His story is the stuff of dreams, legends. We see through interactions with his close-knit family, being Asian amplifies his achievements more so because of the racial profiling throughout his rise in the ranks, which also downplays nearly all of his athletic accomplishments.
Lin’s story isn’t that much different than any kid who loves a sport so much and dreams to one day play on the biggest stage. He and his brothers shoot hoops, his doting mother allows him to follow his heart and his faith in God carries him to new heights he often believes are out of his grasp.
During the course of the film we often see a humble young man, dumbfounded by his own success, and while he often credits God with the path he takes, we what see on screen is hard work, perseverance and ultimately believing that you belong; those are the traits that carry him to the highest plateaus of success.
And while the true life story never gets overly preachy, we do see how much he and his family are rooted by faith and how key that ingredient is to his success. His will to keep following the dream despite all the obstacles in his way, is at the core, his shining light.
As the film stresses, his achievements on the court alone should have made him a star: success in AAU tournaments, the top player on his high school team that won the California state championship and netted him player of the year honors; yet he received little to no interest from colleges. No Pac-10 conference love, not even Stanford, which was basically next door to Palo Alto where he grew up. Not one Division I scholarship offer…not even Division II or III.
So instead, he took the best offer he had: Harvard, which doesn’t give sports scholarships, but did promise him a chance to start. And while Harvard is often the class of the Ivy League, at that time, they were hardly a perennial bracket-buster or even known much more than five white guys who played with solid fundamentals, yet could easily be mistaken for a top notch intramural squad at a marquee basketball university.
But as Lin had done throughout his career he helped change the culture there by simply working harder than everyone else, which is something we see him do frequently over the course of the film. And after his stellar college career, leading his team in nearly every category, he was on track to do something that almost never happens at an Ivy League school: have a chance to be drafted into the NBA.
His high school and college accomplishments are often glossed over in the film without building much tension or following through with his personal stats, which would have been nice. Instead, we see some amazing game footage of a young Lin, and gain intimate access through Lin’s own words, revealing a timid young man that at times seems unsure of himself and his place in basketball while off the court, but a supremely confident and poised player on the hardwood.
The film’s through line isn’t about all that however, but it certainly could have been as it felt slightly rushed. Instead, the documentary leans heavily on the voices of family, friends, coaches and Lin himself as they all grapple with his emergence onto the NBA landscape as an undrafted rookie and the seemingly impossible series of events that led him to nailing that one-in-a-billion shot (from the bleachers, off the scoreboard, all net) of not just making the roster of an NBA team but becoming a starter, and often times a superstar.
It’s pretty endearing to see someone who you know is a professional basketball player at the highest level yet is so humble and open about his frustrations, considering the brash bravado and entourage culture than usually dominates NBA-level talent. Lin’s a breath of fresh air as a personality, and something the NBA desperately needs right now.
While his inward journey is truncated a bit, it’s his play on the court, and his Asian heritage that’s the reason this documentary exists at all. That’s not surprising, considering that before Lin, only Yao Ming had truly made an Asian impact on the NBA, and that was more because of his immense size and not necessarily his mad skills. Jeremy Lin stands 6′ 3″ and is Asian…and as we continually find out…the last guy anyone really wanted on their team. Yet, Lin defied all the odds to become the first home-grown American Asian to really make noise in the NBA.
That’s where this documentary really hits the sweet spot, when it goes through the ups and downs of his fledgling NBA career: being signed by his favorite team growing up, the Golden State Warriors, to dropping down to the D-League several times, to ultimately being cut and picked up by the Houston Rockets and cut again. That’s the most engaging part, when we truly get to see the struggle a person goes through when their dream come true, only to have it ripped away right under their feet.
February 4, 2012 changed his life. They call it “being in the zone,” and when Lin needed it the most, a day away from him likely being dropped from his contract and out of the league, he rose to the occasion–25 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists–delivering the biggest game of his life. A slam dunk performance that reverberated rims from New York to LA…and stunned a nation of sportscasters and fans who had never seen anything like it. Linsanity swept the nation.
How could a kid, seemingly come out of nowhere, shred defenses and dismantle veteran NBA players? Undrafted. Unnoticed. Underappreciated. Story of his life. He not only lived in the moment that fateful day, he seized the moment, mostly because he played like he always had: he had fun and stayed focused on the task at hand.
It’s not his fault he went under the wire for all those years, it was the ignorance created by a culture of exclusivity, where race often proceeds talent. Not only that, but blinds people to it. Coaches and reporters noticed that even at an early age, Lin was capable of becoming a superstar, but it’s almost like they couldn’t believe it because they had never seen someone like him, an Asian B-baller, achieve that status before. It had never been done, and that’s often the ultimate road block.
Last year, Lin blazed a new trail, and signed a 3-year, $25 million contract with the Houston Rockets…one of the very teams he once played for and overlooked his gifts. Not anymore. With China and the rest of the Asian community cashing in their Yao chips and investing in Lin, it’s a smart franchise decision by the Rockets, as the basketball culture is invading Asia faster and more furiously than any other sport right now. That means lots of Lin jerseys and Linsanity basketball camps. That means branding a franchise with an international superstar that gives an entire culture hope. That’s big money.
The film itself feels as though it’s still a rough cut, but it’s still an incredible story that should be seen. It certainly could have used an addendum, telling the audience how Lin fared this past season (he was third in all-star voting for point guards behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul in the Western Division), but the truth is, his fairy tale is still playing out.
This is probably one of the most improbable sports yarns you will ever hear about and is destined to one day become a classic Disney sports film…which Lin would probably enjoy considering his love of “The Lion King.” But the circle of life is far from being closed, as right now, he’s still living and chasing his dreams.
Making it in the NBA is like winning the lottery–it’s nearly impossible. Still, that shouldn’t stop any kid at a park or schoolyard from attempting to knock down turn-around jump shots like Kobe, a hook shot like Kareem, raining 3’s like Ray Allen…or just being given a chance to play…like Jeremy Lin.
Years from now when Asians and other races are mainstays in the NBA, we can all tip our hats to Jeremy Lin, as he helped shatter the race barrier and dunked in the face of stereotypes. This documentary goes a long way in helping achieve that goal.
RATING: Four out of five whistles.
PHOTOS/ART: Courtesy of Ketchup Entertainment