“Linsanity”: Lifting off in a Theater Near You

The fall season is by far my favorite time of year, when what I call the “Big 3” of American sports are firing on all pistons. The NFL season is in full swing, MLB playoff fever brings intensity and potential drama to every game (except for my beloved White Sox), and the NBA season launches into another season of new-reasons-to-hate-Lebron-and-the-Miami Heat. Sorry, maybe that last part is just me. Despite the Chicago Bears’ early success and my hopes for a championship run by the Bulls and Derrick Rose, the one thing this fall that I’m most excited to see is Jeremy Lin play his second full season as a NBA starter.

As most of us recall, Jeremy Lin got his big break two years ago with the New York Knicks. Out of desperation, the then-lousy Knicks turned to the relatively unknown Taiwanese American bench player to start as their point guard. What followed became known as Linsanity. To sum up, Jeremy Lin, a 23- year-old with a little over a year in the NBA, led the Carmelo Anthony-less Knicks to six straight wins and a 9-3 record in his 12 starts before the All-Star Break. He averaged 22.5 points and 8.7 assists during this time and even put up 38 points to defeat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.  In his 26 games that season as a starter, he averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game and established himself as a legit NBA point guard.

But the most important aspect of Linsanity wasn’t his stats, the wins, or even the fact that he seemingly came out of nowhere to shine on basketball’s biggest stage, Madison Square Garden. Linsanity’s impact went much further than just sports; he helped start a breakdown of long-standing stereotypes about Asian Americans, both for the mainstream world and for Asian Americans. MLB has long had Asian baseball players, but the NBA is widely (and wrongly) considered a sport dominated by more elite athletes (e.g. Michael Jordan). With Lin’s arrival, Asian Americans could suddenly view anything as possible, including the NBA. Unlike Yao Ming and his intimidating 7’6” height, Lin looks like many of us, just slightly taller and in better shape. Linsanity encouraged young Asian Americans to boldly forge and pursue their own dreams, which might go beyond becoming a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. This is why Linsanity sold-out so many arenas and why so many Asian Americans became Jeremy Lin fans overnight.

For my part, Linsanity impacted me when I received a flurry of calls looking for the Asian American perspective about the many ignorant and racist comments made by sports media. Suddenly, media was seeking out Asian Americans to hear how we felt about Lin and how we’re viewed by others. This is a pretty rare occurrence, but Linsanity made it possible.

This upcoming weekend, the documentary “Linsanity”, directed by Evan Jackson Leong and narrated by Daniel Dae Kim (Love Hawaii Five-O!) comes to Chicago. This movie – which sold out at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year – captures the cultural storm that was Linsanity in 2011, but also delves into Jeremy Lin’s earlier struggles to overcome racism and setbacks along the way to the NBA.

Last year, Lin signed to play with the Houston Rockets and he struggled to adjust to new teammates and a new offensive scheme. Now with the addition of Dwight Howard, new hopes arise for Lin and the Rockets. But before we focus on the new NBA season, let’s all remember and enjoy the cultural frenzy that was Linsanity, and support an independent film that captures that important moment in Asian American history. I got my tickets already, do you?

–Andy Kang, Advancing Justice—Chicago Legal Director

Lin on the cover of Time magazine in 2012

Look out, Asian man dunking!

Go see this movie!