Ten years after 'Linsanity,' Jeremy Lin opens up about the month that changed his life
Jeremy Lin is the subject of a new documentary, "38 at the Garden," about his inspiring "Linsanity" stretch with the Knicks.
Lin used to not want to discuss Linsanity, calling it a months-long adrenaline rush, but now understands why it meant so much to so many people.
Lin is still bothered by falling out of the NBA so suddenly after 2019.
One of the more amusing moments in "38 at the Garden," the short HBO documentary on Jeremy Lin's meteoric rise in the NBA, comes when Lin recalls introducing himself to his New York Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler.
Lin had just been cut by the Houston Rockets and picked up off waivers by the Knicks. Upon arriving at the team's hotel, Lin saw Chandler, the starting center, and introduced himself, only to realize Chandler had no idea who he was. Chandler warily greeted Lin, thinking — as Chandler puts it in the film — "this little Asian kid" was a fan who had snuck onto the team's floor.
It's a revealing moment that puts into context how unlikely Lin's rise was.
Weeks later, he was thrust into the rotation of a struggling Knicks team and shined, first with a 25-point explosion off the bench to lift New York to a win over the then-New Jersey Nets. Lin averaged over 24 points and 9 assists per game during a seven-game win streak that revived the Knicks season and made him an international star.
Along the way there were spectacular moments: breakaway dunks, timely baskets, a game-winning shot, and, of course, 38 points in a thrilling win over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers — the inspiration for the documentary's title.
For years, Lin didn't want to speak about "Linsanity," telling Insider he was overwhelmed by the "superhero-esque persona" that fans placed on him.
However, in recent years, Lin, who is no longer in the NBA, has come to appreciate what that stretch of time meant, especially to Asian-Americans. "38 at the Garden" devotes significant time to the Asian-American experience, made particularly poignant in light of the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans.
"I think as time went on, I started to understand why this moment meant so much to so many people, as well as going through more of my own experience as a human," Lin told Insider.
A months-long adrenaline rush
Lin's breakout was fit for a Hollywood story. He was an undrafted guard out of Harvard. His career was flailing when the Knicks picked him up, and his future was no sure thing: His breakout game against the Nets came the day before the team was set to cut him. He had spent the night before that on teammate Landry Fields' couch because he had nowhere else to stay.
As Lin says in the documentary, his agent had told him that if he didn't play well against the Nets, he might not ever play in an NBA game again.
"I was trying not to think about it, but I think that if I were to get cut, I wanted to kind of take the rest of the season off," Lin told Insider, adding: "That would've been four different teams that I had been a part of. And I think I was just like, so mentally worn-down from the journey and the uncertainty and the rejection that I was like, I don't know if I can handle joining another team this season."
Then, in an instant, Lin's celebrity blew up. Beyond the pandemonium he was creating in Madison Square Garden, Lin was experiencing a level of fame few can understand.
"There are so many strange moments," Lin said, recalling women mailing him underwear or saying they were engaged to him. Fans staked out his house and jumped out from behind bushes to surprise him.
"To them, they're just trying to meet me. But to me it's really scary when it's outside my house, and they're waiting outside, behind a bush."
Lin described Linsanity as a months-long adrenaline rush. He made back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers. He was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People.
When asked if there was a less-obvious moment that sticks out to him, Lin said he often comes back to his 28-point, 14-assist outing in a win over the Dallas Mavericks.
"That was my career-high in assists for my entire nine-year NBA career," Lin said. "And I believe [the Mavs] were the defending champs at the time. But that was just such a fun game, just to go back and forth, head-to-head with Dirk [Nowitzki]."
A sudden end to the Linsanity
For as quickly as Linsanity started, it came crashing down. Though the Knicks continued their winning ways, Lin's numbers gradually came down. After 25 games as the team's starting point guard, it was revealed that Lin had a torn meniscus, and he missed the rest of the season.
Lin made his first start on February 6, 2012. His last game as a Knick came on March 23. The entire run lasted less than two months.
That absence seemingly set the stage for Lin's departure. Knicks star Carmelo Anthony had reportedly been at odds over Mike D'Antoni's coaching and Lin's outsized role in the offense.
D'Antoni eventually resigned and was replaced by Mike Woodson. After the coaching change and Lin's injury, Anthony thrived, averaging 29.8 points per game over the final months of the season to lead the Knicks to the playoffs.
Lin became a restricted free agent that off-season, meaning the Knicks could match any offer he received in free agency. The Knicks had even fought for that right, appealing to an arbitrator for Lin's "Bird rights." However, when Lin signed a three-year, $25 million offer with the Rockets, the Knicks never matched.
When asked whether the Knicks should match it, Anthony famously called the offer "ridiculous." Lin left the Knicks after just one season.
Today, Lin is still unsure what transpired between him and Anthony, but he wishes the two had communicated better.
"I think the biggest thing is we never had any interpersonal conflict, like directly, me talking to him, him talking to me," Lin told Insider. "So for me, I felt like I was very blindsided by it. I mean, to this day, I'm not totally sure what happened, but if I could go back, the one thing I would definitely do is just to have more conversations, more honest, open conversations early and often and to kind of develop that trust and to put in that relational equity."
Lin played the role of a journeyman thereafter. He spent two years with the Rockets, averaging 13 points per game. He then bounced around the league, playing for the Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and Toronto Raptors.
Lin told Insider it bothers him to a certain extent that his reputation is almost entirely based on a few weeks of All-Star-level play. He is proud of his other seasons, in particular the 2015-16 season with the Hornets, when the team defied expectations and made the playoffs, which Lin called "special."
Lin's falling-out with the NBA
Lin is also uncomfortable with how his time in the NBA ended. He was waived by the Hawks and picked up by the Raptors in 2019. Lin played poorly with the Raptors and was out of the rotation for much of their playoff run, which ended with a championship over the Warriors. Lin has spoken publicly about how he didn't feel he earned that championship.
That off-season, Lin was a free agent and couldn't secure a contract. He has since played in the G League and in China, but he feels the NBA judged him too quickly.
"I had this 12-game stretch where I didn't play that well, and that was it," Lin said. "So you gotta think for me, after playing nine years in the league, I would expect like, okay, I have a reputation, people know what I can do. But I was pretty surprised at just how fast people were like, 'Okay, he's done.'"
Lin said he was "begging" for non-guaranteed training camp invites, but couldn't get one.
"When I add all of that up, I would say race has a role to play in that," Lin told Insider. "I just don't know how big, but my gut is that race definitely has a role to play."
Lin recently signed a contract to play with the Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Lin, now 34, told Insider that he used to want to "run" from the shadow that Linsanity had cast. In "38 at the Garden," Lin says he now understands why it meant so much to people, particularly to Asian-Americans.
"It was a heroic moment. It was a moment that so many people had not experienced, but wanted to experience. Hollywood, the world, we did not have these heroic moments," Lin says in the film.
"It was so much bigger than basketball."
"38 at the Garden" is available for streaming on HBO Max on October 11.
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