LinsanityPosterYou didn’t have to be a basketball fan to know what “Linsanity” was in 2012, you just needed a pulse. When an athlete like Jeremy Lin surfaces, the whole world can’t help but oogle for a minute or two. Jeremy Lin, undoubtedly, earned the rights to that cagey nickname because, plainly, “insanity” was the only way to describe the speed of light metamorphosis that reshaped his NBA career.

As a member of the globally renowned New York Knicks, Lin reached a Rudy-like prestige, only unlike Rudy, Lin was actually good. Jeremy’s openness about his faith was a proverbial cherry atop his ice cream sundae surprise for Christian sports fanatics, but even those who were not religious respected his steady humility. The documentary Linsanity analyzes what exactly filled Jeremy Lin’s Cinderella story balloon with helium and what role his faith played in his success, if it played one at all.

Linsanity uncovers the speed bumps that handicapped Lin’s hoop dreams. They were many. As an Asian American, raised in Palo Alto, California, Lin ditched piano recitals to dedicate all of his free time to basketball, but he was short and he was… Asian, and an Asian who’s basketball journey began during the pre-Yao Ming era of basketball. The film highlights the multifaceted racial tensions created by not only fans, but even scouts, and, who could forget, sportscasters. Asians were smart. They worked hard, but they weren’t really basketball players, let alone professional ones. The odds were against Lin’s, even from a DNA perspective.

Lin earned his customary “underdog belt” at a young age, flying under the radar in all of his youth leagues. By his senior year of high school, though, Lin had emerged as a Northern California basketball star and was named first team All State and the Northern California Division II player of the year. Averaging 15 points, 7.1 assists, 6.2 rebounds, and 5 steals per game, Lin lead Palo Alto High to a state championship victory over a nationally ranked, Goliath of an opponent. His first big underdog victory. Despite his impressive resumé, Lin received only one Division I basketball scholarship offer… from Harvard. But he excelled there as well, feeling the warmth of the national spotlight when he lead his team, with an attention-demanding stat line, to an away victory against the then 12th-ranked UCONN Huskies.


The UCONN game, paired with the rest of Lin’s impressive collegiate resumé, gave the Harvard standout some national hype heading into the 2010 NBA draft. And yet Lin went un-drafted. One more notch in that underdog belt. As an un-drafted free agent, Lin was signed and cut by a couple teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets; in both situations he teeter-tottered from riding the pine to being sent down to the NBA Developmental League team. A disastrous enough entrance into the league to stab at least a couple more holes into that belt. On December 27, Lin finally landed with the New York Knicks, but he was so far back on their depth chart that he wasn’t even playing in practice. Plagued by the unchanging constancy of his NBA storyline, Lin knew that if he could not find a way to linger on this team roster past February 10, his un-guaranteed contract would expired, essentially euthanizing his NBA career.

After being with the Knicks for over a month, Lin was advised not to ship his car to New York. A less than coy way of saying, “You’re on your way out, kid.” In Linsanity, Jeremy admits that during this time of his career he wrote in his journal that he wished he had never entered the NBA. What was once a finger-painted childhood dream-become-reality, had morphed into a horrific hallucination. It looked like that underdog belt of his had finally run out of surface area for new holes. Then February 4, 2012 happened. Crediting the uninspired play of his team throughout the early parts of the 2011-12 season, then Knicks coach, Mike D’Antoni, requested that management hold onto Lin a little longer than originally planned. D’Antoni was desperate for wins, willing to try anything, even handing the keys over to his fifth string guard. Lin’s final chance to prove himself was against the crosstown rival New Jersey Nets, at home, on the biggest basketball stage in the universe, Madison Square Garden.

linmovieIn a notable segment of Linsanity, Jeremy reminisces on asking teammate Landry Fields if he could crash on his couch the night before the big game, having never rented a place of his own in New York. Fields obliged but warned Lin that his rental couch was about only about 6’ long. Not an ideal resting location for Lin’s 6’3” frame the night before the biggest game of his life. In the film Lin admits to grumbling about his teammate’s generosity, thinking what was offered to him would not be enough. But what was offered to him was all he had. The next day Lin was the first guard off the bench, entering into the game early in the first quarter, and in the illustrious words of the famous theologian, Young Jeezy, he “balled outrageous”. He was out of control. The guy carved up the defense like Freddy Krueger, performing ankle-breaking, triple crossovers and delivering Stockton-esque passes. He dominated the game on both sides of the court. By the end of the regulation, Lin had amassed 35 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists in the most important 36 of his life, giving the Knicks a much needed W. In his famous post game interview that night, a starry eyed Lin said that he was, “Thankful to God for this opportunity to be able to come out here and play with this team.”

Linsanity was unquestionably produced to boast of Lin’s faith; the backbone of his success, what brought him through the valley then, and what would lead him out of a new one in the future. The documentary possesses some serious evangelistic undertones, and while that’s perhaps to be admired, what stood out more than the 187 proclamations of seeking God’s will was how he played in that game on February 4, 2012. He played with courage, the Brené Brown kind, not the Liam Neeson kind.

All was lost for Lin leading into that February night. I know what your thinking: “Joe, how could all have been lost for a Harvard grad with at least a part time NBA gig? Who, even on one of the smallest contracts in the NBA, had probably made more money than you and I will in five years combined?” All was lost for Lin because the dream that took center stage reared it’s ugly, demonic head, destroying all the joy it had previously promised him. The money, the degree, they were but pig’s food (Luke 15:16). When Lin entered the game that night, he was prepared to put the dream six feet under. The eulogy was written, and the ink had dried.

Basketball had given what it had to offer, and it wasn’t enough. With that, Lin was enabled to play, what I’m sure he would say, the most freeing game of his life. He drove to the rim with reckless abandon, bouncing off of big bodies, hitting circus shots, executing “And 1’s”, but he also missed some shots; wide-open lay-ups for that matter. In one particular sequence during the third quarter, Lin missed a three point shot from the left corner. A teammate snagged the offensive rebound, and Lin sprinted to the other corner, only to receive the ball and throw up another brick just seconds later.

There were a collection of flaws in his game that night. There are flaws in every player’s game, in every game they play in. Only that night, those flaws weren’t chains. His talent and ability were no longer paralyzed by the jurisdiction of his shortcomings. It was not until Lin could play amidst his imperfections, showcasing the vulnerability of his game, that he could experience joy in playing basketball. Call it the “baller sanctification”.

It’s a bit poetic to be writing about Jeremy Lin’s basketball prowess in 2014. Linsanity really only lasted 26 games, before Lin’s 11-12 season was ended by a torn meniscus. At the end of the year, Lin was a free agent, once again, and the Knicks wanted nothing to do with their record-breaking diamond in the rough. Still armed with that underdog belt, Lin received only one contract offer from the Houston Rockets, where he still resides as a respectable role player for a contending team. Linsanity was but a supernova blast, burning red hot for a New York minute, until quickly falling back into vast space, and I’m not sure Lin would have it any other way. The neat thing about humility: usually when you desire it, you get it.