Reflections on the NBA Finals/ live-blogging Game 4

pau-gasol

I’m digging the globalism/cosmopolitanism of the NBA.  In these finals, on Orlando there’s Mickael Peteus (French-African, a big joker apparently, seems charming), Hedo Terkoglu (Turkish; fantastic, 6′ 10″ but can pass like a guard; the Prime Minister of Turkey called him to wish him a good game), Marcin Gortat (7′ Polish monster – a real badass; I would not want to meet him in a medieval Polish alley in the middle of the night); on the Lakers, Kobe (raised in Italy where he played soccer; fluent in Italian); Pau Gasol (sort of the counterpart of Turkoglu: 7′ Spanish star with a scruffy beard and mane of hair; seems mildly bohemian); Trevor Ariza (of Dominican descent, is planning to play for Dominican national team); Sasha Vujacic (Slovenian pretty-boy 3-point shooter; seems annoying); a Chinese guy who never plays named Sun Yue, and a Congolese player, Didier Ilunga-Mbenga.

And then of course there are the more traditional native N.B.A. types like the wonderful Rafer Alston, an Orlando guard, a former NYC playground/streetball legend formerly known as Skip to My Lou because of his habit of skipping while dribbling (!), the Duke shooter J.J. Redick; the larger than life, ridiculously muscled devout Christian Dwight Howard, a.k.a. “Superman,” etc.

They’re all playing N.B.A. basketball, and trained to death in standardizing ways, but you can really sense the different cultures on the court, which come out in gestures, ways of holding the body, expressions, and so on: Pau Gasol’s diffident shrug, Rafer Alston’s hyper blaze to the basket, Gortat’s lurching power.  It’s not that all of these players express some national or ethnic essence, but it’s neat the way you can suss out these different styles of playing and moving that can seem culturally expressive in one way or another.  Basketball used to be so black and white, Midwestern gym vs. inner-city playground; it seems so much culturally and symbolically richer and less predictable now.

And then, just the names alone: Kobe, Pau, Hedo, Rafer, Gortat, Skip to My Lou.

One other thought: I have to admit that I find the Kobe/LeBron puppet ads to be pretty amusing, even if they kind of fell flat when the Cavaliers were eliminated. OTOH the Charles Barkley/ Dwayne Wade ads are fairly lame.  I think the lesson is, when it comes to pro athletes, use puppets — don’t make them try to act.

Also, I miss the Birdman (Denver Nuggets’ Chris Anderson).  He makes it seem that if you’re just a white guy from Texas in the NBA, you really have to work hard to make an impression these days.

Go Magic!  (I grew up watching Larry Bird and the Celtics and so must root against the Lakers; mildly dislike Kobe; the Magic are a fun team anyway, or at least they seem that way when they’re shooting well)

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8 Responses

  1. I, too, have been rooting for the Magic. On the Lakers: I have more than a mild dislike for Kobe (I even dislike his puppet!), I have real Pau Gasol issues (where you see bohemian I see a brother who needs a shower), seeing how old Phil Jackson looks makes me feel old, and I’m with those folks who think Lamar Odom just isn’t trying very hard. On the Magic: you can’t not root for Stan Van Gundy, the Schleprock of professional sports, I love to watch Rafer Alston play, and love the Turkuglo (the Ohioan in me must wonder out loud — why do Turks often have the word turk in their names?) and I’m pro-underdog in general (except for the Celtics, but that’s all about Ray Allen). But as an old-school midwesterner, I must draw the line at the lack of execution at the free throw line. Why were they allowed to eat dinner as children without being at least 80% at the line? Really.

    I agree about the cosmopolitanism, though, except for Gasol, who also seems whiney. If the Lakers were the seven dwarves, they’d be Whiney, Sneaky, Lazy, Creepy, Shiny, Snowy and Ears.

  2. LOL. Yeah, love the Gundys. I liked Jeff’s comment: “for us, there is no good look.” One of my favorite images in sports history is the shot of Jeff Van Gundy hanging on to Alonzo Mourning’s leg like a baby marsupial of some kind in that brawl in 1998.

  3. I also love Stan Van Gundy’s postgame interviews. He sounds like a real person, which so few of them do. Also why I love Charles Barkley — how can you not love the commercial with the old guy??

  4. I remember that maybe five, six years ago, the Mavericks were a very “worldly” team: Dirk Novitsky, Eduardo Najera from Mexico, great Canadian point guard whose name I’m blanking on (plays for Phoenix now — famous!), and at least one or two others from outside the U.S. It’s certainly a reminder that the game is international — perhaps not as widely loved as baseball, and not at all a threat to the dominance of football/soccer, but an international game nonetheless. (Although now I am wondering: Najera played for Oklahoma. A few of these guys may be _from_ outside the US, but still came through the college system here?) Steve? Why can’t I think of this guy’s name — he’s one of the best point guards around?!!

  5. I also just need to say: even though Kobe’s not a convicted rapist, that episode has forever changed how I look at him. At the very least, he allowed those around him to repeatedly leak his accuser’s name to the press, and to force her to keep moving because she received death threats. He used his fame and money to wear her down, and never let the legal process unfold. If she was raped, what a horrific way of further humiliating and shaming her. If it was “a misunderstanding” — Kobe’s words from his press conference announcing the financial settlement — he made it clear that some famous people really are above the law. He is a wonderful basketball player, but he’s a shit of a human being. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I cheer for any team he’s on.

  6. (1) Steve Nash

    (2) yeah… to tell the truth I think I’ve been semi-lulled into repressing that incident. Ok, I hate the guy!

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