Jeremy Lin wasn’t the first Asian-American to play in the NBA but he was by far the most prominent and noteworthy and the sociological impact of his NBA career has been hugely significant. It’s worth pausing for a second, though, to imaging being the human being at the centre of all that. It wasn’t easy at the time and it’s been something that Lin has had to learn to live with since. “I think for me as a person, it’s been an evolution from trying to run away from it because I felt like I didn’t like a lot of the side effects of Linsanity,” he explained. “Some family issues that it caused, all the privacy that was taken away from me overnight, and the paparazzi chasing down me and my family and my friends… just a lot of scary things that had happened.”
Jeremy Lin: “There were also just the expectations of the world, almost turning me into some type of superhero. I became this phenomenon and I felt like I lost my humanity in the middle of it. Then eventually, I started to understand racism at a better level, at a deeper level. For so long, I tried to run from being ‘the Asian basketball player’, I just wanted to be a great basketball player – because my whole life, everyone was just talking about [my ethnicity]. I just wanted people to talk about my basketball skills for once, so as I started to run from that, I started to really open my perspective, seeing what racism really does and how embedded it is and how deep it is.”
Jeremy Lin: “Culturally, I realised, this moment is much more than basketball, it’s much more than that season, it is much more than just the New York Knicks and Jeremy Lin – this is a story that will be told for years and years and years and that has shattered so many stereotypes, and so many boxes that society has tried to put on minorities. That’s where I’m at with it now and I’m very grateful. So now, I try to tell the story in meaningful ways, beyond just trying to glorify myself for what I did on the court. But to really talk about what that moment meant to a lot of people and why it meant so much.”
It’s been 10 years since Linsanity, the term coined to describe his meteoric NBA rise with the New York Knicks in 2012. Despite being a part of a cultural phenomenon, Jeremy Lin regrets not using his popularity and platform at the time to generate more awareness for the Asian community. It’s something he wants to fix. “At a certain point, I made peace with it. Maybe I could have done more and should have done more, but now I am trying to do more. I think this school is a part of it.”
Travon Free and Samir Hernandez, the writer-director and EP behind last year’s Best Live-Action Short Oscar winner Two Distant Strangers, today unveiled 38 at the Garden, a new documentary project examining the cultural impact of NBA trailblazer Jeremy Lin and the cultural phenomenon known as “Linsanity” that surrounded him during his 2011-12 season with the New York Knicks.
“I’m really humbled that my story and journey has resonated and touched so many,” added Lin. “Throughout that period of time in my life and since, there has always been an underlying narrative about race, and my hope is that this documentary challenges Asian American stereotypes and can serve as a continued source of pride and inspiration, especially during an unprecedented rise of Asian-American hate and injustice.”
For Jeremy Lin, the first Taiwanese American in the league who was a point guard for the New York Knicks at the time, talk of the era revives some bittersweet reflections. “When I was going through Linsanity, I didn’t understand the weight of it,” he said over the phone while on Lunar New Year break in China. “I knew that the Asian community supported me and I knew that it was an inspiration to everybody, but I didn’t understand the depths of it.”