But change would come soon.
“I prayed that day, and my prayer is, ‘God, if this is your will to play [in the] NBA, you need to show us,’” Lin’s mother, Shirley, recalls in one scene, as she describes the day leading up to her son’s Feb. 4, 2012 breakout performance against the former New Jersey Nets. During that game, Lin, who was once again close to being cut, scored a career-high 25 points, giving the Knicks a 99-92 victory over the Nets.
What followed that February was dubbed Linsanity by the media, a phenomenon that no one, including Leong, can concretely define. But Linsanity did have every basketball fan — and certainly everyone in Taiwan — glued to television sets in homes, restaurants and bars to see what the first Taiwanese-American player in the history of the NBA would do next.
“It’s the first time for basketball that you’re seeing a character that looks like you,” explained Leong, who in his film presents the Linsanity hysteria with footage of Asian Americans and Taiwanese donning Lin jerseys, and cheering wildly whenever Lin makes a basket.
“Taiwanese people can look at Jeremy and see that he’s ours,” he said. “That’s really the biggest special part of this.”
Leong said they considered film titles other than Linsanity, but said Lin was not happy with them. Then, one day when Leong was looking at the word Linsanity in the paper, he realized that the letter “t” looked like a crucifix, and told Lin he thought this could send a powerful message about the film.
“One of the biggest things he wanted to share with everyone in this documentary was his faith,” Leong said.
Much about Lin’s life and career have been widely reported in Chinese- and English-language media and are already familiar to fans and non-fans alike, perhaps leading some moviegoers to question whether it is worth seeing a film whose story they already know.
But in Linsanity, Leong glues together all of the scattered pieces of Lin’s career and, through rousing highlights and dramatic music, reintroduces viewers to his improbable and uplifting story, rekindling the feeling so many fans felt last year when Lin proved to the world that Taiwanese-American men can also jump.
As for diversity in the NBA, Leong said he believes the league still has much to do to attract Asian-American players to professional basketball.
“Until there are 20 or 30 of those guys in the NBA, he’s still going to be the odd man out,” Leong said of Lin, who signed with the Rockets in 2012.
“But this is the moment, I think, that is going to inspire some Asian kid, whether in Taiwan, China or America, to say I can do that,” Leong added.