“Linsanity” Chronicles Basketball Phenomenon: Director Evan Jackson Leong Shares Behind-The-Scenes Experience

In February 2012, NBA player Jeremy Lin went from being a benchwarmer and a backup point guard to a world-famous star player after he carried his team to a seven-game win streak. Lin’s breakout performance sparked a basketball phenomenon known as “Linsanity,” the subject of a documentary of the same name that was screened in Kemper Auditorium last Friday night, followed by a talk by Evan Jackson Leong, the film’s director.

Lin is the first Asian-American NBA player in the modern era, and his success challenged stereotypes that categorize Asian-Americans as unathletic.

Leong, a sixth-generation Chinese-American from San Francisco, had Lin on his radar long before Linsanity broke out. Inspired to create a documentary about Lin while Lin was a college basketball player at Harvard, he was in fact already in the midst of working on the film when Lin rose to national prominence. The project, which became “Linsanity,” began as a YouTube video.

“We started out when he was at Harvard, [making] this tiny little YouTube video that we thought to do about this kid who could possibly make it to the NBA. We were shooting, and it was awesome he was down to shoot. When he got into the NBA, we were like, ‘Wow, let’s keep shooting because he can do something crazy and there could be a bigger story there.’ So we kept shooting. [We] kept shooting [thinking] maybe his career was going to end here,” said Leong.

During the uneventful beginning of Lin’s career, Leong began to reconsider the documentary and was considering ending the project. Once Linsanity developed, however, Leong found a new focus for the film.

“[Lin] represents something we have never seen before — he represents something that I have always wanted to see… What he did is every Asian-American male’s dream. I was excited to have the opportunity to film [him]. Every film project you do, you put some part of you into it because it is your perspective. Everyone has a different story,” said Leong.

The documentary begins with Lin’s early childhood, capturing his life story through home movies and interviews with family members and teammates. It also portrays the struggles that Lin had to overcome, including stereotypes of Asian-Americans he encountered and the isolation he felt due to his strong religious convictions.

“We knew faith was important to him, [and] it was a very conscious decision of how we dealt with it in the film. Christianity and religion is always a touchy subject, and this was an even [more] personal basketball story. But how I think about it [is that] you have to address that. If you’re talking about a person, you have to stay true to their character. You can’t talk about [Lin] without [talking about] his faith. It was important for him to share [this] too,” said Leong.

Leong chose the title of the documentary carefully.

“[We have decided to] redefine what [Linsanity] means. To [Lin], it does not mean those nine games. When he thinks of Linsanity, he thinks about all the downtimes, all the years of being depressed and everyone not believing him to get to that moment. Linsanity ultimately means believing and faith,” said Leong.

“For me, the film serves as a document of this moment of time. What [Lin] did for the society is huge. He broke the stereotype, [and] he did something that no one has ever done in our community: he has changed the way people look at Asian-American males forever,” he added.