National Edition

Faith and family fuel Sundance 'Linsanity' documentary

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 11:25 a.m. MST

Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 19 2014 6:01 p.m. MST

"Linsanity"

Sundance Institute

Professional basketball player Jeremy Lin was unemployed on Christmas Day 2011. Two months later, he had appeared on two Sports Illustrated covers during back-to-back weeks.

Over the course of its final 30 minutes, the new documentary “Linsanity,” which premiered in January at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, capably captures Lin’s meteoric rise on the basketball court. But as compelling as Jeremy Lin’s athletic success has been, it’s still a story that’s already been told ad nauseam.

What makes the documentary feel like a breath of fresh air is the first hour or so, in which director Evan Jackson Leong faithfully retraces the progression of Lin’s childhood and family upbringing. Even though its title is eponymous with a cultural meme built around basketball, the most insightful revelations in “Linsanity” have much more to do with faith than sports.

'God orchestrated this'

The ascension of Jeremy Lin commenced when he earned the job of starting point guard for the New York Knicks in early February 2012 — and then scored more points in his first five starts than any player in NBA history. Owing both to the fact that Lin played in the largest media market in the U.S. and, as one of the first Asian-American NBA players, instantly captivated the imaginations of millions of basketball fans worldwide, an international phenomenon known as Linsanity ensued.

Much of the initial media coverage about Lin shared common narratives about his parents emigrating from Taiwan, and him overcoming long odds to even make it onto an NBA roster after playing his college ball at Harvard — a school that rarely sends players to the pros. Every once in a while, an article mentioned Lin’s Christian beliefs. Religious scholar Timothy Dalrymple, who met Lin when they both attended Harvard, wrote a book that touched on Lin's religious beliefs, but the book gained little traction nationally. In terms of the mainstream media, details about the Lin family’s faith felt few and far between.

Like the documentary's namesake, Leong is Asian-American and Christian. During a recent interview with the Deseret News, Leong proffered his belief that the mainstream media simply chose the path of least resistance in focusing much more on the Asian-American aspect of Lin's success than his Christianity.

"I think a lot of people in the media are afraid of (the Christian angle)," Leong said. "If Jeremy were scientologist or Buddhist, it’d be a different story for everybody. But because he’s Christian, you instantly have this stigmatism attached to what that is. …

"With this documentary I wanted make sure people see Jeremy as a full, three-dimensional character on all the levels — that there are scenes when he’s happy, he’s sad, he’s funny, he has faith, he loses it, he’s angry — because all these things make him who he is."

In "Linsanity," Lin himself succinctly summarizes the intersection of his religious conviction and career: “I know God orchestrated this whole thing. There was too much out of my control — the way it happened is just miraculous.”

Family and faith

Lin is the second of three brothers. The Lin boys were taught to put God first, family second and athletics third. Even then, their father cultivated in them a deep love of fundamental basketball from a very early age. And basketball truly was a family affair for the Lins. Throughout Jeremy’s years of youth basketball, his mother often served as the “team mom.”

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