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)