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On the NBA: ‘Basketball Diplomacy’

Along with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, Dennis Rodman visited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week, in what the two men—now considered ‘friends for life,’ by Rodman—dubbed as a moment of ‘basketball diplomacy.’ Rodman subsequently went on network TV, Sunday morning, to relay the message that, when it comes to Barack Obama, the controversial Un doesn’t seek war; all he wants is a phone call. Public and pundits, alike, are skeptical: North Korea’s track record on human rights, and in threatening the U.S.A, is deplorable, and hasn’t shown improvement. But Rodman pleaded that the new is not the old; Kim Jong Un is only twenty-eight years old, and as a (potentially unwilling) heir to human cruelty, he’s still trying to figure out how to live beyond the shadow of his ancestors.

Whether or not their country and ours can ever be allies—or even acquaintances—instead of enemies, one thing is clear: everybody involved is a basketball lover. Rodman said that basketball, as it was for him and Un, could be an ice-breaker for Obama and his ostensible enemy. A photo of Un in his adolescence has emerged, with the heir sporting a Bulls jersey in the 90’s. It’s a believable situation—who didn’t have a Bulls jersey, then?—but still an amazing image, as proof that even kings and princes of the orient yearned for the stupefying glory and bombast known only to Jordan and his crew. (As highlighted in this past summer’s NBA TV production, the 1992 U.S.A Dream Team begat an unprecedented global explosion in the popularity of the game).

An earlier photo of Un is even more direct, though, in bearing his taste for American culture. Like Un, I liked Disney fare quite a bit as a child. But as soon as the Bulls began their historic spectacle of NBA dominance, Mickey took a permanent backseat to Michael, as the team largely regarded as the best in sporting’s history became an infinitely more magnetic slice of
America abroad, as well.

The question, here, is the whether the sensation of the game significantly transcends entertainment and culture; is there a point at which ‘basketball diplomacy’ is a concept with real potential? If you saw the Oscar-winning ‘Argo,’ you learned that there is, indeed, a historical precedent for forms of American international intervention that are unlikely, silly on their face, readily dismissed by politically-shrouded decision-makers, and—most importantly—ultimately effective. C.I.A. Agent Tony Mendez really did infiltrate Iran, and save would-be American hostages, under the parafictional umbrella of an alien-happy movie production.

Perhaps I merely watched M.J. save the Looney Tunes from the Monstars far too many times in my early adolescent years, but I think there’s something to this; that Rodman’s positive angle and highfalutin mission-by-accident are somewhat admirable, and that the media (as it repeatedly has been with the man called ‘the worm’) is too quick to write off a perceptive, brave, big-hearted-but-troubled man as myopic, absurd, uninformed, and laughable. Response to the event has largely been centered on quick comedy, and calls that the star struck out by not confronting Un about his repeated human rights violations. But Rodman has always been an easy target, and a moral compass which only points north has never been useful in politics. The reaction to his visit misses the miracle at base of the event: for better or worse, the world of sports has always had an uncanny power to confront and make bare our strongest socio-political barriers. And here, in the form of Rodman and Un’s head-scratching bond, sports have found our nation its most feasible entry yet into an issue of national security that’s mostly perceived as unworkable.

The president confirmed the unique political edge of the game when he gave Bill Russell the Medal of Freedom (the highest honor available to any non-military American citizen) two years ago, and said that his behavior under the pressure of racial scrutiny in 1960’s Boston was instrumental in the shaping of perception of Black Americans which made his presidency possible. And while Rodman is not Russell—far, far from it—it’s nearly as foolish, now, not to exploit a lead into the possibility of greater international harmony as it was, then, not to give Russell his due respect as the sport’s greatest winner and citizen, merely because of the color of his skin. It’s my hope that this instance of ‘basketball diplomacy’ can help to set our national vision to a speed faster than one which only properly rewarded Russell forty years past his prominence.


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  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    I like how the guy talks about Trayvon Martin and race, but doesn't bring up the BIGGEST racial aspect in the case. The media portrayed it as a white on black crime. They were trying to make headlines and garner viewers by altering the facts. I don't know what exactly happened, but I do know that the dude wasn't white(His dad was white, but his mother was half Hispanic/half black, and his voter registration card lists him as Hispanic). Also, NBC edited out parts of the 911 call to make it all about race. I applaud the Miami Heat for standing up for what they believed to be the story. It took courage.

  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: On the NBA: Discussion with David J. Leonard, author of 'After Artest.'
  • Alituro says 1 YEAR ago

    Of courseeverybodysees the comedy in this situation simply because of the bizarre mental imagery that arises when discussing it. Picture the VERY tall (by Korean standards), tattooed, pierced Rodman (was he even in men's clothes this time?) simply standing next to Un.. HaHa.. Picture in your mind the extreme language barriers... funny too. I'm sure SNL will highlight all of this soon...

    On theseriousnessof the meeting, I guess it remains to be seen. Really we have no idea who Un is. We know he's surrounded by a system created by IL that encourages human cruelty andtyranny. But, does he really buy into all of that? Judging from the Mickey and Bulls jersey he strikes me as a young-un just looking for something to smile about. Does he have the same vision for thecountryhe inherited? That basically all that people want is something to smile about, and that his countrymen deserve that right. Does he truly have disdain for the freedoms enjoyed by people in westerncivilizations, or is this disdain all that he knows? However laughable, it's definitely worth a shot.

  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: On the NBA: 'Basketball Diplomacy'
  • Red94 says 2 YEARs ago New post: On the NBA: Lakers, Irving, Kevin Martin
  • rockets best fan says 2 YEARs ago Rahat: I would much rather have them be amazing in the latter part of the year, making the playoffs would be a disaster. if things fall right for the rockets(which I believe they stand a good chance) we could end with some outstanding young talent and some very high picks in the draft to add to this team in addition to the cap room money we can spend. what I like about this team is for the 1st time in a long time we have young talent with high ceilings. plus if those picks fall right who said we won't trade them. that could be the very piece of the puzzle that nets us a star to add to this team. like I have said in a previous thread the best case to me is the rockets land in the top 7 teams in the draft, have a couple of rooks flashing star level talent, the raptors land the 4th pick, dallas lands the 21st pick. now if you can't get something with that you just flat ain't trying :rolleyes:
  • Rahat Huq says 2 YEARs ago

    Stephen, on 24 September 2012 - 07:54 AM said:

    Here's my frightening thought for the day.
    The Rockets get the 8th Seed in the Play-Offs,get bounced by OKC/LA,the Mavs are a top 9 team and Toronto gets into the Play-Offs as well.
    Houston now has ZERO Firsts in 2013.

    But doesn't that also mean that the current rookie crop was pretty amazing if they got you into the playoffs?
  • blakecouey says 2 YEARs ago Is that all bad Stephen? We've gotta give away our pick at some point, and this years draft isn't supposed to be deep. I'd rather give it up than it be a 11-14. Dallas too has to send it our way someday, maybe two drafts from now will have better prospects. Torontos pick only gets better and more valuable
  • Stephen says 2 YEARs ago Here's my frightening thought for the day.
    The Rockets get the 8th Seed in the Play-Offs,get bounced by OKC/LA,the Mavs are a top 9 team and Toronto gets into the Play-Offs as well.
    Houston now has ZERO Firsts in 2013.
  • ale11 says 2 YEARs ago I agree that Pat will be traded if he's not starting in January....that might be because he reached his ceilling or because Motie or someone else proved their're better. And be sure that next year things aren't gonna look the same as now, Morey and Les will evaluate this roster and send away the ones who didn't fill the expectations, besides, we'll have salary cap to spend. I'm not saying that's the way to go, but Les has proven he won't put up with being less than mediocre year after year, I don't think he has the patience to let the guys develop.

    Kobe won't hog that much, because there are very very few guys in the league who can put him in place, and one of them is Nash, the only way that Kobe's gonna hog the ball in crunch time is if Nash lets him, and given that Nash is the new guy, he might let him at the beginning.

    Totally agree that Miami's window is much more narrow that most think. Wade is getting old, and Indiana proved that when Wade struggled, Lebron couldn't do it entirely on his own.

    Lee is a great match for Boston, I really wish him well.

    In the East, we could be close to the playoffs, but this year's West? Not a chance, really, even if most teams are injury plagued. Like it or not, home wins against teams like Charlotte or Washington, or even Sacramento are not entirely guaranteed, so I refuse to have hope on a lucky trip to first round.
  • Stephen says 2 YEARs ago Lee in Boston is going to be real interesting when(if) Bradley comes back. Bradley took Allens job and probably expects to return as the starter. OTOH,Lee is getting paid. Wonder if Lee transitions into 6th man backing up both Bradley and Pierce.

    For the Lakers,how long before Howard can play? The danger is Gasol gets burned out by Jan and Hill better be capable of starting and playing 30 minutes a game. While I also have my doubts on Nash/Kobe,It may turn out Nash runs the team for first 3 1/2 Quarters then Kobe takes over in crunch time As to the hero ball,Kobe has passed to guys he trusted,and he's on record as saying Nash is one of the best shooters in League.

    As to the Rockets,I think they'll be a better team,but may have a worse record. I can't look at the West and say there's a true dog in the bunch,compared to the East. As the season progresses and injuries and bad chemistry reveal themselves,there will be a couple of bad teams,but the West looks tough this yr.
    I have the Rockets about 11 in the West right now. But if there's a magical season,Lin settles in giving Lowry/Dragic production,Asik is capable of 30min+ of anchoring the D and rebounding,Parsons improves his shot and becomes more aggressive,Motie is not Dave Anderson revisited, one of the other rookies steps up and Martin bounces back... And if MInn,GS continue to be hobbled by injuries and Utah falls off...Not very likely,but possible.
    The Rockets will make the Play-Offs when they have a player who can carry the team by himself for extended stretches,a player the other team knows they have to stop,but still can't. How they get that player is to be determined-whether thru Draft,trade,FA or one of the young guys explodes.

    I wonder if Lebron stays thru his contract. In 2014,he's going to get antsy and I really doubt he's going to be there for 2015. He may fall in love w/Miami,but...2014 and the Lakers have only Nash and perhaps Howard under contract.

    I don't think this Pat's last shot at being an NBA starter,but it is his last shot at staying w/the Rockets. I wouldn't be shocked if he ends up in Sacramento. He and Cousins are good friends and he's be a nice complement to Cousins.(Heck he's be decent next to a healthy Bogut in GS or Bynum in Philly.) If Pat hasn't entrenched himself as the starting PF by Jan,I expect him to be traded in Feb.
  • sircharles says 2 YEARs ago i disagree with the comment about the nuggets locking themselves into being mediocre, i feel they are one of the deepest and strongest defensive teams in the league
  • blakecouey says 2 YEARs ago Im not sure that #3 is going to happen, mainly because I still give OKC the edge over the new Lakeshow. The Lakers have added such big new pieces it will take substantial time for them to gain the chemistry needed to beat the other great teams in the West(OKC/SA). The Heat made the finals in their first season, but aside from Chicago there weren't any other true threats that year. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lakers in the finals, but I think continuity means a lot and think the road will be easier for the Thunder.

    I never got into the Spiderman movies, saw the first and didn't make myself suffer through any more.

    Courtney Lee is going to fit great in Beantown, hope he succeeds because it's the perfect opportunity for him.

    The Rockets are 3 years away, at best. It all depends on what we see this year, and what kind of draft pick we get and Toronto gives us.

    The Heat win it all again.

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