Linsanity chronicles a long, hard journey to stardom

Updated: 2013-07-24 10:54

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Linsanity chronicles a long, hard journey to stardom

The protests that erupted in more than 100 US cities last weekend over a court verdict reminded many Americans that racial tensions still exist four and half years after Barack Obama became the first African American president in US history.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the US on Saturday to demand "Justice for Trayvon Day" a week after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of 17-year-old African American high school student Trayvon Martin.

It was hard to imagine any racial discrimination standing in the path to stardom of the first Chinese American NBA player Jeremy Lin, when an audience of hundreds packed a hotel ballroom in Washington DC last Thursday to watch a sneak preview of the documentary film Linsanity, which hits theaters across the US in September.

The racial factors that contributed to Lin's years of under-recruitment are reflected in the words of former NBA player Rex Walters, a Japanese American, that "if (Lin's) white, he's either a good shooter or heady. If he's Asian, he's good at math. We're not taking him."

Lin also believes that he would have been treated differently if he were a different race.

Even after Lin started to play for the Knicks, he was stopped by the security at the players' entrance of Madison Square Garden. "They said, 'Where do you think you're going? Are you a trainer?' And then another security guy came over, saying, 'I think he plays on the team,'" Lin recalled in the 88-minute documentary.

Throughout his years playing at Harvard and later in the NBA, Lin often heard racial jeers from the stands such as: "Sweet and sour pork!" or "Open your eyes!" or "Go back to China!"

On Feb 17 last year, just weeks after Lin became an NBA sensation, ESPN's mobile website used a racial slur - "Chink in the Armor" - to describe Lin after a Knicks' loss to the Hornets. ESPN quickly apologized for the offensive remark and removed the headline.

Racism is only one of the many obstacles Lin has had to overcome in his basketball journey.

The documentary's director and producers tried repeatedly to film Lin and his family but got nowhere. However, their persistence finally paid off when they got a reluctant nod from Lin. The crew was not only allowed to film, but they were also given access to family videos of Lin's childhood and high school years.

Born and raised in California to parents who emigrated from Taiwan and whose ancestors came from the east coast of the Chinese mainland, Lin was encouraged by his parents, Lin Gie-Ming and Shirley Lin, to play basketball throughout his childhood.

He had stellar years representing Palo Alto High School, where he was named first-team All-State and Northern California Division I Player of the Year.

With no sports scholarship offered by any of the universities he applied to, he ended up at Harvard. From the weakest guy on the team his freshman year, Lin became a consensus selection to the All-Ivy League First Team. He also became the first player in Ivy League history to rack up 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals. He graduated in 2010 with a degree in economics and a 3.1 grade-point average.

Still none of it guaranteed an easy way forward. He was passed over in the NBA draft by most teams before finally getting picked up by the Golden State Warriors, the hometown team he had been following closely for years.

But he was soon relegated to the Warrior's D-League for his lackluster performance and eventually dropped, snatched up by the Houston Rockets and cut again.

The New York Knicks took Lin off waivers from the Rockets on Dec 27, 2011 as a backup. The documentary shows how Lin practiced extremely hard during the NBA lockout that year.

His chance finally came when the Knicks had several injuries. In an act of desperation, coach Mike D'Antoni sent Lin into a game against the Brooklyn Nets. Lin scored 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists, all career highs, in a 99-92 victory, something the Knicks hadn't seen in a long time.

Suddenly the underdog Knicks seemed unstoppable with Lin. They beat the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Washington Wizards. In the Lakers game, Lin's 38 points outscored Kobe Bryant's 34.

Lin not only dominated the headlines, his souvenir jerseys and posters were among the bestsellers in NBA stores. Across the Pacific in China, the world's second largest NBA market, Lin, now playing for the Rockets, brought about a revival of the NBA craze that had died down since the exit of Yao Ming from the league in 2011.

Linsanity ran at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Co-producers Chris Chen and Brian Yang, who were present at last week's screening in Washington, talked about how they had started to follow a guy that they had no idea would one day become an NBA icon.

"This journey of Jeremy's has been remarkable," said Yang. "I'm just glad I've been along for part of the ride."

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(China Daily USA 07/24/2013 page2)