There are some athletes who can’t be bought. Some athletes who refuse tobecome commodities, valuing their humanity more than their wallets. Thenthere is the Spanish national basketball team. Spain’s team, whichincludes NBA stars like Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon, is embroiled in acontroversy that has managed to be both racist and juvenile–and all the result of orders from one of their sponsors.
The photo that’s rocking the Olympics shows all fifteen members of theSpanish team, pulling back their eyes into a slit-eyed pose meant to mock Asians. They are also all giggling like four-year-olds after someone makes afart joke.
Even worse, it was all done on their sponsor’s orders. Not only did allfifteen players think this was a smashing idea, but the Spanish couriercompany Seur paid for it and has been running it in Spanish newspapers.
Gasol’s apology was about as weak as his rebounding. "It was something like supposed to be funny or something but never offensive in any way," said Gasol. "I’m sorry if anybody thought or took it the wrong way and thought that it was offensive." He later called the allegation that the pose was racist, "absurd."
He also said, "It was supposed to be a picture that inspired the Olympicspirit." If he means the Olympic spirit as it existed under the late IOCPresident "Slavery" Avery Brundage–who had a thing for Nazis–thenmaybe Gasol has a point. Even worse was one of my favorite players, Jose Calderon, the point guard of the Toronto Raptors, who wrote on his blog,"We thought it was something appropriate, and that it would be interpretedas somewhat loving." Calderon also wrote, "Some of my bestfriends in Toronto are of Chinese origin." Yikes. In proof that theremight not be such a thing as karma, heavily favored Spain then hit thecourt against China and almost lost, only to win in overtime.
The actions of Spain’s team and their sponsor are abhorrent. But aninteresting question was raised by US team point guard Jason Kidd. Kidd shook his head after seeing the picture and said that if the US team hadpulled such a stunt, "We would’ve been already thrown out of theOlympics. At least, we wouldn’t have been able to come back to the US….There would be suspensions." As for the Spanish team, Kidd said, "They won’t do anything to them. It’s a double standard."
Kidd has already been proven correct. If the American–and entirelyAfrican American–team had done such a thing, David Stern and the NBAwould be front and center trying to mend any and all fences. But theSpanish team is also populated by NBA players, and the NBA has yet toeven make any kind of a statement.
The entire incident reveals something beyond the juvenile attitudes ofthe Spanish players and the noxious marketing plans of some sponsors.It’s how all the talk of Olympic spirit and internationalism is acanard, a smoke screen for an ugly nationalism. Whether it’s BélaKárolyi calling the Chinese gymnasts "half people" or this latest descent into the muck, this can’t make China happy about opening their doors to the world. Somewhere Avery Brundage is smiling.