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Jeremy Lin’s wild “Linsanity” run is getting an HBO documentary

Lin’s meteoric Knicks run is covered in HBO’s new documentary “38 at the Garden”

A Chinese basketball fan prepares to buy Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Desperation will cause a person to do scary things. When all you know is misery, when losing is the norm, the mind begins to work outside itself to break patterns and find solutions. During the 2011 - 2012 season, the under-achieving Knicks were mired in mediocrity. Superstar player Carmelo Anthony was in his first full season with the Knicks but was out due to injuries. Then coach Mike D’Antoni was desperate for a reprise when he decided to shake things up and give a non-guaranteed bench warmer, Jeremy Lin, a chance at point guard.

HBO’s newest documentary, 38 at the Garden, debuting Oct. 11 on HBO Max chronicles what happened next.

The NBA had never seen a player like Lin, an Asian-American point guard who’d gone undrafted from Harvard. In the history of the NBA, only Yao Ming had made an impact as an Asian-American. Before his breakout, Lin had bounced around Summer League. Lin had no expectations training camps, failing to make enough of a mark to make a team. Before he broke out, he had only logged 55 minutes through the Knicks’ first 23 games. Then, on February 4, against the New Jersey Nets, Lin was inserted into a game as the team’s fourth starting point guard that season. Lin used the naivety around his abilities to torch the league, leading the Knicks to a 9-3 record during his first 12 starts. Lin averaged 22.5 points and 8.7 assists per game through that stretch while interjecting the hapless Knicks with much-needed optimism.

To understand the importance of Lin's impact, you have to understand the previous decade of impotence. Under owner James Dolan, the 2000s were one of the darkest, if not the darkest, decades for any team in any sport. The Knicks held the most losses during that decade, punctuated by a revolving door of coaches, over-the-hill “stars,” bloated contracts, and mismanaged trades. Lin was an anomaly in Knicks' recent history. For a team that had not signed a single rookie to an extension or failed to develop a young core to build upon properly, Lin represented a contrast to everything the Knicks had been known for.

Travon Free and Samir Hernandez helm the documentary, the writer-director and EP behind last year’s Best Live-Action Short Oscar winner Two Distant Strangers, and will chronicle the impact Lin’s run, dubbed “Linsanity” by the media, had on Knicks fans, the league, and Asian-Americans across the nation. The film features interviews with Lin and fellow Knicks teammates from the 2011 - 2012 season, Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert, Asian-American professionals Lisa Ling and Pablo Torre, and comedians Hasan Minhaj, Jenny Yang, and Ronnie Chieng.

That Lin had gone undrafted, played Ivy league basketball at Harvard, bounced around the league, and came from Taiwanese-heritage, makes his story one of the most improbable and significant in sports history. The doc’s title refers to Lin’s 38-point performance in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 10, 2012. Before the game, Kobe Bryant claimed not to know who Lin was, which made his offensive onslaught, mostly against Bryant defending him, all the sweeter to the Madison Square Garden faithful.

While the Knicks did not match the guard’s offer sheet with the Houston Rockets the following off-seaosn, Lin went on to play for the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and the Toronto Raptors, where he won a championship in 2019, before signing with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks. While the Knicks had a bright reprise from losing during “Linsanity,” once he left they failed to reignite their luck, only making the playoffs three times since the 2011-12 season. Linsanity was birthed from the perfect storm of mediocrity and desperation. It’s a shame the Knicks could not build on his sensational emergence or learn from the risk-taking that gave him his shot.