Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Power of Basketball

two years later/ high-school/indoors basketball court

What were you doing 20 years ago? Think harder. There must be something that forever marked your life.

Good God and Virgin Marry, together!; Mr President!; Michael Jordan!; Jordan!; J!;... I should have cleaned my shoes.... I left all 5 of the other team plus mine 4 in the back. They are now in the weak half. The wrong half of the basketball court, and I am alone. Alone with the ball! And they don't move. It would be pointless. I am unstoppable. This is my chance! Cristina and the empty basket! But the basket is higher, it seems... And smaller....And I think it moves... What happened?! A little drop of sweat on my forehead. All these pairs of eyes looking. Hoping. "Go! Go!", they scream.  Dad! Mom! Oh, if my dad were here! Look at me: perfect breakaway - perfect catch, nobody out there, dribbling, running with long steps. Jumper or Long Bomb? The ball feels hot. I strongly hold it between my palms. Two giant jumps. Raising. Aiming. Releasing. Arrrhhh! Good God, Mary, and Jordan, why did you do this to me?! I am so happy my dad is NOT here today...

Well, that was it. The gymnasium basketball competition was a long tragic ride. We made it to the top (well, almost), but the defeat, the further you are in the game, the harsher it feels. My coach looked at me half angrily half pitifully. I was sent to the bench. I hoped that I will continue my baseball career as a bench player.  The burden of my epic failure made me feel 100 pounds heavier, weight that would have definitely, I thought, prevented me from running.  I had to go back, and tried to sweat away the fear, but we lost. Incontestably. Shamefully. In front of our school fans.  I knew this will chase me until I leave for high-school. One year and something. Facing the long trimesters of the 8th grade with such a stigma is not easy, not even for a confident 13 year old. Next Monday I pretended to be sick, but my mom woke me up as usually, at 7am, put two salami sandwiches wrapped in paper napkins in my school bag, and off I was to face The World: School# 182 - Macaralei neighborhood in Bucharest...

Obviously, I had no idea that James Naismith invented basketball for his physical education class, to keep kids “out of trouble” between football and baseball seasons. That the game immediately spread like wildfire and attracted both men and women – in fact, the first tournament was a women’s tournament that was held only a few months after Naismith came up with the basics of the game. Unfortunately, there were soon many controversies started around women playing basketball, as it was not considered “lady-like”, especially with the way they dressed for the games (shorts and uniforms). There were 9 women for each team because they were consider to not be fit/not attracted to running. the field was broke down into 3 parts, and the women/players had determined positions from which they passed the ball, without having to move a lot. Actually, in the beginning, there was no dribbling involved. And I did not know about this book:
LaFeber's Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism is not about basketball, per se, but about building the American cultural empire through sports and advertising. Early in the book, LaFeber notes that it is only recently that advances in technology have created the ''power to spread information and culture'' to become ''more decentralized.'' (Indeed, in the past, culture was dictated by elites.) Corporations like Nike, by having Jordan wearing their shoes , use the ''seductiveness'' of United States culture ''to influence the language, eating habits, clothes and television watching of peoples around the earth.'' The issue that the author sees is the resentment it (can) generate/s. While the spread of basketball via Jordan has helped to produce a global era of ''Americanization,'' that very process has strengthened ''anti-Americanism'' globally (think McDonald and other US  signature brands) As a result, this American onslaught must be tempered, or else it will ''produce conflict that will have explosive results for U.S. politics and security.''

The book is a trill for anybody who is interested in corporate spreading of culture, but wants the chatty framework of a beach read. It has a lot of basketball facts, from its invention (I never think that sports were somebody's invention), touching upon issues like sexism, segregation, corporate power, by looking at the intersection between US culture, Nike, Jordan, and ultimately globalization.