‘Linsanity’ rekindles NBA magic
Maybe it’s a little soon to remember “Linsanity,” that magical month or so in which Chinese-American Jeremy Lin changed the face of pro basketball.
It was only February and March of 2012 that Lin, on the verge of being cut by his third team in short order, sleeping on friends’ and relatives’ sofas, exploded into stardom “on the biggest basketball stage in the world” – New York, playing for the Knicks.
But the third act of the new documentary about him, “Linsanity,” is still a giddy piece of filmmaking – a highlight reel of dunks on John Wall, treys over Dirk Nowitzki and in-your-face moments with Kobe Bryant, all set to the incredulous, clumsy and sometimes downright racist reaction from America’s sportsocracy – play-by-play announcers, reporters, radio chat-show hosts and headline writers. It’s good to remember how the undrafted Lin, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound point guard from Harvard, flew in the face of racial expectations of how we view NBA players, and how he delighted fans – especially Asian ones – as he did.
That third act would make a thoroughly entertaining ESPN documentary, a half hour in length, much like their recent treatment of baseball’s moment of “Fernandomania.” Evan Leong’s “Linsanity” had a lot more access than that. He followed the guy from Harvard to his struggle to break into the NBA. He had access to his ex-pat Taiwanese family, to home movies of little Jeremy lighting up YMCA, AAU and high school leagues.
And he befriended Lin, a modest, devout Christian from Palo Alto, Calif., a young man who only thrives when expectations are low and the chance to shock and awe opponents who underestimate him are high. Lin is an actively involved role model, running a basketball camp for very young kids in his hometown, emphasizing the “faith, perseverance and opportunity” that played a role in his story.
He’s nuts about “The Lion King,” grateful that first Golden State, then Houston and then the Knicks gave him a shot. And he’s as amazed as anybody else that on his last chance to stick with a team, he blew up, deciding to throw caution, nerves and expectations out the door.
“I only play for God,” he says. That was his Road to Damascus moment, a veritable out-of-body experience – lots of them – on the court. And that makes “Linsanity” something of a faith-based film, with parents, his pastor and others talking about religion and how it focuses him.
Conspicuously absent are fresh interviews (not cribbed news clips) of his NBA peers, the teammates he lifted during that epic 2012 Knicks streak. Pro coaches, even in news clips, are guarded when talking about him, as if even they can’t get back preconceived notions about what he should be – slow, short, outclassed. And the film leans awfully hard on the overcoming-adversity stuff.
But “Linsanity” is a solid piece of work that makes you root for the guy and hope he has another “Linsane” streak in him before he hangs it up.