Monday, February 16, 2009

Ask a Korean! News: Nationalism (and Americans' Not Getting it)

The Korean absolutley loves the NBA and his Los Angeles Lakers. So he was not going to miss any part of the NBA All-Star Weekend, including the Dunk Contest. Among the contestants was the first European player ever to participate in the Dunk Contest, Spaniard Rudy Fernandez of Portland Trailblazers . Check it out.

Pretty sweet dunks, and the Korean thinks the judges underrated him. But the point that the Korean made about nationalism, and the fact that Americans don't understand it, was in full display in this little vignette.

In the first dunk, Fernandez takes off his own jersey and shows off the jersey of Fernando Martin, the first Spain-born player to play in the NBA. The significance of it is utterly lost on the commentators. To be sure, NBA All-Star Weekend is about antics and fun. This is the only time in the year when you can see Dwight Howard trying to cross over Kobe, and laugh at him for failing miserably at that. So it is somewhat understandable that the commentators are not very much into honoring a Spain-born basketball player whose career was cut short by a car accident.

For the second dunk, Fernandez enlists the help of Pau Gasol of Los Angeles Lakers, a fellow Spaniard. Now this is a major sin for the commentators. You can tell it particularly rankles Reggie Miller, a former star player for the Indiana Pacers, who says in incredulity, "This is a division rival right here, Portland and Los Angeles. What's up with that?"

This is a case of Americans simply not getting it. In the mind of Fernandez from Spain, a nationalistic country, Rudy Fernandez represents Spain first, Portland Trailblazers second. So it totally makes sense for Rudy Fernandez to get the help from Gasol, the most high-profile Spanish player in the NBA, rather than, say, Brandon Roy of the Portland Trailblazers.

Clearly, there is no right answer in this. Fernandez is correct in some respect. He could have been signed by any NBA team, and he could traded at any moment. Portland Trailblazers cannot be more important than Spain. On the other hand, Reggie Miller is correct in some respect as well. NBA All-Star is about representing NBA teams, not where the players are from. If Dwight Howard of Orlando Magic, native of Atlanta, Georgia, got a help from his former high school teammate and fellow Georgian Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, there would have been riots on the streets of Orlando. This little episode is a great illustration of how Americans think, as opposed to the rest of the nationalism-inclined world.

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  1. Roboseyo is not sure if he agrees with your take on nationalism, here, The Korean. You see, Roboseyo's theory is that a country's nationalism lays latent in most people, until something stirs it up, in America just as well as in Korea. Were you living in North America back when French Fries were called Freedom Fries, because of anger at the French for refusing to go to war in Iraq? Every so often, some American pundit takes it upon him or herself to trash Canada in a similarly ignorant way. Even America is susceptible to nationalism, and having oceans on either side, and much weaker allies to the north and south, gives America the luxury of remaining somewhat insular. Another example of a situation that stirs up nationalism is taking a person out of their home country: Canadians don't sit around IN CANADA touting the virtues of our healthcare system: we rip it to shreds! But take that same Canadian group, sit them around a table with a bunch of Americans in a bar in Seoul, and suddenly we all sound like Michael Moore.

    Koreans overseas might speak and think differently about Korea than Koreans in Korea, might care more about matters of nationalist concern, because that's how they define themselves in an ocean of Other, -- Roboseyo thinks of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" --where the immigrant Greek family has held onto their Greek roots so desperately that they've almost become hyper-Greek, and well-traveled Greek nationals might look at them and shake their heads.

    Roboseyo might be wrong, but he guesses that it's probably the same in just about any expatriate or immigrant group.

  2. Despite previous disagreements with you about Spain (the country where I am from, but I now live in Korea) I have to agree with you. Being abroad I have discovered how nationalistic is my country in some issues. When it comes to sport, everybody goes crazy. You can't imagine how much the press worships our NBA players. I think they are doing well and is trully the best generation of our basketball, but I think we, or they, tend to exagerate.

    I watched that clip on the TV and I had to agree with Reggie Miller, even when he seems quite rude and prepotent.

    Anyway, the relationship between Gasol and Rudy and the other Spaniard players is more than a common country. They share much more than that. Seeing how they behave in the national team you can understand that this people are like brothers, they get on really well.

  3. I think my fellow Americans understand nationalism quite well -provided that it is American nationalism. They just don't get why anyone would be nationalistic about any (non-American and therefor obviously inferior) other country.

  4. Lame NBA commentator =/= Americans.

    I mean, like some former jock speaks for all Americans now? What does he know. The other guy got it, he knew who Martin was.

    I got it when I watched it live, then again I'm used to soccer where national teams/club ties are common.

  5. Robo,

    To be sure, the Korean is not saying that Americans are incapable of understanding nationalism. He is only saying that nationalism, for Americans, is not as an important concern as it is for people from other countries.


    The point is well taken, especially because the Korean followed the Spain team very closely. (The Korean dreams of a secret bromance with Ricky Rubio.) The Korean nonetheless stands by his comparison -- if Dwight Howard took Chris Bosh, another Team USA member with whom Howard was close for the help on the dunk contest, there still would have been riots on the streets of Orlando.


    Agreed with the observation, disagree with the reasoning.


    How dare you call Reggie Miller "some jock". The man is an icon. At any rate, it was just an illustration, not a proof.

    Behind each telecast, there is a big research team dedicated to digging up stats and facts within minutes. Marv Albert didn't know who Fernando Martin was -- somebody in the research team dropped the facts on his lap. Also, the fact that you are familiar with soccer probably disqualifies you from a typical American.

  6. Speaking of the Portland Trailblazers (just in case anyone cares), I watched the Blazers win the NBA Championship, as in sit in the Memorial Coliseum in-person (pre-Rose Garden). Well, stood actually, no one was sitting. Okay, no one cares. But it was fun (and LOUD). Sorry, nothing about Nationalism all about me!

    PS And what is a typical American, and Soccer disqualifies you?

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