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'Linsanity' Details Rise of Asian-American Basketball Star

  • Heidi Chang

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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," said 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.

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, he 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 Houston Rockets' Jeremy Lin waves to Filipino fans upon arrival on Oct.7, 2013, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport south of Manila, Philippines, for the first NBA game ever played in the basketball-crazy Southeast Asian nation.

The Houston Rockets' Jeremy Lin waves to Filipino fans upon arrival on Oct.7, 2013, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport south of Manila, Philippines, for the first NBA game ever played in the basketball-crazy Southeast Asian nation.

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?"

Changing perceptions

By breaking stereotypes, co-producer Brian Yang said 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?," said 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."
NBA star Jeremy Lin helps a young player during a basketball camp in Beijing, China, Aug. 25, 2013.

NBA star Jeremy Lin helps a young player during a basketball camp in Beijing, China, Aug. 25, 2013.

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 said. "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."

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.

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