New “Linsanity” Documentary “38 At The Garden” Is About More Than Basketball
A conversation with director Frank Chi about his film’s exploration of the significance of Jeremy Lin’s landmark 2012 season with the New York Knicks
Though the climax of Jeremy Lin’s nine-year career in the National Basketball Association was winning a championship as a reserve with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, the zenith of the 34-year-old’s run in the NBA likely came in his second season directly in the middle of a seven-game winning streak for the Knicks in February of 2012 that was dubbed “Linsanity.”
A relative unknown who’d spent a portion of his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors and was sleeping on a teammate’s couch when Linsanity began with a win over the New Jersey Nets (remember them?), Lin erupted for a career-high 38 points at Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Lakers after star guard Kobe Bryant said before the game he didn’t know who the Taiwanese American was. That changed after the undrafted Harvard graduate torched the Lakers in midst of a stretch where he averaged 24.4 points, 9.1 assists, four rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting .512 from the field and .714 from the line while playing more than 37 minutes per game.
A burst of energy and maybe even hope in a basketball city that hadn’t seen its basketball team win a playoff series since 2000, Lin’s performance that night in MSG got the city, if not the entire country, talking. Now, a decade later, director Frank Chi is re-igniting that conversation with a new HBO Original documentary short that will air tonight and then be available to stream on HBO Max.
Just 38 minutes in length, 38 At The Garden explores Lin’s status as a cultural icon and the lingering significance of Linsanity 10 years after the fact as members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community continues to deal with stereotypes and an uptick in hate crimes.
According to Chi, he already expects Asian Americans, basketball fans and New Yorkers to tune into his new Lin documentary but is hopeful it will have a wider appeal. “I’ll put it this way. I don’t want anybody to have excuses not to watch the movie,” he tells InsideHook. “It’s 38 minutes long so anyone can just watch it. I don’t think you’ll be talking about basketball at the end of the movie. You’ll be talking about something much bigger.”
Prior to the new documentary’s release, InsideHook spoke with Chi about what exactly that something might be. Here’s what he had to say.
InsideHook: Why did you think Linsanity was a topic that was worth making a film about?
Frank Chi: I frame it like this and Jeremy likes to talk about it this way too. It’s basically: what is it like to relive our favorite Asian American memory during the worst time to be Asian American in recent history? If I were to describe the movie without any basketball at all, part one is about stereotypes. Part two is about what happens when somebody shatters those stereotypes on the world stage and part three is about today when those stereotypes have been weaponized. Anti-Asian violence is a product of the weaponization of stereotypes that have always been there. That just doesn’t register for folks, so we wanted to make that very obvious.
IH: Would the 38-point point game have been as special if it occurred somewhere besides MSG in NYC?
FC: Definitely not, but there were a lot of pieces to the magic. It was right after the Super Bowl and before March Madness and The Masters when there is just nothing going on in sports. It took place in the capital of the world, New York City, with a famed franchise in the Knicks. Also, I think if you’re an American then you register with an underdog story. If you feel different in any capacity in this country whatever your background, the story will register with you. We all have those experiences and we tried to make the film as general as possible so it’s not necessarily just about Jeremy or Asian Americans but about anybody who feels like they’ve been doubted. That’s a lot of people.
IH: Why did you decide to center the film on one specific game as opposed to Jeremy’s entire career?
FC: I was in a karaoke bar in Koreatown surrounded by Asian people the night he dropped 38 at The Garden. It was two hours of people just losing their minds. When we talked to comedian Jenny Yang for the film, she basically described the exact same scene but she was in California. There had to be thousands of restaurants and karaoke bars across the country that witnessed something similar that night. When I talk about Linsanity, I’m talking about that night. The two most magical moments of my life were when Barack Obama got elected President and the night Jeremy dropped 38 at The Garden. That’s why the movie is called 38 At The Garden. I wanted to capture a moment and how that moment made people feel.
IH: What do you think are the lasting effects of that stretch of time now and moving forward?
FC: I’m sure it has an incredible sports impact, but I’m not a sports documentarian. As for societal impact, the reminder that anything is possible, even when things are looking really bleak, is invaluable. It’s kids, especially Asian American children, who need to see what happened during that two-week stretch and how the world reacted to it to make them believe that anything is possible. Asian Americans have more representation now, which is great, but the stories are about how filthy rich you are or what kind of superpower you have. It’s not real. It doesn’t have to be in basketball, but they need to see they can do something like that no matter what they look like. To me, Jeremy is the greatest example Asian Americans have that anything is possible and that’s why this story is so special.
Watch Frani Chi’s new Jeremy Lin documentary tonight from 9:00-9:40 pm (ET/PT) on HBO.
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