K-Pop

I spent four days in New Orleans in February covering the NBA for a New York Times business story. And while I spoke to, and was around, important NBA figures – including Adam Silver – the coolest nugget of information I learned was the NBA’s  marketing move of letting South Korean manufacturers “funk up” its NBA gear.

Basically, the NBA gave them permission to change team colors and logos. Sports colors are sacred to Americans, but in Seoul? The NBA knew to let it go. The result is this series of NBA gear that fits the typical Korean pop culture style – bright colors mixed with a somewhat laughable wanna-be black/hip hop thing going on (sorry, though they look cute, I find it a bit amusing to see 98 pounds Korean girls wearing a cap sideways, with grills, and throwing gang signs).

What this means is more Asian youths who don’t know – or don’t care – about the NBA will wear these outfits anyway, because it’s, to use their words, “swag”. It’s a genius move by the NBA, giving Korean pop culture the ok to commit sports sin because it’ll help spread the NBA brand.

I briefly touched on this in an earlier post – the trend of random Korean/Japanese girls who barely speak English, weren’t alive when Jordan played, and are not too into sports, wearing Jordans. They don’t just wear them – they flaunt them. It’s like an image thing to them.

I suspect we will see these Brooklyn caps and Phoenix Suns tees soon.

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A History of Violence

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Before I start this piece. Allow me to reintroduce myself. I was once a diehard fan of Michael Jordan. I considered (and still consider) him the GOAT. I used to spend countless hours on InsideHoops.com forums defending Jordan against Kobe trolls. I’ve written on my personal blog and for actual publications the significance of Air Jordans, for they are a symbol of hip hop, a symbol of a minority making it in America, and item of cultural significance. But I can no longer be a fan.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

The first reported incident happened on May 2nd, 1989, when 15-year-old Michael Euegene Thomas was found lying on grass fields near his high school in Maryland. His body was cold, his feet bare.

He had been strangled to death by another teen who wanted his Air Jordans.

The most recent person to be killed over Air Jordans is Joshua Lofton, an 18-year-old who was gunned down in Atlanta last October in a sales transaction gone awry.

In between, there have been more deaths, including Joshua Woods, a 22-year-old from Houston who was shot shortly after buying the Concords in December of 2012; Steven Terrett, killed in Chicago in March, 2015, by two men who wanted his Jordans; Johnny Bates, shot and killed after he refused to give up his Jordans in Houston back in 1990.

That’s just the ones who lost their lives. Non-lethal — but still very serious — violence has erupted during Jordan releases with regularity, throughout the country, several times a year for the past few years. New Yorker Glenn Moore got his skull bashed in 2006 over the shoes. A Texas man got shot in the head while driving away from men who wanted his shoes. Videos of brawls can be seen all over the web. Shots are fired. Kids are beaten. Women’s faces are slashed.

Of course, Jordan and Nike are not responsible for these crimes. They’ve done nothing wrong. But they’ve also done nothing, period. Jordans are still released in extremely limited quantities for no reason other than to drive up demand. Calls for Nike to release the shoes exclusively online – to avoid crowds gathering over shoe stores overnight – have gone unanswered.

Jordan himself, aside from speaking to Sports Illustrated about the issue way back in 1990, has not addressed the matter again.

Young men of color are the most scrutinized people in America. As Ta-Neishi Coates once wrote, they have to be “twice as good” (than the white man) to make it.

And young people are, for the most part, fucking idiots. You were probably one, I definitely was one. We all fuck up from time to time. But when a young black man fucks up, the consequences awaiting him usually dwarf the same ones other people face. This is why some black adult men, like Charles Barkley, are so adamant on telling black youth to behave, to be twice as good. Michael Jordan knows this – that every news report of brawls over Jordans will immediately lead to the “dangerous thugs” narrative (whereas, when white kids hit each other violently at punk rock shows or prep school pranks, it’s considered harmless teen angst) – but he continues to watch as incident after incident pile up without saying a word.

I’ve been following Jordan since the early 90s. I’ve read every book – including the great Playing For Keeps, by David Halmberstam – on him and every interview he’s ever given. I’ve seen every documentary or film on him. Fuck, I’m wearing a pair of Jordans right now as I’m writing this. And from all accounts, Jordan’s silence is likely out of apathy. Michael Jordan is all about his brand and business, nothing more.

In Spike Lee’s seminal Do The Right Thing, a white man and a black man nearly come to blows over Air Jordans, but at the last minute, both men do the right thing by backing off.

Hey Mike, do the right thing. And until then, fuck your shoes.

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Basketball Mortality.

By almost all measures, I am in the best shape of my life. I gym five times a week, doing heavy compound lifts. I eat clean. My bodyfat percentage is at its lowest since my senior year of high school. Hell, I even sleep and wake early now.

But yet, 23 year old me, the Carls-Jr-every-night, the never-lift-a-weight, the 180-pounds-with-a-belly me could absolutely destroy current me in basketball. One on one or team, doesn’t matter. 2005 me is superior.

I know this because I’m typing this post on an iPhone at a basketball court, frustrated at my lack of legs on my J and inability to move laterally.

And so, I watch guys like Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, and I am in awe that, they have hung on so diligently to their basketball life. Basketball is a young man’s game. One of the rare arts in which, no matter how great you once were, you’ll wake up one day and realize it’s gone. Father Time is undefeated.

For KG, Truth, Kobe, and TD, they know the end is coming. They must feel it in their bodies. But they’re going down swinging.

For me, 2013 is the year I learned that my days of playing competitive basketball at a level to my own standards are over. It’s finished. I can never compete like I once did.

Fuck.

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Grooves

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I recently got a record player for a music-loving friend (ok, a girl). I’ve always heard, from audiophiles, that despite technological advances, music still sounds the best in analog form — the truest form — specifically on vinyl.  The soundwaves that are borne out of vibrations off grooves will forever trump compressed, digital files, they’d tell me.

Having given the record player a few spins — Kendrick Lamar, De La Soul, D’Angelo (LOL) — I’d have to agree. Music from a record player do indeed sound superior to Spotify streams or mp3s — the medium on which I’ve listened to music for the past decade. But is the difference in quality enough to justify the extra hassle?

As digital technology make everything in our lives simpler, at what point do we decide “It’s okay to sacrifice quality or tradition to save time/space/money”?

I say this, because the transport of the record player from place of purchase to my friend (ok, a cute girl)’s apartment was rough. The entire setup — turntable, speakers, amp — was too bulky to carry on a bus or subway, which left the taxi as the only option. Hailing a cab was impossible at the point of purchase (Sham Shui Po, where people are packed like a can of sardines), so I had to walk two blocks to a taxi stand, with the package’s heft — and the crowded, narrow streets of SSP — making every step a strenuous workout.

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Money Breeds Success

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It’s August, a dead time during NBA season, but NBA blogger Ethan Sherwood Strauss managed to write a super intriguing piece about the success of second generation NBA players. Specifically, Strauss notices that almost all second-generation professional ballers are great shooters. Steph Curry, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, etc, these guys could all stroke it from deep.

The conventional thinking is: these guys got good genes! But Strauss digs deeper. He theorizes that second generation NBA players are such elite shooters because of wealthy family backgrounds, which meant the Steph Currys and Klay Thompsons had access to professional training facilities, training equipments, and coaches from day one.

Whereas a Gary Payton had to work on his jumper in the broken-down parks of Oakland, young Kevin Love was probably working on his jumper inside a NBA-sized gym with ballboys fetching rebounds.

This theory, that wealth/privilege breeds more success is hardly new — Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book, Outliers: The Story of Success touches on this exact topic. Gladwell’s theory goes beyond just wealth — though that is a major part — but also luck. Would Bill Gates have become the revolutionary computer mastermind he is today if he didn’t happen to be at a campus with super-advanced computers? That’s the type of shit Gladwell explores in the book.

I’ve had a similar theory about Hong Kong people for years. This is a weird town, in which the divide between expats/English-speaking Chinese and local Canto Chinese is so wide it covers not just language, mentality, and tastes in music, but also looks and success.

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Buggin’ Out

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There is a scene at the beginning of the third act of White House Down, in which Jamie Foxx, playing a mild-mannered President of the United States, goes berserk on a terrorist who had latched onto the President’s shoes, a pair of Air Jordans.

“Get. Yo. Hands. Off. My. Jordans,” screamed President Foxx as he kicks the terrorist in the face, each kick coinciding with a word.

No one who knows film would go into a screening of White House Down not expecting it to be ridiculous and stupid — after all, this film is directed by Roland Freaking Emmerich and also stars Channing Tatum as a cop who’s the last line of defense in the White House — but still, that scene of the President of the United States, who apparently wears a full suit with Air Jordans with regularity, making a big deal over his Jordans stood out.

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