North Korea Has a Friend in Dennis Rodman and VICE
Earlier today former Chicago Bulls superstar Dennis Rodman presided over a mixed-match basketball game in Pyongyang alongside Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The teams consisted of VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy; Moose Weekes, Buckets Blakes, and Bull Bullard of the Harlem Globetrotters; and North Korea’s “Dream Team,” all of whom played their hearts out in what we have termed a “basketball diplomacy” mission. Following the game, Rodman gave a stirring speech after the game that extended an olive branch to the Hermit Kingdom. The VICE crew is currently having a reception at the Supreme Leader’s house, and Duffy has invited Kim Jung-un to America and to tour the VICE offices. There isn’t much more to say than that because our jaws are still on the floor. So while we pick them up and get more info from our team, enjoy these photos of the game. You can watch the highlights on VICE, our new HBO series that premieres April 5th.
Photos by Jason Mojica
That’s So Jordan
Normally, there’d be something odd about all of basketball spending NBA All-Star weekend getting all misty, awed, wistful, and click-bait-slideshow-y about the 50th birthday of the man who owns the league’s worst franchise, and who is known as one of the most capricious and nastiest narcissists in sports history. This was not quite one of those Dictator Birthday Spectaculars—150,000 terrified civilians performing choreographed praise semaphore in some totalitarian urinal of a soccer stadium while brainwashed children sing odes to a blank-faced hemorrhoidal birthday-tyrant and the military marches its missiles around for seven hours—but also not totally not that kind of thing. That the 50-year-old in question is Michael Jordan explains a good part of it, naturally: He is the greatest basketball player ever, and that being more or less beyond dispute does not make it something basketball fans are less excited to talk about. But in the decade since Jordan’s last NBA game, talking about His Airness has become a different and stranger thing than it was.
It’s not that Jordan lacked complexity back when he was great and vicious and dazzling as a player. Jordan was known both as an impossible-to-solve athlete who dominated the NBA and a businessman who first crafted and then actually personally became a vanquishment-oriented global luxury brand. He berated and belittled teammates, he gambled and philandered extravagantly and did all the other things that professional athletes do, he coupled his unreal physical grace with heavy anger and gnashing narcissism. Whatever illusions once existed about Michael Jordan not being a warped, rageful asshole—the Ayn Rand ideal of a prime mover come to implausibly elegant and predictably brutal life—were clearly illusions even at the height of his beauty.
This week, David J Roth compares the Lakers to LA, fights on Bravo reality shows, the US Senate, Ocean’s 11 crossed with a Lars von Trier film, and the way we live now. He also points out that Kobe possesses the eyes of a psychotic teddy bear and Steve Nash would rather be listening to Wolf Parade. All that, plus jokes about Cialis packs and Anthony Keidis wearing a dumb hat!
Coaching a youth sports team is a tough task as it is, but it gets much, much harder when the families of the players are dying in a civil war. Tane Spasev, coordinator of the Syrian Basketball Federation’s Youth Basketball Program, learned as much last year. The Macedonian came to Syria just as the protests erupted in March 2011. Tane carried on coaching through the fighting and brought a team of teenage boys to a tournament in Amman, Jordan, in September. I contacted him (he’s back in Macedonia) to ask about what his guys went through.
VICE: Did you worry about the political situation before violence spread throughout the country?
Tane Spasev: When I arrived in June of 2011, the situation in Damascus was no less safe and normal than any other big city in the world. The restaurants were full, shops were working, people were enjoying their everyday lives. The “situation” in Homs, Hama, Daraa, and places like that was distant from us and only on TV. All that changed in December and January when two suicide bombs went off in Damascus. Things were never the same after that.
Every team has a mascot. In high school, our mascot was a wolverine, and every Friday one unlucky cheerleader would hop in a costume that resembled a giant furry wolf and sweat for four hours. I remember my friend Abby ended up wearing it a fair bit. Abby has more in common with Jay-Z than she ever thought she would. Jay-Z is also a mascot, in a way, but his team is basically one really scary Russian dude, and instead of wearing an uncomfortable furry outfit he has to go in front of the New York sports media, which is much, much worse.
In August, The New York Times reported that Jay-Z owned approximately one 50th of 1 percent of the newly-relocated Brooklyn Nets. That’s more of an NBA team than you or I own, but it just barely qualifies him as an “owner.” To put it into perspective, Jay invested a million dollars in the team in 2003, which is a little more than what the Nets will be paying CJ Watson—who is good at Twitter but not that great at basketball—to sit on their bench this season. Owning a sports franchise puts you firmly in the oligarch club, but Jay’s gotten a seat at the club with only a token investment.
Following sports is basically a full-time job. There are, like, three-million athletes out there playing god knows how many different sports, all with their different sets of rules and their stats, which involve thinking about numbers and averages and tons of math-y crap you shouldn’t have to deal with because you graduated high school, goddamnit, and should be finished with math for the rest of your life. We get it, which is why we’ve got you covered with worldwide sports news. If it’s not in here, it didn’t involve grownups playing with balls.
- Joe Paterno’s on-campus statue was taken down—here’s a look—and while there haven’t been a ton of protests, there’s been mucho whining. PSU’s statement is here, and his family’s is here. The judgment comes down today, and while it did not include a “death penalty,” AKA a nix on football for a year, the penalties may have been worse. (The only time the NCAA handed down a death penalty, in D1 footballwas to SMU, who got that in 1987 and ‘88, and took 20 years to recover.) Is it appropriate? Hard to say: The NCAA is a pile of dogshit, and like Dave Zirin argues, it’s pretty much just a public relations thing. The games will still be on TV, but the players will be nerdier than guys from Chicago. Rough.
- Jeremy Lin bounced (back) to Houston, presumably to listen to Z-Ro, though it might have been to earninsane amounts of money. The Knicks let him go without so much as a kiss on the forehead, a stupid move considering they were built to win now. Lin told Sports Illustrated’s Pablo Torre, his old pal at Harvard, that he’d rather have stayed in New York. Of course, don’t you have to say that if you went to Harvard?
Jeremy Lin Was Not Greedy, You’re Just Stupid
Growing up worshipping John Starks, I wanted to be a basketball player. After not growing much physically, I realized that wasn’t happening. But the day after a notorious 2009 New York City chimpanzee attack, I found a new calling. The New York Post’s delightfully insensitive headline, “Furious George,” made me want to be an editor.
My love of crappy puns and sloppy basketball converged with the arrival of Jeremy Lin. For a while, he was everyone’s hero. “Linsanity,” “Linsurrection,” “Lin Your Face,” “Linsane in the Membrane.” OK, I made that last one up.
But the only thing America loves more than a Cinderella story is a fall from grace.
The New York media finally got its chance. The clever fucks managed to cast a narrative with billionaire owner James Dolan as unflappable superhero and loveable underdog Jeremy Lin as manipulative villain.
I assume my target audience at VICE—vapid, svelte, sexually-attractive middle-brow liberal arts majors who don’t like sports, but were kinda into curling—needs a recap.
Cut by the Warriors and Rockets, Jeremy Lin joined the Knicks last season, shuffling between the developmental league and the end of the bench. Then in February, with the team decimated by injuries, he got his chance, scored a bunch of points, won some games, and then got injured. At season’s end, Lin became a restricted free agent. He was a worldwide sensation, but with only 26 starts under his belt, most front offices didn’t know how to evaluate him. Plus, everyone thought the Knicks were going to match any offer for him.
With the Knicks playing it cool and deciding to let the market dictate their young point guard’s value, Lin agreed to a sheet from the Houston Rockets for $19.95 million guaranteed. The details were leaked and Knicks coach Mike Woodson and other executives confirmed the Knicks would match the offer and make Lin their starting point guard. Dumb move. Lin and the Rockets revised the deal, backloading a new $25 million contract that would force New York to pay something like $43 million, when factoring in luxury tax, the final year.
Yesterday, the Knicks decided to let him go.
How fast they turn. Stephen A. Smith reported for ESPN that Knicks officials felt Lin was ungrateful for the opportunities the team gave him and that he had let fame and the prospect of big bucks get to his head. The sentiment was echoed across the reactionary wasteland that is New York talk radio.
And it’s bullshit. The Harvard grad played the Knicks at their own game. And Lin, like most athletes, deserves every buck he’s getting.
It’s not hard to convince a liberal that migrant workers deserve a living wage. It’s tougher to argue that Lin deserves an extra five million, but the same logic applies.
It’s a struggle between management and labor and management has made plenty of money milking a player like Lin for all he was worth—international media interest, jersey and ticket sales, the Cablevision deal, not to mention that without him the Knicks might not have even made the playoffs.
Big salary haters get it wrong when they factor the fans into the equation. Talking about Jeremy Lin’s “greed,” acting like he’s taking something from someone else when he’s got a motherfucking family to feed, may be a good way to sound like a populist. But it actually puts you in the operative position of siding with an owner who is way richer than Lin will ever be. That’s the kind of populism that put Bush in office.
Say we do manage to lower player salaries or restrict their mobility—who’s saying we’re going to get lower ticket prices or anything but higher margins for already wealthy owners?
So what’s to gain from the politics of resentment? It’s the same type of politics that fuels anger at teachers, firefighters, and other public sector employees. “Why them?” is the petty loser’s version of “Good for them. Why not me?”
And if Lin’s still earning a bit too much for our tastes, instead of waiting for him to funnel his bounty into the community and name youth basketball camps after himself, why not just tax his (and his boss’) income at a higher rate? We can take some of the money, trustee our favorite sports teams, and give away shares to players and fans jointly.
Lower ticket prices, better swag, less hating.
LET’S STOP TALKING ABOUT HAVING SEX WITH SPORTS TEAMS
Yesterday, Bill “The Incarnation of Sports Fan Id” Simmons tweeted a pretty typical Bill Simmons tweet: “How great is life gonna be for Katie Holmes’ next boyfriend? She’s gonna be more rejuvenated than Youkilis on the White Sox.” For those not living in his pop-culture universe, that compares Kevin Youkilis, a player who got traded to Chicago from Boston and is hitting the hell out of the ball, to Katie Holmes, who just fled the clammy, metallic embrace of Tom Cruise and will, Simmons postulates, um, fuck the next guy she meets real good or something.
For Simmons, making that kind of sports/sex reference is as natural as Teen Wolf growing fur and savagely mauling people, or whatever he did in that movie. Last month, he devoted a whole column to comparing the Sonics leaving Seattle for Oklahoma City to a guy leaving his wife for a 20-year-old yoga instructor. Which means, I guess, that we should picture 600,000 obese, hairy, sweatpanted Oklahomans engaging in tantric sex with Kevin Durant? Or that these Oklahomans were the sinewy, flexible blonde to Seattle’s undersexed frump? Simmons didn’t invent the “Fan=spouse, player/team=sexxxy lady” analogy—it’s been floating around for a while, and has been featured in such articles as, “LeBron James Is a Hot but Crazy Chick Who’s Flirting with Us” and ”The Whalers Leaving Hartford Is Like a Man Leaving” (a rare gender reversal).