Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism at the Olympics (and some other things b/c it’s been a while and the Lakers made a big trade)

Everyone is talking about the Olympics, and so far, I’ve only been yelling at my tv (and, like everyone else, at NBC).

Besides what everyone else is harping on–the tape-delayed broadcasts, the editing, the gymnastics announcers who treat teenage girls from other countries as evil villains…here’s some of what else I have found glaring.

1.  Not just the unreflexive nationalism, which happens every time–missing the great stories from other countries, etc.,–but ignoring how many of these athletes are themselves far more ‘international’ than our competitions acknowledge.  Not just the many track athletes and swimmers who are attending college in the U.S., but the athletes who live extensively in the U.S.–like Xue Chen of the Chinese beach volleyball team, or Mo Farah of the British track team.  This isn’t the Cold War era where the athletes neither knew nor liked those of other countries; the competitors in each sport are far more friendly and familiar, and international than NBC suggests.

2.  Did the announcers really say about Grenada–when Kirani James won the nation’s first gold–that the country was celebrating for the first time since Reagan “liberated” the nation from communists?  Love the politics from a track announcer.  Whether it is true or completely false, what I appreciate is his unabashed confidence that he, as an American, knows how loved Americans are when they invade other peoples’ countries.

3.  There’s been a lot of attention to Gabby Douglas, her race, her hair, her father.  There’s been less attention–which in itself is interesting–to the number of multi-racial athletes participating.  As with the shot of Ashton Eaton above, with his mom, is indicative of this.  Jessica Ennis is another example, one noted by June Thomas in Slate.  No comment from NBC–and there absolutely should not be–but that in itself is important. A racially divided America is watching the normalization of multi-racial America.  That has to be a good thing, right?

On the other hand, Leo Manzano, the American who first entered the U.S. as a child, and as an undocumented immigrant, winning the silver medal in the 1500 meters, seems to have angered a lot of the wackos in the comments section on internet blogs for claiming a bi-national identity of Mexican and American.

OK, so then there’s the Dwight Howard trade. Would the Lakers get the silver medal in the Olympics? Could they get the gold?  They don’t have the depth of the U.S. team, but their starting 5 matches up pretty well.

The Lakers are going to be very tough, unfortunately.  Bradford Doolittle doesn’t think so.  But his article just illustrates the limits of statistical analysis and moneyball type research. His caveat at the end of the article only scratches the surface.  He says that “the acquisition of Howard probably will improve the Lakers more than it appears in the spreadsheets. Howard is a better pick-and-roll partner for Nash than Bynum, who is more of a pure low-block player. Gasol should be a nice complement to Howard.”  So, yes, you can’t just plug individual stats into the computer because players play differently with regards to the other players they have on the court with them.

And here, Dwight Howard comes from Orlando, a team without a meaningful point guard.  The LA Lakers also played last year without a meaningful point guard.  That ought to mean, without doing the math, that Steve Nash’s impact on Howard and Gasol ought to be huge, right?  Marcin Gortat averaged 15 points a game last year, and he was frequently blocked on his way to the rim.  What does Howard do?

The wildcard is Kobe.  Does Kobe hurt Nash, and thus the others?  Regardless, stacking guys as individuals whose value is interpreted without regard to the other 4 guys on the floor is missing something important.

Grantland has been great throughout the olympics.  And Hua Hsu captures why I love Tim Lincecum, even when he’s struggling.

And nice to know that NBA players are getting involved in politics.  As has been commented on earlier, this is–historically–a new development.


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