Oct 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

New film revisits Linsanity 10 years later amid wave of anti-Asian hate

Jeremy Lin, #17 of the New York Knicks, lays up a basket against the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 4, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Photo: Jim McIsaac via Getty Images

When Taiwanese American Jeremy Lin took the court with the New York Knicks in 2012, no one could’ve predicted what would happen next.

Driving the news: Ten years after Lin took the NBA by storm, a new HBO film, titled "38 at the Garden," situates the story of Linsanity in the current era of heightened anti-Asian hate — breathing new life into the magic that shattered the very stereotypes fueling recent surges in hate.

Flashback: Lin, now 34, stunned the world when he led the Knicks to a seven-game win streak in February 2012. As a backup point guard, he had played just 55 minutes across the team's first 23 games.

  • Lin, one of a handful of Asian Americans to make it to the league, had to regularly endure racial slurs and, as he says in the film, was trying hard to make sure he didn't get cut from the team.
  • He scored a career-high 38 points in the team’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 10, outscoring Kobe Bryant.
  • He went on to score at least 20 points in five of the next six games, including 27 and the game-winning three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors just four nights after his explosion against the Lakers.
  • Lin's jersey began selling out everywhere. Asian Americans traveled from all over to watch him play. Many stood out in the crowd with their signs: "Lin-possible is everything."

Between the lines: Until recent years, Asian people were largely invisible or used as the butt of jokes in media and popular culture.

  • But on the court, Lin shattered many of the racist stereotypes long imposed on Asians — the perpetual foreigner, the model minority, the nerd, the robot, the Yellow Peril. He redefined the Asian American identity, even if only for that season.

Details: Director Frank Chi first started conceiving of the 38-minute film in 2020 as anti-Asian hate began to accelerate. At first, he was skeptical anyone would care, but as he started thinking about it more, he realized it was an opportunity to tell an important story.

  • "Anti-Asian violence truly is just the weaponization of stereotypes that have been there forever," Chi told Axios. "And Linsanity is the product of people underestimating him because of stereotypes — I thought about it from that angle from the start."
  • The film includes interviews with Lin, his former Knicks teammates, comedians Hasan Minhaj and Jenny Yang, sports journalist Pablo Torre and more.
  • It explores both the backstory of Lin's rise to fame — just how many times he came close to being cut — and the current landscape of anti-Asian hate in America.

What they're saying: Linsanity is a lot of people's "favorite Asian American memory during the worst time to be Asian American," Chi said. "That's what the 10-year anniversary feels like."

  • He and his team wanted to make a film reminding people, especially Asian Americans, that anything is possible — to "take the shot."
  • They also wanted to send a "hard-hitting message about understanding why anti-Asian violence happens and just humanizing people ... Like if we have to go make our place here, we'll do it just like Jeremy did."
  • "We are all putting out content in the world to try to combat" anti-Asian sentiment, he added. "And hopefully, '38 at the Garden' does do that."

The big picture: Asian Americans remain underrepresented in sports, making up roughly 0.2% of NBA players in the 2021-2022 season, according to The Institute for Diveristy and Ethics in Sports.

  • In 2020, another basketball player called Lin "coronavirus" while he was playing for the G League.
  • "I want better for the next generation of Asian American athletes than to have to work so hard to just be 'deceptively athletic,'" Lin wrote in a Facebook post about the incident.
  • After playing for a few different NBA teams and winning a championship with the Toronto Raptors, Lin became a free agent in 2019. In a speech on Taiwanese Christian media outlet GOOD TV, he said he felt "in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me."
  • He now plays for the Guangzhou Loong Lions in the Chinese Basketball Association.

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