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.

kpop

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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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