In a game hyped beyond belief, stuffed with politics analogies as well as a standing basketball turning point, not only did the US prevail, but they did so in such an effortless fashion it made the Chinese look like they were suddenly playing for second place. The US players floated down the court, and had two options – pass the ball to their guards for them to embarrass the inexperienced Chinese defenders or dump the ball into the post and watch Dwight Howard’s carnage. It was such a blowout, by the end of the game the US players were getting fancy with behind the back and twisting passes, mostly fans weren’t contempt with the US team flat out scoring. At any time during the game, if a Chinese player made any sort of nice move and finished it either with a layup, dunk, or a three pointer got the entire bench complete with everyone from China’s coaching staff to the Chinese models that normally just stand there and smile jumping for joy and pumping their fists.

So now that it is clear China still has work to do in basketball, why isn’t the USA back to their normal selves? They passed their test and demolished the famed Chinese dream team, with all 15 people on their team personally stabbing China’s basketball coffin. So why aren’t they credible any more? Is it because this was just a first round game? No. My answer? They haven’t faced Greece yet, plain and simple. Why? They is the perfect team to beat America — under the radar, sly, non-advertised, and good. They aren’t my pick for the gold, but they sure are contenders that the USA needs to watch out for – if they come into a game with them in their normal cocky, bulldozer attitude their going to snatch that gold medal off of their necks like they did in 2004.

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Having seen quite a lot of sporting events, and naturally, quite a lot of opening ceremonies, I must admit I was pretty amazed watching this year’s Olympic Opening ceremony. It was huge, involving thousands of people, but it was also very simple and artistic. From the blimp camera view, the shapes that the many thousands of humans made were breathtaking (my favorite was a bird which flapped its wings multiple times). The dancers were skilled and quick, and their overall performance was brilliantly choreographed. The fireworks were amazing, all their detail was displayed individually. The opening ceremony was (you could say) perfect, with amazing technology, great music, and risky acrobatics that was flawlessly executed via thousands of headphones, remote controls, and intense determination behind the scenes. 

But I didn’t like it.

Why? How could you just dismiss a flawless performance that took years of preparation and thousands of people to perform? In truth, it was perfect, but to me, and probably to many other people, it was expected. Let’s face it — the Chinese are master performers, they are as skilled, acrobatic, and dedicated as anyone else out there, but this would be their stereotypical performance. Just think about it. If someone told you that the Chinese were going to put on a performance for billions of people, and they could use all the people and money they pleased, this is what you would expect — and this is what we got. It was the best performance I have ever seen — and call me spoiled — but it wasn’t unique. It wasn’t different, it wasn’t simple, and it could have been. I enjoyed watching the ceremony, but I still think they could have done better. Better, but not with more people and money. Call me crazy, but I think the perfect Olympic Opening Ceremony should involve not involve dancers and acrobats, but all the athletes participating in the actual games. 

Let’s face it — to make it to the olympics, you don’t just need to be good at your sport, you need to be legendary. And everyone in the olympics is skilled, in shape, and experienced in entertainment. It would be exciting to have all the athletes’ best skills incorporated into the performance. It would be a fresh idea, it would be hilarious (some of the athletes would probably slip up or add some humor into it), and it would be great to see your favorite player perform. It would be like a professional dancing with the stars, and I think it would be entertaining for the viewers. Its just an opinion, but I think it would work.

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China’s In Trouble

August 6, 2008

I bet a few critics of the IOC are giving their “I told you so” remarks right about now. Why? China’s in big trouble. After insurgent attacks in Western China, China’s is up to their necks in problems – as well as doubters. These attacks (which killed 20 border patrolmen) claimed to be in favor of independence in some of China’s Western providences. But everyone knows that they came at the perfect time – just days before the Beijing Olympics. And why are we so ticked off with this? In 2001, when China was given their Olympic stature, they vowed to do many things for the game, including limiting the violence and taking care of their human rights issues. If you ask a foreign policy hunk, they’ll most likely tell you that after seven years, they haven’t exactly fulfilled their promises. Their popular-with-the-press pollution problem doesn’t help either, as many athletes who arrived to the games wore masks off the plane. 

But aside from that, one must wonder if another attack is in the making for Beijing. The Chinese government boasts they have foiled past plans, but many of us know that with China’s decreasing credibility, they are looking for anything to gain the press’s trust – and with China that sometimes leads to a habit of exaggerations. Aside from that, it looks like China isn’t very keen on getting very much outside press into their business – they weren’t so accommodating to Japanese reporters covering the insurgency attacks. They also don’t like the rest of the world reporting on the games, as they issued a countrywide internet blackout for websites that planned to cover the Olympics. They also sent out a list of websites that they did not want to publish a word about their games, most international. China has also cut off internet access entirely in parts of their country, and one can only wonder why…

So here we have a country in which many people are speculating. It has in a sense failed its own promises. They have issued a media and internet blackout throughout their entire country and have set limits on all the worldwide media they can get their hands on. They aren’t exactly best of friends with America, and our athletes have showed their concern by wearing masks inside the air-conditioned Beijing airport. So with all this, one might conclude the US president should not be one of the spectators at the Olympics. This was something I was for until my brother brought me to my senses and gave me a great, but simple reason why this would be a horrible idea. He correctly stated that Bush would stir an already sticky situation by boycotting the Olympics.

Now this is a correct answer, but there is something he may not have thought of, and rightfully so. In this whirlwind of politics, one might forget what the Olympics really boil down to – sports. A gathering of world-class athletes couldn’t come in a more grand stage, and sometimes big time newspapers and writers can forget that. We’ve all had those moments sitting in front of the TV with a Coke in one hand and chips in the other with your buddies, and whether you are watching tennis or basketball, ski racing or baseball — pegging your friends with chips or chucking them at the players on TV – we’ve all felt at home. I remember watching the finals with a bunch of guys I spent a week with in some remote tennis camp (that’s another story), and they were all Boston Celtics fans. Crammed in a smelly breakfast room with a bunch of sweaty top US junior tennis players in a room with only two small rotating air-fans, I felt like some monk dude who found the connection with god. I had found the real essence of sports – rooting on a team with a bunch of other people who you knew nothing about other than the point that they liked another team. You hated them, but that just makes your connection with them more powerful. So this is why we should forget that maybe we made a bad decision by picking China to host the Olympics, but besides that, in the end it’s the game that matters. I’m sure if Bin Laden was a Red Sox fan and Bush was a Yankees fan they would get in a brawl, but in the end they are just sports fans. My point here? Sports isn’t just a game, it’s an escape from politics and the outside world. That’s why every country should be part of this celebration, and that’s why we should all forget the politics, cram ourselves in small bar with our buddies and stare at the TV screen, and be sports fans. Not politicians, presidents, citizens and terrorists, but just sports fans. And that’s all that we have in common these days.

A brilliant speech by Alisa Miller from the Ted conference this year covered something that I noticed I didn’t cover in my one of my favorite posts “Good Press, Bad Press.” This is a post commenting on her interesting speech, and what I think about this problem our press has obtained.

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The first picture above is something I have been yearning to obtain for a long time — proof that America’s press is greatly biased towards ourselves and the one topic that every American paper is aware of and keeps covering valiantly — Iraq. I am not on a mission to prove America has a great amount of vanity for itself, that is for the world to decide. Staying strictly non-partisan on this post, I am more or less pointing out American media needs to keep an open mind on what is going on in the world. Sure, the American people love to sit and watch the carnage in the middle east, but if you feed a dog its favorite treat forever, its going to forget there are other good foods out there to sniff at. And in a sense, the American press has been serving that dog two types of food for years and only giving it periodic sniffs outside its realm to the surrounding world, so it barely has a chance to be curious. 

Miller’s speech was in a sense an outlet that helps people like me make a point about our media, and one of the many facts that made her speech so great was about a popular entertainment story that no one really thought was as big and as covered on the news as it was. In fact, the death of Anna Nicole Smith “eclipsed” news coverage of every country and got ten times more coverage than the IPCC report. So this single story of the death of a US entertainment star was obviously more important for an entire month. And this wasn’t just any month in news — this was a month when North Korea dismantled their nuclear weapons, global warming was confirmed in Paris, and there was massive flooding in Indonesia. Instead of a fluffy, long article in the New York Times’s obituary, this story deserved to outdo all other events that happened in the world that month, grazing the cover of virtually every major American newspaper out there. And to put this into more of a perspective, in that month — Russia, India, and China — only amounted to about 1% of news. No one cry goose on me, but I think we have a problem.

And in, fact, a problem well on its way to being solved. I love to praise blogging for really showing the meaning of free press, where anyone who wants to can call the shots on their own newspaper. Blogging to me is like the cast on top of the broken arm of the media, but it still is yet to get its recognition. It lets everyone from a Saudi Arabian blogger to someone like me, an American driving through the Uruguayan countryside to connect and share our experiences and ideas. But sadly, still considerably more people read the newspaper and magazines then people who read blogs, and I think it will take many years for this statistic to even itself out. And it seems like until then, it will require more people to be woken up from the news that to many is deceiving and be given more or less speech like Miller gave to point them in the right direction. 

So if we all had our way, what would be the perfect media? Even if our craze for celebrity and entertainment news is extinguished, we wouldn’t still have the perfect news. What about the war in the middle east? What is the right amount of coverage there?

I think the perfect media should have news outlets in every country in the world, and spend more money getting quality news instead of covering the cheap stuff inside America. The USA is in a rare time where most countries are opening up to each other — not too ago Eastern Europe was locked up. Now we have to chance to explore there. They say 90% of Americans have trouble locating basic countries on a map. Why not use this opportunity to provide news about countries that either seem far away to the average American or don’t even exist to them? Did Anna Nicole Smith pass away? Oh, too bad. Lets write something nice in the back of the paper for her. But look, people are starving over in India and a new tribe was found in the Amazon. Maybe we should even provide some insight on other parts of the world that people have no information about, even if something tragic isn’t happening there. Maybe we should write something about the Inuit tribes in Northern Canada and Qaanaaq, Greenland? Or maybe a piece about like in Turkmenistan? My point here? There’s a lot to know about this Earth, and its not all happening here in the US. 

So the problem here is merely our media not opening their eyes to the world and for once laying off the entertainment and leaving it for the teen gossip magazines. Our press isn’t so simple, and the internet and blogging is only getting stronger, so the light at the end of the tunnel may take long crawl to get to, but at least its there. 

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A Changed Game

July 28, 2008

As the Olympics draw closer and closer, through observing the US’s olympic preparation, I noticed the distinct differences between todays athletes and yesterday’s legends. One difference that really divided me were the physical differences. Watching the Olympic track and field trials, I noticed the build the runners had. They looked like hulks compared to the brawny runners of the past, their stick-like arms and long legs making long and fast strides. And although this new breed of runners doesn’t exactly look like the stereotype 1970’s sprinters, they can certainly sprint like them — and these days, they can do it faster. It seems like all the news stories in track and field these days are either someone breaking a record, or someone using steroids, but none the less, this kind of popularity definitely doesn’t hurt the sport. For me, it also makes it exciting. Reviewing the old tapes of the 70’s and 80’s was fun for me (I wasn’t even close to being alive then), but more fun is watching the races live. I am one of the many people who welcome this new change in sports — and there will certainly be more to come.

Professional sports is a business that thrives on its stars, some that are either skilled enough athletically or marketed well enough to end up as household names in places like China. And while these people sell tickets and fill seats, they don’t necessarily win, and sometimes, they even have a tendency to lose. This is one of the biggest misconceptions in my view about sports today – people expect the stars to perform well above their original standards. Being from the land of the Lakers, I have always followed my team as closely as possible. From attending Laker games from 2004 ‘till today, I have learned a lot, but most importantly, the only way they can actually win, with teamwork. In the year 2003, the Lakers stunk. If anyone remembers, with Kobe and Shaq feuding, team chemistry was not exactly blossoming. But that summer, Jerry Buss (the head of the club) brought in two wiser blockbuster players, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, who both never had a championship ring and was making one last stretch to get one. The team flourished up until the finals, but I didn’t like their style one bit. It was essentially an all star game, where the fans would cheer only if Shaq made an amazing dunk, and remain silent when Kobe made a great assist to a role player. And as I predicted, they faltered in the finals against a team who played well together and didn’t have any overpaid superstars. That year ended up being the end of Karl Malone’s illustrious career and the end of Gary Payton’s Laker stint.

Another effect like this is what I like to call the Jordan Phenomenon.  Ever since his rookie season in 1984, Chicago Bulls fans always predicted that MJ would always have a game better than his last and expected him to always have a few great dunks and always assumed he was a robotic basketball freak that made virtually every shot he took. And this is what made him so great and famous – he did. By living up to those standards he created an unwritten rule, a prestigious group if you will that includes the only athletes that can handle the fan pressure and live above it. Members of this group include Kobe Bryant, Jessie Owens, Michael Phelps, and Hank Aaron, just to name a few. These people really fed off of the pressure and rose above it, but their teams (with the exception of Jessie Owens and Michael Phelps who are in a class alone) did not do as well as they did. They did rise to the occasion, but their teams didn’t win consistently. My point here is that to have a great team you need a group of human beings who know each-other’s athletic abilities and have chemistry together. You don’t necessarily need great players. 

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