‘Linsanity’: Ballin’

October 7, 2013

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When it happened in the spring of 2012, the Jeremy Lin phenomenon – commonly referred to as “Linsanity,” from which the new documentary takes its name – was startling for its prevalence.

As Evan Leong’s new film shows, the excitement in New York was infectious. It spread worldwide – particularly in Asia, but also Europe and other places. Part of it was that Lin was the first American-born Asian player to crack an NBA starting lineup. Most of it, however, was that Lin came out of nowhere and lit up the entire NBA, on a New York Knicks team that had been left for dead despite the signing of both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire.

For about a month, Lin was all that anyone in New York could talk about: the lanky Harvard graduate who played point guard like he was born to it, burning Kobe Bryant, among others, in a string of victories that saw him responsible for last-minute heroics and for keeping the team in the game at all.

Leong had been following Lin since he was a star at Harvard. He had access to Lin’s parents and brothers, who gave him old home videos of tiny Jeremy playing in rec leagues and then on AAU teams. Undoubtedly, Leong was looking at this as a chance to examine the expanding role of Asian-Americans in all fields – in this case, professional sports.

But, until Lin’s breakthrough with the Knicks, it looked like Leong would end up with a more wistful, sobering tale. Until Lin came to New York, he hadn’t found his groove in the pro game and seemed destined to be a footnote.

Still, his history indicated he was capable of bigger things. He took his Palo Alto team to the California high school championship against a larger, stronger, nationally ranked team. Then he’d held his own against Big East teams while at Harvard, while maintaining a strong GPA.

But Lin went undrafted by the NBA teams; after lighting up a summer league against highly drafted rookies, he eventually was signed to his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors. Then he’d been cut to clear salary-cap space, picked up by Houston, sent to the development league and, finally, signed to a short-term contract by the Knicks.

Close to being cut by New York, he was down to his final chance – and tore the New Jersey Nets a new one in an explosive performance. He came back and did the same thing against Kobe and the Lakers – and took the Knicks on a month-long winning streak that energized the city and turned him into an overnight sensation.

Lin is an easy-going and earnest presence when he talks to the camera. He makes no bones about how much his faith means to him; he’s a devout Christian and though it’s not exactly obtrusive, it does get repetitious. He’s quick to credit his faith for his success and to explain his failures as the result of not giving enough credit to his Maker.

Still, this isn’t a message film – it’s a sports documentary. It’s nice to see an athlete who understands the role of sports in the larger picture and doesn’t think the world revolves around how he plays.

“Linsanity” is unchallenging but exciting and enjoyable, an underdog story with a relatively happy ending. Lin did prove he could play in the NBA, while conscious of his position as a role model to other Asians.

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