Sundance Film Festival 2013

What slump? Jeremy Lin rules at Sundance with crowd-pleasing documentary on his NBA ride

What slump? Jeremy Lin rules at Sundance with crowd-pleasing documentary on his NBA ride

Jeremy Lin, Linsanity
A scene from Linsanity Courtesy photo

PARK CITY, Utah — Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin is in something of a slump, having been benched in Saturday night's loss to Minnesota — the team's seventh defeat in a row. His numbers thus far this season have been less than impressive: He’s only averaging 12.2 points, 6.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game.

But at the Sundance Film Festival, Linsanity continues to rule.

An audience of diverse moviegoers — with many more Asian and African-American faces than at most other Sundance venues this week — laughed, cheered and even cried as director Evan Leong chronicled Lin's amazing story in an 88-minute documentary that had its world premiere at the festival on Sunday. One coach in the audience told the film's producers he can't wait to show the inspirational film to his players.

As most basketball fans know, Lin, the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, had been cut from several teams, including the Rockets, and was on the verge of seeing his major league dreams vanish almost exactly one year ago when he went on a tear.

 "To have it turn out like this is a dream for any documentary filmmaker. We kept shooting. We didn't have an ending. Last February gave us an ending." 

He led the Knicks to eight wins in his first nine starts, scoring at a amazing rate (25 points and nine assists against the then New Jersey Nets in his first significant action; 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant, who told reporters beforehand he didn't know who Lin was), and became a worldwide phenomenon.

"To have it turn out like this is a dream for any documentary filmmaker. Just to get into the NBA was a great story; It was amazing he got that far," Leong told the audience in a question-and-answer session. "We kept shooting, but we didn't have an ending. Last February gave us an ending."

But even years before that, Leong thought that Lin made a great story.

Often overlooked

In a sport where there are virtually no players of Asian-American descent, Lin had led his team at Palo Alto High School to the California state championship and excelled on the basketball court at Harvard, which he attended when no Pac-12 university offered him a basketball scholarship.

He was overlooked again in the 2010 NBA Draft, but he was later signed by the Golden State Warriors, in part because the team owner had seen him play basketball against his son in high school.

Leong and producers Chris Chen and Brian Yang first approached Lin about doing a documentary when he was a Harvard student, but he wasn't interested. "He didn't really want the cameras on him. He didn't want to be a reality star," Leong said. "But we persevered and kept talking to him and basically he let us do it."

They reached an agreement to follow Lin when he was with the Warriors with the understanding that if no meaningful story developed, his family would at least have some nice home video.

The documentary traces Lin's childhood in Palo Alto, where he broke Asian stereotypes by failing at piano concerts and excelling in basketball, and emphasizes his hard work, deep religious faith and dedication to the sport throughout his life. (Only 24, he is a rich man, having signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Rockets after the Knicks refused to match the offer.)

Lin acknowledges racist taunts on the court practically from the time he first started playing basketball, and, at one point in the documentary, says flatly that if he were an African-American player he would not have been overlooked by colleges and NBA scouts. But as a devout Christian, he is remarkably free of any bitterness. 

Part of God's plan

He credits his incredible rise, along with injuries and other setbacks that have occurred, as part of God's plan. After outdueling Bryant in the big Knicks win last season, Lin says he was tempted to do some trash talking but thought, "What Would Jesus Do?" when reporters asked if Bryant knew who he was now, and instead humbly said they would have to ask the Lakers star.

Toward the end of the film, in a segment that was shot in his Houston high-rise apartment, Lin said he often learns more about himself during times when things aren't going well. "I have a different perspective. You look at yourself more when you lose," he said.

With a vow, no doubt, to come back stronger.

So perhaps Rockets fans shouldn't give up on Lin just yet.

As for Lin's adjustment to the Bayou City, a speaker during the Q&A — I think it was one of his brothers — says he's doing just fine.

Houston is "a little quieter and a slower pace — and it suits his personality," he said.

Leong added that Lin has seen the movie and "has enjoyed every cut we have shown him. He's quite trusting."