Dec 28, 2012

They're only lies and screwjobs when you're the one getting the shaft.

Now, when you're the one engaging in lies and deception, it's perfectly fine and dandy.

Oct 12, 2012

Election 2012

"How can people vote for ______?" = "Why won't the majority of (insert nationality here) agree that forming a government made up exclusively of politicians who share my opinions -- and are willing to draft and enact the type of laws, policies, and reforms, that I favor -- is the way to go?"

Sep 28, 2012

Is Psy just a one-hit wonder?

In a little over a month, Psy has gone from being virtually unknown outside of Korea to becoming a worldwide phenomenon. His music video for "Gangnam Style" is fast approaching 300 million views on Youtube (as of September 24), and consequently, spawned a truly global viral movement, mostly based on his outlandish dance routine. Psy, for his part, has since parlayed that whirlwind success into a near-constant stream of media appearances, showing up on morning talk shows and award ceremonies to perform to an audience that suddenly can't get enough of him.

His meteoric rise from relative obscurity in Korea has everybody wondering when he will show up next to put on his moves; he has hardly shown any signs of burnout from making so many rounds in so little time. It has also led to increasing talk about how he can possibly follow up this act, and in the (much) bigger picture, how others in the realm of K-Pop can expand their fanbase outside their homeland, particularly in America. Those are very good questions to ask in the wake of Psy's runaway success; and with a small but passionate Asian pop fanbase already in place in the States, there is a possibility that other entertainers in Korea, and the other major East Asian nations, could pursue opportunities here.

But at what cost?

Going off of his Wiki entry, as well as internet searches of his name, it seems Psy has built his career on being somewhat of a maverick in the Korean entertainment industry. His biography describes him as becoming a household name in his native land by adopting an irreverent and satirical style of prose and routine, in stark contrast to the more meticulous, refined ways of a typical K-Pop (and for that matter, any pop) artist or group. The video that launched him into superstardom would appear to have been scripted and played out based on those characteristics.

"Gangnam Style," Psy's satirical portrait of conspicuous consumption in South Korea, is certainly an extravagantly made music video. Behind the over-the-top depictions and the borderline ridiculous gyrations, however, there is a distinct purpose to every word, every shift of the body, and every background change. It's an inherently relatable track, if we all took the time to do a little research on it (or even just look up the lyrics on Google).

Then again, nobody in the mainstream media appears to have done any of that. There was precious little mention of the message behind the video during the first month of the phenomenon; everyone outwith the most curious onlookers was content to let the man do his horsey dance.

This is the paradox of "Gangnam Style": Even as the song has become a mammoth hit around the world, it has simultaneously been reduced to a dog-and-pony show among people who have come to enjoy it so much. As charismatic and talented as Psy may be -- he does pull off a great dance routine for someone in his mid 30s -- it seems clear as day to me that his newfound fame in the States is not due to his craft and character that he has developed over the years, but rather, because he has simply developed the dance move du jour.

Both the artist and the media are milking out this movement for all it's worth, and the craze over the pudgy, Asian dancing sensation shows no signs of abating. But we live in an era of short-lived fame and glory, and even shorter attention spans. Eventually, America, along with the rest of the world, will have its fill of "Gangnam Style." The media attention (and the view count on Youtube) will begin to taper off, before going into a steady decline. The parody videos will become few and far between. At some point, it will go the way of the Macarena -- too eccentric to become mainstream, but possessing enough staying power to remain in everybody's minds.

That point could come a month from now, six months from now, or even a year from now. But what then? Can he possibly keep the carton from running completely dry? Or will this be the first, and last, impact he will ever make on the world stage?

That, of course, only deals with the immediate, short-term response of his run atop the entertainment world. There are more serious questions to be asked about the long-term future of not only Psy himself, but for other superstars of the K-Pop (and other Asian pop) world, and even for Asian entertainers in America:

1. Could he possibly parlay the opportunities he has received via "Gangnam Style" into something even bigger? He's now under contract with the same record label as Justin Bieber, but it's rather difficult to see him reaching anywhere near the same plane of success as the track that brought him here.

2. If he really does end up being a one-hit wonder, how will he be remembered? This has as much to do with how record executives decide to handle other stars from Korean, and the broader Asian industry: if his success brings about more talented imports from East Asia, then he may well be remembered as a pioneer. If that doesn't happen? At best, he would be a mere trend-setter; at worst, he's Ken Jeong with a dance move.

3. Perhaps most worrisome for Asian entertainers: is this really what it takes to become a global entertainment icon? Psy built up a modest, if not sizable, following in Korea over a decade, yet it wasn't until he hopped on a horse and busted a couple of moves that he began commanding the attention of the entire world, not to mention the kingmakers in the music industry.

How should groups like Big Bang and Girls' Generation, both more popular in Korea than Psy, react to his sudden explosion onto the scene? What about other leading entertainers like Rain and Jay Chou? The fact that Psy has already achieved more global acclaim with one music video than those big-name stars have in their entire careers (the latter two even starred in Hollywood movies) should be more than slightly disconcerting if you're a fan of Asian entertainment.

4. What impact will the Psy phenomenon have on Asian-Americans? His rise is a double-edged sword for the most under-represented group in America in terms of media appearances: none of us would begrudge him his success, but do we really want to put him on a pedestal and hype him up as an example of what we want our pop stars to be like?

Even if the answer to that question is yes, it's highly doubtful that Psy would be truly adopted in the AA community. At the end of the day, he doesn't make much of a societal impact beyond going on Ellen and Today Show. He's not smashing any stereotypes or setting any new standards for performance. This isn't Jeremy Lin coming out of nowhere and capturing the imagination of the whole nation, all the while galvanizing an entire community. This is an entertainer who made his fame outside the US, who's capitalizing on a fad which has nothing to do with those of us who are here.

This may strike you as an overtly cynical view on Psy's ascension to the mass media throne, but at this point, it's naïve to expect everything to go as planned in this fickle, impulsive entertainment industry. Caveat emptor applies to the artists as much as it does to record companies and its consumer base; they're only of use to the execs as long as they produce hits, and the audience only tolerates them while their material is fresh and catchy enough.

Psy is receiving plaudits left and right at the present, but it's unrealistic to expect him to remain relevant as a one-trick pony forever. Either his handlers allow him to show his wider range of talents, or they'll simply reduce him to a tired circus act, only to be brought out for nostalgia's sake. Either way, it's unlikely he will ever reach his peak popularity once his hit song loses its spice.

Then the focus will shift on whether he, and the rest of his colleagues in the East, can continue making waves in the West.

That is, if they actually get an opportunity to do so.

Jul 25, 2012

Ichiro's last game as a Mariner

This is the tweet I sent out following Ichiro's final at-bat in Sunday's Mariners-Rays game at Tropicana Field. On a 1-1 count with two outs in the top of the eighth, he sent a soft liner toward short that was snagged by a backtracking Elliot Johnson. He ended the day 0-for-4 at the plate, with a run scored and two stolen bases, both of which came during the first inning.

The Mariners fans inside the Trop figured we were witnessing his last game with the club in St Pete. None of us could have imagined that this would be his last game as a Mariner, period.

* * * *
Ever since he made his MLB debut in 2001, Ichiro had come to represent the Seattle Mariners franchise. He shattered expectations by winning both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Players during that same year. He shattered a long-standing Major League record in 2004, by amassing 262 base hits in a single season. Oftentimes, he was the only player who kept made all those inept Mariners teams worth watching at all.

In his 11+ years with the Mariners, he had become a cultural icon in the Pacific Northwest, and something of a demigod in Japan. On a more personal note, he was responsible for reinvigorating my interest in the game of baseball, and more importantly, helping me rediscover my pride in being Japanese. There was no other athlete, in any sport, that I got more joy out of watching than the man wearing number 51 that patrolled the right field at Safeco Field (and other AL ballparks) for all these years.

What I loved most about watching Ichiro in during his prime was his distinctive style of play. The contrarian in me got so much fun out of watching this diminutive ballplayer dictate the course of the game on his own terms, during an era when juiced-up batters and hurlers ruled the day. At a time when the home run was the only thing that mattered in the Major Leagues (anyone remember this commercial?), he began a one-man mission to reintroduce old-school baseball: spraying base hits to every conceivable part of every playing field; routinely turning singles into extra bases; stealing bases whenever he pleased; making difficult plays in the outfield look easy; and a laser arm that still commands respect to this day.

I only had faint memories of him playing and appearing on commercials when I still lived in Japan; I had moved to the States as a nine-year old, and aside from the odd highlights featuring Hideo Nomo, had not paid much mind to baseball since. That all changed with Ichiro. At first, I began sticking around to see his highlights on SportsCenter. Then I began looking out for his stats; how many steals he had, how long his latest hitting streak was. Then I began watching nationally-televised games featuring the Mariners; I was (and still am) on the East Coast, so late night games were a little problematic, but I tuned into as many day games as I can.

That 2001 season made my love for the game stronger than it ever was. I was eager to jump on the Mariners bandwagon that year -- winning 116 games in the regular season with a player who had become my all-time sports idol made it easy for me. To this day, I'm gutted about that team not being able to reach the World Series. There's hardly anybody left on that bandwagon now, but here I am, over a decade removed from that historic season.

* * * *
I would be remiss if I did not mentioning my favorite on-field Ichiro moment. Ironically, it came while he was wearing a uniform other than the one he wore every game for the Mariners.

There were only two teams that took the World Baseball Classic in 2009 very seriously: Japan and South Korea. These two nations, already great rivals in soccer, were in the throes of a budding competition in baseball, as well. While the Koreans had a more successful history in soccer, the Japanese had a more extensive baseball lore. By 2009, however, Korea was catching up fast. They were producing big leaguers of their own, and their domestic league was improving by the day.

Their progress was evident during the early stages of the WBC, when they defeated Japan twice -- once in Tokyo, and once in San Diego. Japan, of course, returned the favor with two victories over Korea; neither country lost to any other opponent leading up to the tournament final.

The championship game itself will go down in the folklore of both countries. It was a very tense matchup, a low-scoring duel between two loaded pitching staffs where runs, and even baserunners, came at a premium. Japan held a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, but the Koreans pegged back with a run, then made it a tie game with another in the ninth. It would take extra innings to decide the outcome between these evenly matched units.

Japan put two men on scoring position in the top of the 10th, with two outs. Each team had escaped a number of jams without allowing a run; but then, the best player on the field had not been up to bat in any of those occasions. My senses were heightened as Ichiro went through his routine at the plate prior to this huge opportunity. If anybody can win the game for us, I thought, it would be the man currently at the plate.

Sure enough, on a 2-2 count, he came through for us with a two-run single:

Japan won the game, and their second straight World Baseball Classic, by a 5-3 score. That they managed it over their greatest rivals made the victory all the more sweeter; that it came primarily as a result of a clutch hit by Ichiro, the sports hero for so many Japanese people, gave me even greater satisfaction.

* * * *
A decade is quite a long time in the realm of professional sports. Short of using PEDs to keep themselves strong and fresh at all times, athletes cannot escape the inevitable erosion of their skill sets. There's a reason why late-bloomers have their own category, not only in sports, but in every profession; there's a prime age for productivity, and once we get past that timeframe, everything typically goes downhill.

Ichiro, of course, is no exception. For an entire decade, he could be counted on crank out over 200 hits and bat over .300 during a season. He could be relied upon to display Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field (and sometimes in center, too). He could be expected to turn groundouts into infield hits, and singles into extra bases. He could even conjure up the odd 400-ft home run when he wanted to turn on the power. On any given day, he could singlehandedly win the game for the Mariners. In short, he could do it all on the playing field.

Alas, the corollary to the last sentence is that he could have never kept doing those things forever. He is now 38 years old. If you add his time in Japan, he's been playing professionally for half of his life. Season upon season of playing top-flight baseball in both Japan and America has clearly taken its toll. What used to be consistent production has been reduced to occasional reminders of what he had been capable of doing. Even his hair appears to be turning silver at certain spots.

As this season wore on, it looked increasingly more likely that this would be his last year with the Mariners, perhaps even his last year playing baseball. His contract was set to expire after the season, and his diminishing return on the field was there for everybody to see. I personally felt he would play out the string in Seattle, then announced his retirement following the season. At least that's how I thought it would transpire.

Could I possibly have been more wrong there?

* * * *
During the Mariners' previous visit to St Pete, Ichiro had been in the middle of a decent start to the season, batting over .300 and showing signs that he had shrugged off the subpar performance from thre previous year. Perhaps he was living off of some early-season momentum, but he had a good time at the plate during the series, going 8-for-17 with an RBI. Unfortunately, having an anemic offense around him meant that he only crossed the plate once in four games, all of which ended in losses for the visitors; but he had his way with the Rays pitching staff, considered to be one of the strongest in the Majors.

Almost three months later, however, both Ichiro and the Mariners had reverted back to last year's form. Actually, that's not totally accurate: they were both worse than they were at this point in 2011. He came into the Rays series batting .265, lower than his average the previous year, and the team was all but locked into the AL West cellar, 14 games under .500 going into Friday.

No matter; I still wanted to see Ichiro perform some magic on the baseball field for the last time.

As luck would have it, Sunday's game started in a rather inauspicious fashion for Ichi; a failed sacrifice bunt that ended with Casper Wells being tagged out at third. Perhaps wanting to makeup for the miscue, he immediately stole second base, then stole third base just moments later. On the next pitch, Jesus Montero drove him in with a double to left-center. That was vintage Ichiro on the basepaths -- wreaking havoc with his foot speed, then trotting home without breaking a sweat.

He also showed us a glimpse of his defensive prowess with a remarkable catch on Carlos Pena's flyball. Leaping high into the air against the right-field fence, he robbed the slugger of an extra base hit. Making simple plays as well as the difficult ones; that was what made him a Gold Glove outfielder for ten years running. Those plays had become few and far between due to his diminishing range in the outfield, but on that occasion, he showed he still had the ability to change the game with one snag of the ball.

He could cross paths with Pena again in the third inning. He stroked a soft grounder down the first base line, and the Rays' first baseman, somewhat returning the favor for the defensive gem in the first inning, got the slighest amount of contact on Ichiro with a tag, denying him of an infield hit. Ichi, for his part, tried to contort his body in a way that resembled one of his stretching poses in the on-deck circle before each at bat; for an athlete with his tear and wear on the body, he appeared remarkably nimble.

* * * *
It's worth noting that during every Mariners game I've attended at the Trop, Ichiro was the only player on the visiting team who commanded undivided attention from the overwhelmingly pro-Rays crowd when he came up to bat. Even during the twilight of his career, he still possessed enough of an aura that he got the entire crowd to watch him in action. Not surprisingly, the few brave M's fans who made the trek down to St Pete reserved their loudest cheers for number 51.

In the end, however, it was the Rays fans who had reasons to cheer after each plate appearance by Ichiro on Sunday. He did not a hit off of Matt Moore, never reaching base after the first inning. In fact, he couldn't get the ball out of the infield during his first three plate appearances. The grizzled veteran who had seen it all during his career was the one being taken to school by the dazzling young lefty on the Rays staff. It was obvious whose career was in ascendancy, and who was on the downward arc.

He stepped up to the batters' box for the last time with two outs in the top of the eighth. Perhaps sensing the occasion, the M's fans in the stands -- there were maybe a hundred of us at the game -- gave him a standing ovation as he walked up to the plate. Watching the highlights afterwards, it sounded like the on-field mic picked up the applause. Was it simply Root Sports placing the mic near the third base dugout, where most of the visiting fans congregated? Perhaps. But it was definitely audible. We were all hoping for one final display of what made us so smitten with the guy.

Alas, Ichiro's final at-bat would also end in an out. After working Moore to a 1-1 count, he produced a slicing liner that floated just long enough to allow Elliot Johnson to get under it, and make the inning-end grab. That lowered his season average to .261, a far cry from what we had become accustomed to seeing from him in years past.

The Mariners still went onto beat the Rays by the score of 2-1, just as they had the previous night. Ichiro, as always after a win, was in the center of the postgame festivities on the mound. That was the last I saw of him in a Seattle uni: high-fiving his teammates on the infield, smiles all around, savoring the victory in a place where they had not won very often during the last five years. When he trotted off the field and disappeared into the dugout, I was sure that this would be his last visit to St Pete, and that he would go on play out the remainder of the season with the Mariners.

I was off on both counts.

* * * *
Perhaps it was fitting that I would find out about the trade with the Yankees through Twitter. Coach Pink was the one who broke the news, sending me a DM asking how I felt about Ichiro in the pinstripes. I was tempted to retort that April Fools was nearly four months ago, but then I looked at the timeline, which had multiple confirmations that yes, he had indeed been dealt to New York.

I'll freely admit to being absolutely floored by the news. It never occurred to me that there was a chance he could finish his career, or even this season, with another team. It seemed inconceivable that the Mariners would trade away the player who had been the face of the franchise for the better part of his career, a player who was an iconic figure on both sides of the Pacific. I never once prepared myself for the possibility that he could wear the uniform of another Major League franchise.

I really did believe that. Until 6:30 pm Eastern time, on July 23, 2012. The trade was made official. The press conference would soon follow. By 9 pm, Ichiro was already in a Yankees uniform, sporting an unfamiliar number 31, getting ready to face his old team, on his old home turf. I was left completely blindsided, and I suspect the majority of Mariners fans were, as well.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. His impact had clearly diminished on the field, and not coincidentally, he was no longer the same box office draw that he was in his prime. And given the bevy of potential replacements in the farm system, he very well could have seen the writing on the wall himself. Plus, the Mariners are still years away from being a playoff contender; his best chance to win an elusive World Series ring would have had to come via a trade.

So this is where we are. Ichiro Suzuki is a Yankee now, and I, and other M's fans, have no option but to accept that reality. I could never root for the the Evil Empire, but I would be delighted if he could win a championship that he never got a chance to play for in Seattle.

* * * *
At the press conference announcing the trade, he took the time to thank his teammates and managers, and the ownership that brought him to America and made him a global star. However, he saved his most heartfelt appreciation for the fans: 
I would like to express my gratitude to the fans. Thank you for the last 11 1/2 years. Starting in 2001, whether the team played well or bad, whether I did good or bad, I am overcome with emotion when I think about my times and feelings during time that was spent together with the fans.

During all those times, the fans were a big foundation for me... and when I imagine taking off a Mariner uniform, I was overcome with sadness. It has made this a very difficult decision to make."
Perhaps this was the inevitable conclusion. A similar announcement could have easily been made two months from now, after the end of the season. It could have even occurred in another year or two, had both parties decided they wanted to prolong the relationship, unlikely though that scenario may have been. That said, regardless of how the departure took place, it was always going to take some time to get used to seeing the Seattle Mariners without Ichiro, and vice versa.

The biggest takeaway from this whirlwind weekend is this: Ichiro will always be loved and revered by Mariners fans. And although he will no longer put on the Seattle uniform before every game, all of us who consider ourselves Ichiro fans would wish him nothing but the best of luck, wherever life takes him from this point on. And when he has his day in Cooperstown -- he would be the first Japanese-born player to be enshrined -- the joy will not be just on him. It will also be on all of us.

Years from now, I will pass down my Mariners fandom -- and the many stories of the Ichiro folklore -- to my kids and grandkids. And yes, I will be sure to tell them that I was in attendance for old number 51's last game in a Mariners uniform.

Thank you for all the memories.

Jul 6, 2012


When floodwaters cover our homes, we expect that FEMA workers with emergency checks and blankets will find us. There is no moral or substantive difference between a hundred-year flood and the near-destruction of the global financial system by speculators immune from consequence. But if you and your spouse both lose your jobs and assets because of an unprecedented economic cataclysm having nothing to do with you, you quickly discover that your society expects you and your children to live malnourished on the streets indefinitely. That kind of truth, says Nancy Kapp, "really screws with people's heads."

Jun 27, 2012

2012 Republican Party of Texas Platform (Page 13)

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Jun 13, 2012

Loyalty in sports: a flawed concept?

Loyalty is often thought of as one of the most admirable personality traits, and as such, is frequently used as a litmus test for an individual's character.

Loyalty, or lack thereof, has also been one of the most popular complaints among the average sports fan, mainly directed toward professional athletes in a team setting, but increasingly toward managers, owners, and even among fans themselves.

It is rather ironic, then, that this year's NBA Finals is being contested between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, both teams that morphed into championship contenders after two of the most villainous acts in sports history. Unfair though this designation may be, LeBron James and Clay Bennett have become the face of disloyalty and treason in basketball, if not sports altogether.

Most NBA fans still vividly remember The Decision; there is the indelible image of LeBron James, announcing on national television that he was taking his talents to South Beach instead of staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers. More fans are becoming aware of the cloudy circumstances behind Oklahoma City's arrival as a major-league town, which began after Clay Bennett and his cronies, with an assist from Howard Schultz, relocated the Seattle Supersonics to OKC.

Both incidents have received substantial coverage and attention ever since, but they have taken a backseat to the build-up to the Finals. Nevertheless, they provide an insight into the place of loyalty in sports -- namely, whether that concept even has a place in sports at all.

* * *
Last September, a promising footballer named Islam Feruz left Scottish club Celtic for a more lucrative offer from Chelsea, this year's Champions League winners. Originally from Somalia, he had faced deportation from the UK before his club intervened, helping to secure residency for him and his family. He had debuted for the Scottish national team at the youth level, and was considered the brightest prospect that Celtic had produced in years.

And then he was gone, seemingly scurried off to London without leaving a trace. I wrote in the aftermath that Feruz had become another example of the effects of modern football, where players his age got their heads turned by money signs, brighter lights, and shady "handlers." I specifically criticized the people around him for their money-grabbing ways, believing that they should have remained faithful to the club that rescued them when they were days from being driven out of the country.

I genuinely believed that... until I put on Islam Feruz's boots and scampered for a mile with it.

There's no guarantee that Feruz would have turned out to be a star player for Celtic, let alone for Chelsea. However, there is a pronounced hierarchy in club football, where one team is clearly superior to the other in terms of money and talent, if not history. Chelsea, at the time being, are infinitely more attractive to a player than Celtic, from both a professional and financial standpoint. That is what it came down to for the young man and his support team.

They call it professional sports for a reason. It's a profession. It's an industry. It's a business. At its very basic level, pro sports is no different from any other form of industry. It's one team trying to present a better product than the rest of the competition. It's the management team trying to piece together the right set of players into a cohesive team. It's the players trying to find the right situation for themselves.

Make note of the last sentence of that paragraph, because that applies to the vast majority of us, as well.

* * *
I have worked at the same company for the last four years. Since graduating from college, I have sent in a large number of resumes to employers from seemingly every corner of the internet... a hefty chunk of which were for jobs within my company. It is only in recent months that I have been presented with an internship within another department, with a view of transitioning into an official position within the next few months.

Yet, if I were to be presented with a career opportunity tomorrow that was better than what I have on offer now, I would not take two minutes before jumping all over it. I've come to realize that, despite working for years at the same office, in the same company, I don't feel any sense of loyalty to my employers. None of the tasks I perform on a daily basis is done out of some sense of commitment to my company's cause, or for the betterment of our department.

My overall attitude toward my occupation is this: I do what I do to earn a weekly paycheck, and to put myself in a better position for advancement, whether it's a month from now, a year from now, or even decades from now. My loyalty, at least in the professional sense, only extend to myself and my co-workers.

I haven't been in contact with enough professional athletes in my lifetime to know for sure whether this is also true for them, but given the cutthroat nature of the pro sports industry, I suspect that is indeed the case. The role players are moved constantly moved around like chess pieces. Even superstars aren't immune to being discarded at some point in their careers. Just ask Peyton Manning about his final days with Colts... or Patrick Ewing with the Knicks... or Willie Mays with the Giants... or Raul with Real Madrid. The list goes on.

This is why I don't hold grudges against players who choose to leave my teams. I find it pointless to take shots at players who decide to move on, especially because they're doing what many of us would do under similar circumstances. Sure, you get the spectacularly mismanaged separations like the Cavaliers and LeBron on rare occasions, but most of the time, the players do what they do because it makes the most sense to them at the time. In the end, a player departure has nothing on a team deserting its city.

* * *
One thing I have noticed about LeBron's Decision is that he is still attracting an enormous amount of derision and ridicule for a single television event which took place two years ago. This in stark contrast to the scorn reserved for the likes of Bennett and Schultz following the Seattle Supersonics' move to Oklahoma City. It took a Finals run by the Thunder for many outside of the Pacific Northwest to recall that a basketball team called Emerald City home.

I've always found this bizarre, because on the surface, the departure of a team from a city should result in a much bigger outpouring of sympathy from an entire sports fanbase than a departure of a player from a team. Yet, the average fan seems more interested in taking James to task for abandoning Cleveland, than in calling out the former (and technically, still current) Sonics' ownership for wheeling a team out of a city where it was a cultural institution for over 40 years.

That's the dirty little secret about professional sports that most of us have yet to catch onto: Team owners couldn't possibly care less about their city or their fans. Their primary concern lies with generating revenue; their primary loyalty is to themselves. Put another way, they are no different from the "mercenery" athletes they flip around on a regular basis.

Nowhere does the owners' obsession with money and power manifest itself more than at the new, opulent, state of the art venues for sports teams. Every new stadium the last two decades has been built largely on the taxpayers' dime, with teams' contributions often ranging from "disproportionately small" to "fraudulently miniscule." It is nowadays rare to see an owner announcing plans for a privately financed venue; the threat of relocation has been far more frequent during stadium talks.

The city of Orlando went through the same merry-go-round with its new downtown arena. Long story short: The Magic owners (DeVos family) cried out for a replacement venue; they made veiled threats to relocation as the talks progressed; a deal was passed between owners and the city, without ever being put up for a vote; and ultimately, an arena was built at cost of nearly $500 million, with the Magic picking no more than $100 million of the tab.

Read the last sentence again. The Magic contributed no more than 20% of the cost of the new arena, leaving the proverbial man on the streets to make up the rest. How is that any way to repay the faith of a city that has supported them for more than a generation?

To this day, I remain convinced that if that arena deal was presented to the people of Orlando, as a similar one was in Seattle, it would have been rejected outright -- and rightfully so. But that outcome could have easily led to our team jetting off for the Great Plains.

* * *
Like any other word, it is easier to look up the definition of "loyalty" in a textbook than it is through real-life experiences. When placed in a sports context, coming to a consensus on its meaning becomes an impossible task. The Dwight Howard saga here in Orlando illustrates this point perfectly.

Recently, Adidas began selling a Dwight-themed shirt which had the word "loyalty" printed out prominently in the middle. The design was met with widespread ridicule from most fans and media members, though Magic fans were somewhat muted in their response, perhaps retaining hope that he will live up to his word and remain faithful to the city of Orlando and its basketball team.

Could he leave Orlando behind by this time next year? That almost seems like a foregone conclusion at this point, unless the new management team can convince him to stay in town. On the other hand, he has already played eight years here. How many players can claim to have spent that many years with one team these days? Don't you think someone like Courtney Lee, who has already been traded twice in his career, would love to have that kind of stability?

Depending on who you ask in Orlando, Dwight has either earned the right to leave town if he wishes, or should be considered a traitor if he does bolt. So what exactly is loyalty in sports?

Jun 4, 2012

IBL Fever: The running diary

The Magic's season may have come to its merciful conclusion weeks ago, but professional basketball is very much alive in the city of Orlando. There's a new team in town, and it has replaced the Magic -- at least during the summer -- as the only basketball show in Central Florida. The Orlando Venom, part of the International Basketball League (hereby referred to as the IBL), have set up shop in the Winter Park Rec Center; and neither the team nor the league have anything on their NBA counterparts in town, they have nevertheless produced a small, but rather passionate, following during its first season in existence.

I have been in attendance for a handful of games so far, courtesy of some generous ticket arrangements with those connected to the team. They have yet to win a game on their home court, but each outing has been very entertaining and enjoyable from my point of view, regardless of the score. I've taken the liberty of live tweeting these games (get at me, ninjas) in recent weeks; this is the first time I've rounded one up in a summary form. So here is the running diary from the Venom's most recent matchup, on Saturday night against the Portland Chinooks:

6:50pm: Leaving for the Rec Center. If I end up in the emergency room tonight, just assume I've caught a severe case of IBL FEVER.

7:08pm: Got to the Center just in time for the opening tip. Free entry to the game secured via [name redacted for obvious reasons]. I look to the left and see a sea of empty seats; there are maybe ten people sitting courtside, as well as behind the basket. Spoiled for choice, I was indeed. Ultimately, I settle for a seat right across the Venom bench.

7:17pm: Already seeing a barrage turnovers and missed layups from both sides. Secretly hoping that this one doesn't go overtime, even though only three minutes of actual game time has passed. By the way, Juan (aka 407 Hood Legend) has the line at Portland -12.

7:30pm: The Venom dancers come onto the court during a timeout. Their routine, or rather, the execution of said routine, screams DTF.

7:32pm: Just spotted one of the players texting -- yes, TEXTING -- while a Portland player shot free throws. Welcome to the IBL!

7:34pm: Venom up 26-22 after the 1st quarter. Portland has missed at least eight chances at the rim, though. Juan suggests via Twitter that the visitors could be shaving points; they're not being very subtle about it if that is indeed the case.

7:44pm: Alex and his Lake Howell boys are in the building. No Chandler sighting, however, as he's in a Caribbean island according to his Twitter account. Plus, I don't think an NBA player would stick around for this type of game for more than a quarter, but that's a whole 'nother matter.

7:52pm: Midway through the 2nd quarter. Iren Rainey, a key contributor for the Pedro's Posse last season, has caught fire for the Venom. There's one guy in the gym who's caught IBL FEVER tonight!!!

8:00pm: Portland missed a fast break dunk on their last possession of the half; they pay for it dearly as a Venom guard (can't even remember his name) drains a 3 at the other end. Orlando goes into the locker room up 58-53.

8:05pm: The dance team's halftime show consists of half a song; I applaud them off the court, anyway. By the way, I asked about this during the previous game, but what's the proper etiquette when watching these dancers on the floor from courtside? Do I just look at them sideways, or simply eyeball them the whole time? Keep in mind that I've already noted these dancers as being, ahem, more than slightly suggestive.

8:14pm: Winter Park mayor, per the team guide: "We are proud to host this "world-class" basketball league at our new facility." So there you go, there's another key figure on the Venom team who has come down with that FEVER.

8:27pm: Second half is under way, and the Venom are actually playing some useful, productive basketball. They build a double digit lead, and get Portland into early foul trouble. In fact, they've had five personals and a tech called on them in the opening three minutes.

8:33pm: Orlando now up 77-64. Biggest lead of the game so far. Progress!

8:36pm: One of the Venom guards gets the play from the coach in the half-court. He promptly jacks up a 25-footer that had absolutely no chance of going in. Meanwhile, Roodz has asked me what the f*** kind of game I'm watching; that's actually not a bad question at all.

8:44pm: These fans sitting courtside appear to be particularly passionate about the Venom. I'm assuming they're related to someone on the team, whether it's a player, a coach, an exec, or a dancer. Either way, their dedication to this team is rather admirable.

8:47pm: Down 13 points earlier, Portland has come all the way back to take the lead. Remember that useful basketball the Venom were playing earlier? Yeah, me neither.

8:51pm: Entering the 4th quarter, and this one is tied at 87. It's a shame no TV or radio station is covering this, because this game has a potential for an outstanding finish. ESPN might be a step too far for a league like the IBL, but it could certainly do with a wee bit more exposure.

9:01pm: Both teams are in double-figures with 7 minutes to go. Venom up 3 points. This might be the ugliest high-scoring game I've ever seen.

9:07pm: I can only imagine what the atmosphere here would be like if they sold beer at the concession stands... there's a decent chance both teams might have been heckled out of the gym by now.

9:10pm: It's now a matter of which team will make fewer mistakes toward the end. Venom still leading 108-107 with 4 minutes to go. Looks like this one's coming down to the wire; can we get Bright House Networks to set up a camera or two?

9:14pm: Actually amazed that the Venom have led almost the whole way, considering how morbid they've looked at times. It's almost like they're trying to run an And1 offense, only without tricks and dunks. No way they'd put up more than 40 points against an NBA team over 48 minutes, even against the Bobcats. Anyways, back to the game.

9:15pm: Tied at 111 with a little over a minute to go. This is IBL at its finest.

9:18pm: Chernobyl-style meltdown for the Venom down the stretch. A missed three and a missed jumper, both taken almost immediately after they crossed half court. Meanwhile, Portland hit two free throws, then got a putback (following a missed alley-oop, no less) on the other end. Venom now trailing by four.

9:20pm: Another awful three with plenty of time on the clock. No choice but to foul the Portland player on the rebound; he calmly hits both free throws. Venom down six... cue the late Don Meredith.

9:22pm: Portland 119-113 Orlando final. The summary of the final minutes: the Venom completely froze down the stretch, and all but opted to hand the game over to Portland on a silver platter, with the salt and the pepper at the ready. Strangely enough, that was the exactly same score as the previous night, except the visitors had led most of the way. Dropping either of these two games would have been a huge downer for them, considering the trip; they probably didn't stay at the same hotel the Blazers stay in when they come down to Orlando.

So that may not have been the most intriguing advertisement for the Venom, and the IBL as a whole, but pro basketball, at any level, is entertainment first. And you certainly get your money's worth of entertainment at Venom games, for better or worse.

May 21, 2012

If Picasso were an art student today, his instructors would have seen no potential whatsoever in him, and gotten him kicked out of school... but not before suggesting that he pursue a career in accounting, law, or some other generic, high-paying career instead.

May 13, 2012

Shinji Kagawa: The next great hope

This year's German Cup final afforded Shinji Kagawa with quite possibly the biggest platform he has ever been presented during his burgeoning career. A sellout crowd on hand at the Olympiastadion in Berlin; a matchup against Bayern Munich, the most successful club in the nation; an expectant Dortmund fanbase eagerly awaiting their club's first ever league-and-cup double; an adoring legion of fans in his homeland anticipating the kickoff well into the midnight hours. And just for good measure, one of the most iconic managers in football was in attendance, presumably to watch his every move.

The stage had been set for Shinji Kagawa to deliver a spectacular performance -- and deliver, he did.

The Japanese maestro wrote his name on the scoresheet less than three minutes into the match, a slot-home finish after a defensive meltdown from Bayern allowed him to slip past a couple of defenders. He then notched an assist in the latter stages of the first half, sliding in a gorgeous pass to the onrushing Robert Lewandowski, who simply had to poke his effort past the keeper. His fingerprints were also on Dortmund's first goal after the break; his foray inside the Bayern half and layoff to Kevin Grosskreutz eventually led to Lewandowski's second goal of the match (he would get his hat trick in the dying minutes).

It was the perfect sign-off to another superlative season for the Kobe-born playmaker. He had become a household name in the previous season, bagging eight league goals during the first half of the campaign, including a brace in the derby match at Schalke. An ankle injury kept him out for most of the latter half, but the expectations for Kagawa, as well Dortmund, were sky high going into 2011-12.

His response? No less than 18 total goals, with 13 coming in the Bundesliga, plus 11 assists, which easily could have been more. He was an unstoppable force from January to March, tallying eight league goals in nine matches. Those contributions were essential in Dortmund taking home their second straight league title, and after today's emphatic win over Bayern, the first league-and-cup double in club history. All this, from a player who was virtually unknown outside of Japan less than two years ago.

If his first season in Germany was about gaining respect in the football community, his second one was geared toward adding to his reputation, a mission he was wildly successful in completing. It is natural, then, to wonder how much more he is capable of accomplishing in the coming years. He only turned 23 in March, which puts him in an ideal spot as a professional athlete: a bona-fide, established player who is still years away from hitting his prime. Not surprisingly, his future has been a subject of considerable discussion among fans and pundits alike.

Some of the biggest clubs in football have shown an interest in signing him during the summer, most notably Manchester United. In fact, Sir Alex Ferguson made an appearance in Berlin for the match, taking time off from preparing for a potential title-deciding clash against Sunderland the next day. If he was there to watch Kagawa in action -- and it would hardly take an educated guess to arrive at that conclusion, given the rumors -- then he will have left Germany with an indelible impression of the player.

It is still much too early to tell whether Kagawa will be wearing red as we kick off a new campaign in the summer, but very few would argue against his credentials. With his penchant for scoring goals and making decisive passes, plus an innate understanding of where and how an attacking play will unfold, he could very well become an important asset for Sir Alex's side next season.

May 7, 2012

Trip to the Trop: Weekday baseball in St Pete

To say that the Seattle Mariners haven't given their fans (such as myself) much to cheer about in recent years would be a gross understatement. They looked to be well on their way to another dispiriting season when they rolled into St Petersburg for a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Being a true glutton for punishment, I decided to travel down for the final two games of the series, taking Thursday off from work in the process. Getting tickets and booking a hotel was easy enough, given the Rays' perennially low attendance and the quietness of downtown St Pete. However, as the adage goes, it's easier to plan for a journey than to actually embark on it; this one was certainly no different. On that note, this is the complete chronicle of my trip to Tropicana Field, broken down into several segments:

Drive to the ballpark

I made the trek down to the Trop for an M's game last August, but that was for a Saturday night game; it was a very smooth drive to St Pete and back, so much so that I got back to Orlando within two hours of the game (an 8-0 shutout loss for Seattle). This time, I would have to try to avoid the notorious rush hour traffic in downtown Tampa. I left town at 3pm, hoping I wouldn't get caught up in the crunch... suffice to say, that didn't happen. At all.

I got to the heart of Tampa just before 5pm; the ensuing backup at the infamous Malfunction Junction put a grinding halt to what had been a nice and tidy ride. No sooner than I navigated my way through the interchange, I ran into an even bigger problem: more traffic flowing in from downtown. In fact, that was even worse than what I saw at the intersection, because the gridlock lasted all the way until the last exit before the bridge, which might as well have been the promised land at that point. All told, it took a full hour before I finally reached the Pinellas side of the bay.

On the flip side, going through Pinellas was the equivalent of rolling through a county road in Kansas. People even drove above the speed limit on the fast lane, which was a pleasant surprise. After checking in at my hotel, I hopped back on the car to get to the Trop, which I figured would be easy enough to get to from there.

There was only one problem: I forgot that downtown St Pete had so many one-way streets. At one point, I made a left turn into oncoming traffic, which must have scared everyone on that street, just as it did for me; fortunately, there was a back alley immediately to my right, and I managed to wiggle my way through before becoming just another statistic. That was the last of the driving adventures on the day, as I finally got to the ballpark almost 30 minutes before the first pitch.

The peculiar thing I noticed about St Pete was that outside of the Trop, there were hardly any signs that a baseball team existed in town. Aside from small flags flying outside of shops, hotels, and on some light posts downtown, it was almost as if the Rays weren't part of the city's fabric. I don't know whether that's down to the team not being adept at marketing themselves (something I heard from Rays fans at the game), but I thought it was odd that a team that good was just about invisible in their own backyard.

Tropicana Field

Preface to this section of the post: Tropicana Field is a truly bizarre sporting venue.

From the outside, it resembles an enormous circus tent with a roof that's about to collapse on itself. Apparently, they designed it that way for air-conditioning purposes, which actually seems like a smart piece of planning. The downside, of course, is that it still looks like the largest circus building in the world, instead of a Major League baseball stadium.

The definitive feature of the ballpark, by far, are those infamous catwalks. They provide the support system for the roof, and are also home to the lighting system -- you kinda need to keep the field lit when you play in a closed dome. It's still a wonder that any player could track fly balls in that ballpark though, taking into account the looming catwalks and the light-colored ceiling. Thankfully, they're not so dangerous that players and fans could be killed or otherwise maimed -- aside from a few light bulbs being shattered on occasions, but that's okay.

To the Rays' credit, they've redesigned the interior of the Trop so that it's no longer an utterly soulless atmosphere vacuum. The concourses actually look respectable, and the views of the game are decent depending on where you sit. That said, there's only so much anybody can do to make it a venue worth visiting up to 80-90 times a year. To bring up an old saying; no matter how long a log stays in the water, it doesn't become a crocodile. 

Wednesday night game 

The Mariners had dropped the first two games of the series, losing 3-2 in the extras on Monday night, then following it up with a miserable 3-1 loss on Tuesday. The same old failings on offense were there for everyone to see on those two nights, although, to be fair, they are a young, rebuilding team (I would chime in with a comment about this being our third rebuilding project of the last decade, but then I don't want to sound too snarky).

The players were already warming up by the I got to my seats. The view was surprisingly good considering I got the cheapest available ticket on Stubhub:

As expected, the Rays fans made up the overwhelming majority of the crowd, although there were a fair few Mariners fans in the house as well. We had reasons to cheer early on, as Kyle Seager (one of those promising young players) hit a three-run blast in his first at-bat. The lead only lasted until the fourth inning though, and the home team was ahead soon enough.

Seager hit another one out in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 4-4, but the Rays responded with a solo shot of their own in the latter half of the inning; Mike Saunders had a chance to rob Luke Scott of the homer, but just couldn't get the ball inside the glove. I didn't get to see the play because I was in the process of moving down (location seen at the pic on the very top), though it's probably for the best that I missed it. That ended up being the winning run for Tampa Bay... these are the kind of breaks that teams on a hot streak always seem to get.

One thing I noticed about the game atmosphere: certain Rays fans appear to have adopted the vuvuzela as their favorite noisemaker. It seems inexplicable that an "instrument" associated with soccer would make its way to baseball in America, but there it is. They actually drowned out the cowbells, which have become the symbol of the Rays fanbase. Well, not so much drown out, but overpower them in terms of noise; those horns really reverberated inside the closed confines of the Trop.

At any rate, as painstaking as it was to actually get to the ballpark, going back to the hotel following the game was a comparative breeze. The traffic coming out of the Trop was eerily light; not surprising, considering the official attendance was 9,837, and was probably closer to 8,000. It probably took about 15 minutes for me to walk out of the stadium, pull out of the parking lot, and walk back into my room. Either way, it beat having to park far out, or even having to walk through the unfamiliar streets of St Pete at night, while wearing a visiting team's shirt.

Thursday afternoon game

It's easier to move down the aisles in baseball than in any other sport; even more so if the crowd is so sparse the seats up front are begging to be taken. With another small crowd on hand, I decided to get a good as possible from the beginning, despite buying a ticket for the same seat as the night before. The key is to walk through an unchecked entrance, one not being looked after by an usher. There were a number of open gates down by the bullpen on both sides, and I took the liberty of taking a seat behind the Mariners bullpen.

About 15 minutes before the first pitch, a group of what looked like college-aged kids took a seat in a row behind me. They were from the Hillsborough side of the bay, and made the trip down after finishing their final exams at USF. We had a good banter going the rest of the game -- they were particularly impressed that I made the trip for this game, albeit to cheer on the visitors. Even though they became increasingly drunk as the game wore on, they were a pretty fun bunch to be around; cheers, peeps.

As they did in the first game, the Mariners jumped out to an early lead, going up 2-0 after RBIs from Mike Carp and the much-maligned Justin Smoak. But just as they did in the previous game, the Rays also clawed back immediately, taking a 4-2 lead after two innings, with Jeff Keppinger and Desmond Jennings providing the big hits (by the way, if Jennings isn't a household name yet, then he will be by the end of the year).

Ichiro drove in Seattle's third run in the fifth inning, but they would be shut out the rest of the way. Final score: Rays 4-3 Mariners, and a four-game sweep for the home team. The silver lining is that #51 looked like he was close to being back to his former self, even at his age. He and King Felix are still very much the team's biggest draws, so the M's definitely need the two of them to be at their best, even if the rest of the team can be unwatchable at times.

As for the crowd and the atmosphere: it was vastly different from the night before. The fans inside the stadium seemed younger on average, and by extension, more inebriated and boisterous. There was a group of college kids near the bullpen that let the Mariners relievers have it all night, even after they had been called to the mound ("Looooooogieeeeee" toward Lucas Luetge was my personal favorite). It was definitely more lively and exciting than the previous game, though the official attendance was still well short of 12,000.

With the series over, perhaps mercifully on the Mariners' behalf, I hit the road for the return trip to Orlando. It was a fantastic day off for me, and if my bank account allows me, I'll definitely look into visiting again in July, when they return to town for a weekend tilt. Hopefully they'll actually win a game if I do go -- I'm now 0-4 when watching the M's play in person.

Apr 28, 2012

"People are beginning to realize that games are one of the few legal ways to escape reality. Since people would rather live in the clouds than face reality, we can expect more growth in the industry."

(an actual quote by a designer in the latest issue of Game Developer)

Feb 23, 2012

The C-word: a bigger issue than ESPN

...aaaaand the Linevitable has occurred: a controversy surrounding an age-old epithet has blown up in a way that ESPN would not have preferred. An online editor and a SportsCenter newscaster (Max Bretos, above) were caught using the phrase "chink in the armor" to describe Jeremy Lin's game following a Knicks game. The resulting outcry and a review by ESPN resulted in the editor receiving his walking papers, while Bretos was put off the air for a month -- reasonable punishments for me, considering the racist undertones of the word "chink."

Just for the record: I still don't think either of them meant any intentional offense, and I'm willing to chalk it off as an honest mistake. Even if they did, I still wouldn't let those two ruin what I think is one of the most best sports stories that I've ever seen unfold. It's certainly done nothing to make watching him play any less enjoyable, or dampen my appreciation for his style of play.

On the other hand, letting the issue die would send the message that the lesson has been learned here and we should all just forget about it, well... we can (and should) forgive if they appear sincere enough in their apology, but you still can't expect incidents like these to go away overnight. The same words that carried a racist connotation centuries ago, or even during the Civil Rights movement, still do so today in our daily interactions.

Let me put it this way: just because an Asian-American basketball player from Harvard became an unlikely NBA hero doesn't mean we'll stop being subjected to the same slurs and insults that we've heard on the streets and in the bars, clubs, and restaurants for generations.

People can claim all they want that we've become too sensitive in regards to race and ethnicity, but the whole "words are just words" defense just doesn't fly with me. That attitude does nothing but excuse discrimination and sweep it under the rug, when we ought to be calling the offenders out and teaching them what those words mean to us in the first place. That's a dangerous stance to take, particularly in a society that hasn't so much turned a blind eye to racism against Asians as it has implicitly encouraged it.

Finally, I've got this to say about Bretos' tweets after the fact: I do think he was sincere in his apology, but he definitely could have made the point without having to trot out his Asian wife in the process. Dating, or being married to, an Asian woman (or really people of any racial group, male or female) doesn't automatically mean that one is immune from holding racial prejudices or stereotypical thoughts. 

A simple explanation and an apology would have sufficed in this case; dragging his family and friends into the fray didn't do them, or Bretos himself for that matter, any favors. If anything, it merely gave off the impression that he wanted to distract us from the actual issue.

Feb 16, 2012

Why I'm Going "All-Lin"

I was at Confines last Saturday when the highlights from the Knicks-Wolves game in Minneapolis came up on one of the 20 TV sets inside the building. The final segment in the montage was that of Jeremy Lin swishing the game-winning free throw in the dying seconds, and then being mobbed by his teammates afterwards. The "Linsanity" movement was five games and ten days old at the time, and he was gaining more and more followers by the day.

This has been an incredible story, even from a purely athletic standpoint: an obscure nobody from Harvard (by the way of Palo Alto, CA), who was underestimated and under-appreciated from his high school days, who had already been cut by two NBA teams that year, and was on the verge of being cut from the third, suddenly transforming into the unlikeliest of basketball heroes on the biggest stage in America.

I turned to my friends at the bar during the commercial break and made the point, with zero sense of hyperbole or irrationality, that what Lin is doing right now has never been done before by any Asian athlete, regardless of their country of origin. No Asian sportsman (or woman) has ever captivated an American sports audience quite like he has. There's simply no precedent for a phenomenon like this in the sporting arena.

That might sound like an exaggeration given the successful careers that the likes of Ichiro and Yao Ming had in their sports, but did any of them ever capture the imagination of an entire country -- America, in this instance -- in which they played? I personally felt pride in watching them outperform their competition at the heights of their abilities. In saying that, however, their careers did not have the transcendent feel, both athletically and socially, that has shrouded the Linsanity phenomenon.

Is that an unfair comparison for Ichi and Yao? Sure, but here's the key thing: the entire Asian-American community seems to be gravitating and embracing Lin in the way they never did for those two star players. To get straight to the point: they were foreign-born heroes in a community that was crying out for a homegrown one. In Jeremy Lin, we have a household, mainstream name that Asian-Americans -- regardless of what generation they may be -- can claim as "one of us."

Anyone who has followed his career from his Harvard days knows that he would be the first to downplay the racial aspect of his meteoric rise. But in a society where the Asian-American population is severely underrepresented, he has emerged as an inspirational, talismanic figure. Apolo Ohno, great as he may have been at his field, never had anywhere remotely close to the kind of pull that Lin has.

Personally speaking, I make no bones whatsoever about the fact that a large part of my fascination and admiration for Lin stems from his Chinese/Taiwanese origins. I wasn't born in the States, but I have been raised here long enough to know how the social structure works in America. I've been exposed to Pearl Harbor taunts, The Joy Luck Club, Long Duk Gook, Ken Jeong, and most recently, utterly embarrassing campaign ads. Positive portrayals of Asians are still a rarity in this country, so it has been refreshing so see our man from Palo Alto work his magic for everybody to see.

Perhaps the greatest thing about watching Lin do his thing is that he's shattering society's preconceptions about Asian people, while making us re-evaluate our own expectations for ourselves. Think of all the unflattering stereotypes that have been associated with us for years -- and then watch as Lin take a sledgehammer to each and every one of them on live television. There's a reason we can't get enough of his fearlessness and swagger on the court, not to mention his big smile and humor off it -- those traits run counter to the joyless, robotic, and weak-willed labels that have been attached to us for years. We're finally seeing someone kill that particular image off in a very public way.

Could he possibly keep this up for longer than two weeks, never mind over the entire season and beyond? That's the biggest question surround the Jeremy Lin hype machine at the moment. After all, every sports "mania" tends to end in one of two ways: either the athlete gets used to the high level of play, or they end up falling back down to earth. But even if he slinks back to obscurity from whence he came, Lin has left an indelible social impact in a country full of obsessively devoted sports fans. In the bigger picture: he has become one of the biggest sources of inspiration and pride in an environment where there has only been a precious few of them.

That, ultimately, could be the biggest takeaway from the Linsanity phenomenon.