sports

From the Land of the Rising Heat

Roki Sasaki.

The next monster of one hundred years.

A spindly 16-year old who was born to hurl a baseball. To throw at blinding speeds. All of his long-limbed body folding and unfolding in proper timing and efficiency, to unleash a sonic boom with the snap of his right wrist. Eliciting oohs-and-ahhs with every blaze of glory. Poor high school hitters, trying to make sense of phenomenal warp speeds—fanning blindly at the gust of baseball wind rushing past them. Failing with the futility of trying to drink soup with a single chopstick. No chance in this world or any other.

It is the stuff of anime or manga lore. A Chosen Boy, rising to national prominence. The Japanese Dream. Gracing the nation’s newspapers. Dominating long segments of airtime on nightly primetime. Triggering the tweets of celebrities. A whole country in rapt attention of Sasaki’s mound exploits. If you’ve been following Japanese baseball for any amount of time, you know the cadence and intensity the country’s mainstream fervor burns with. You’ve experienced the hallowed tones used to speak of these myths who emerge from the depths of Japan. Splashing to the surface fully realized, heaven sent from the mountain top, into the spotlight of Japanese media hysteria. First there was Dice-K, then Darvish, then Ma-kun. All moving along the celestial baseball timeline. Now, here stands Roki Sasaki. Number one in your program. Number one trending topic.

There is an obvious innocence when you see Roki standing on the mound. He’s just doing what he’s done every day of his life. It’s impossible for him to know that the very axis of baseball power now spins around him like a tightly wound slider.

It’s impossible for him to know that a single speeding fastball from his fingertips, topping 100 mph cracks the earth to its very core. That it sends a tremor over land and cyber space. A single Sasaki pitch, in less than a second, travels the world. The smack of the catcher’s glove, mass broadcasting a clear message. Announcing a presence. A baseball Spector. A new man-child has awakened in Japan.

Ready your scouts.

Prepare your fanbases.

Notify your coaches. Ping the redditors. The hype is resonating. Empty your pockets and prepare your best offers. Work on your Japanese etiquette. For soon, baseball innocence will be ready for market. This innate ability is available to be bought and sold. This lively arm is ready to join the arms race immemorial between Yankees and would-be-Yankee-killers. Always just one mystical pitching arm away from tipping the balance of power in the baseball universe.

Roki knows not which chalk line he is drawing nearer every day. His moment of crossing is coming. The final inning change. Until then, the redditors are worm-holing deep into a wikipedia frenzy. The American sportswriters are firing up their mobile word processors. We’ve got a live one here boys. Hear that? That’s the sound of a thousand bloggers cueing up lofty think pieces lauding the modernity of American baseball’s reliance on science, and bashing the archaic ways of Japanese ball that would put young pitcher’s arm in danger through stoic, traditional overwork. For in Japan, pitchers throw everyday without mercy. Without rest. (And in the darkest parts of Japanese baseball, without water.) For here, pitch limits don’t exist and taking a starter out of a game is viewed as a sign of weakness.

Young Roki is sparkling culture shock in the sporting world. The presumptuous and stubborn East versus West debate. Old school versus new school. Wrong versus right. Crystalized through the lens of sport. One of the most rooted in tradition sports. Which has yielded vastly different mentalities and ballplayers on two sides of the world.

Young Roki? He’s just trying to climb to the top of Japanese baseball Mt. Everest. He stands now on a Mt. Fuji peak, ruling Japan, and looking to claim legitimate baseball immortality by powering his team all the way to the Koshien title. To win the national high school baseball tournament. For in Japan, this conquest carries a perpetual cultural royalty. It’s a deep sporting honor on par with rising to national fame during March Madness. Even millionaire Japanese MLB stars, like Dice-K and Darvish still speak in reverent tones about their time at Koshien. Considering it the crowning jewel of their careers. For better or worse, it’s all down hill from the cultural highs of Koshien.

Hence the intense burn. Hence the meteoric pitch counts. Hence the literal embrace of giving everything for the good of your team. It’s an iconic sacrifice that echoes the Japanese love of the collective. The country rallies around, imbuing itself with a self-confirmation of their national identity, holding a mirror up top who they really are, all by living vicariously through young sports stars in the national spotlight. Young icons who leave fleeting but indelible impressions on the psyche of a nation.

And so now, in this moment, the world turns to Roki Sasaki. It turns for Roki. For now he unwittingly shoulders the weight and soul of this island nation. Shoulders that are still developing, that are already capable of unusual feats of diamond magic and of turning the world’s head with the snap of a lethal, embarassment-wreaking breaking ball.

Enter Roki Sasaki.

NBA Finals Game 2: Revenge of Kevin McCallister

Call it the curse of Home Alone. As Drake looked to replicate his Game 1 dominance, he made a critical error by sampling a piece of 90s pop culture. On the back of his hoodie, one of his minions had iron transferred the image of Kevin McCallister from the seminal, feel good Macauley Culkin slash Joe Pesci vehicle, Home Alone. With only the word “Kevin??!?!” appearing beneath the image—in a callout to injured MVP Kevin Durant. It appears Drake must secretly be a Warriors fan since Golden State exerted their hardcourt will, pulling off the Game 2 victory in the 6. Post game, sad Drake memes flooded the interwebs. Durant and Play Thompson roamed the hallways afterwards, shrieking echoing taunts through the foundation of the stadium directed at “Aubrey” himself. Durant, hooded and spindle legged, limped through the halls—visualizing the threat of his return haunting the Raptors like the Grim Reaper waiting in the wings. Your time is up Toronto. And Drake, er um Aubrey, there is a tombstone being etched with your visage on it as we speak. How will Drake respond to this trolling backfire? Time will tell which pop cultural reference he will try and twist to his own advantage next. With Durant set for a mid series return, Aubrey better speed things up.

NBA Finals Game 1 MVP Troll

Drake took control of the NBA Finals. Exerting his presence from the sidelines and executing God’s Plan. Transmitting his aura into the prehistoric spirit of the Raptors. While some refer to Drake’s actions as “antics,” the final score left no doubt as to who controls the Finals. It’s Drake. Drake controls these Finals. Not since Spike Lee has their been an uber fan willing to put a franchise on their back and carry it to Larry O’Brien glory. Drake is unstoppable. The lint picking was the shoulder shrug of these Finals. While Drake has yet to insert himself into the lineup, he has inserted himself into the storyline and central intrigue of these Finals. How will Klay Thompson respond? Will Steph’s father or mother step up? With Curry and company busy and tied up with the Raptors on the floor, Drake is free to roam like the spirit animal and “Clever Girl” Velociraptor mascot that he is. It’s like that scene in Jurassic Park where Timmy and Lex are scrambling around a kitchen trying to evade a hungry pack of velociraptors. Only in this version, the raptor picks lint from Timmy’s head and then eats whoever he damn well pleases. Perhaps Draymond Green is the Tyrannosaur in this amber encased metaphor? Only in this version, there is no stopping Drake from ruling Isla Nublar and putting Hotline Bling on blast over the park PA system. Sparing no expense. It’s gonna be electric fence wire bling if the Warriors think they have the pop cultural muscle to step to Drake’s neck-bearded swag. They’re already fenced in.

Naomi Osaka slams reporters who ask her to speak in Japanese with new Nike commercial

Our new Nike commercial for Naomi Osaka was covered by Sora News 24. It’s always nice when your work ends up sparking a conversation. Click here to read original article.

Naomi Osaka slams reporters who ask her to speak in Japanese with new Nike commercial

”Osaka has just one word to say in response to all those annoying questions about her ethnicity and her love of katsudon.

Since winning the Australian Open and the U.S. Open against her idol Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka has taken the top-spot in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, becoming the first Asian to hold the top spot in either men’s or women’s tennis.

Her success has brought her a lot of attention from the media, particularly in Japan, where her love of katsudon (pork cutlet rice bowls) and her half-Haitian, half-Japanese background remains a solid talking point. And one thing Japanese reporters can’t stop themselves from doing is asking her to answer their questions in Japanese.

After shutting down these reporters in the past, Osaka is now returning to address them and all others like them, with a new commercial for Nike. In the ad, she slams back at all the insensitive and impertinent questions that get served to her during interviews, and has just one word to silence them all.”

Take a look at the ad below:

In the clip, Osaka can be seen on the court, showing off her strong playing style as a volley of questions roll by. There’s “Who’s your biggest rival?”, “Are you a hard court specialist?” and “Do you consider yourself Japanese or American?”

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Then there are a few questions in Japanese, including “What are you going to buy with your prize money?”, “Can you answer in Japanese?” and “Will you eat katsudon again today?”

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How you feel when your love of katsudon comes up every time you’re interviewed.

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Then, at the end of the ad, Osaka turns to the camera and has just one thing to say in response to all those questions.

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In true Nike style, the clip delivers a strong message at the end: “Don’t change yourself. Change the world.”

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It’s a message that fits in nicely with Osaka’s public image, as a woman who continues to do her own thing while drowning out all the stereotypical questions from the media who want to place her in neat, narrow-minded boxes.

And judging from the reaction online in Japan, it’s a message a lot of Japanese people agree with too.

“What a fantastic ad! I hope everyone sees this.”
“Some of the questions in English are annoying but the Japanese questions are even more annoying.”
“Such a great insight into what she has to deal with every day.” 
“Japanese reporters need to watch this ad.”
“The Japanese media need to have more respect for her as an elite sportswoman.”

The Nike ad has definitely got everyone talking, and while it takes a different approach to one of her previous ads for Japanese brand Nissin, it’s definitely a step up from the controversial ad that whitewashed her appearance.

It’ll be interesting to see if this new commercial will have any effect on the types of questions reporters plan to throw at Osaka next time she does a round of interviews. Hopefully they’ll reign in the talk about katsudon and her ethnicity, and focus on her contribution to the world of sport, because as the star tennis player has said in the past, regardless of her dining preferences, background, and language ability, “I’m just me.

(Article by Oona McGee)

The Mamba Mentality Reviewed

I just finished reading Kobe Bryant’s first book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. In which he basically cements the late career caricature of Kobe Bryant that fans of the game know and expect by this point. These are the musings of Kobe Bryant as some kind of basketball playing Chuck Norris meme. Talking in the first person to make it feel conversational, but still having the egotism of an athlete speaking in the third person. The Mamba Mentality is basically the Nike #KobeSystem commercial, adapted into an ebook. It’s a funny schtick and vehicle for trash talk, but you know there is something deep and insightful lurking under the surface.

Where you want to find something revelatory, you are presented with vignetted takes that feel like rushed off afterthoughts between movie viewings on a long international flight. It’s like if Seth Godin wrote about basketball. The first half of the book speaks in recycled locker room talk that anyone who played high school sports will be well familiar with. It’s the rah-rah fare of “give your blood, sweat and tears to the game and the game will give back to you.” Where you are hoping for a deep cut or a behind closed doors anecdote of a private chat with Phil Jackson, you get a rearranged version of something your high school jayvee coach told you.

The most interesting part of the book is the second half which focuses on Kobe’s discussion of “his craft.” Core NBA fans will be familiar with most of Kobe’s inspiration and thoughts on his competition, but it’s still enjoyable to hear the specifics of how he approached particular matchups. He riffs on the career arcs of KD, LeBron, James Harden and others who came up behind him. There are some solid bits in their about how he led Team USA to gold medal glory.

The Shaw-Kobe “feud” is presented the way it’s been told ever since the two publicly reconciled a few years ago. Kobe goes on about how the “beef” was fabricated by Shaw and himself to keep the other players on edge and carry their weight. I always felt the alleged rift was more Hollywood fiction than the media presented it as. They were just too good and dominate together to believe that they would actually be warring. Needless to say, there is no shade thrown at Shaq.

The best anecdote for me was when he was discussing infamous and self-proclaimed “Kobe-stopper” Ruben Patterson. Of course he called out the red flag waving nature of Patterson’s claim, but he offered up an interesting counter. Kobe confessed that Patterson was making the claim in order to drive up his contract value heading into free-agency. Kobe said had Patterson approached Kobe privately and asked for him to make a statement along the lines of “Ruben is the best defender in the NBA,” he would have done it. However, Patterson’s mistake was in taking his “Kobe-stopper” moniker to the press before consulting Kobe. Hence the Mamba was intent on destroying him. That story alone probably adds the most nuance to the true psychology of the Mamba mentality. It’s a little bit Godfather and a lot of parts Kill Bill. Kobe wants to be remembered as the “thinking assassin.” Einstein with a silencer.

The books closing seconds feel rushed off. Kobe attempts a pivot and shot at the buzzer by hoisting the notion that his life and career in basketball was all one long runner to his future as a storyteller and writer. He holds his Oscar in the air, still obsessed with trophies and tells the world that he will bring the Mamba Mentality to his storytelling.

There is something overcompensating about Kobe’s whole late career bravado. His insistence on building up his own legend. His highlights, stats and championships speak for themselves. Perhaps it’s just his competitive spirit thirsting to campaign and win over the remaining doubters. Maybe it’s his reaction to the social media era of sports and especially the NBA now, where all the stars are living brands, crafting their own narratives at the height of their powers. It will be interesting to follow Kobe deeper into his post-NBA life. I can’t help but feel there is something fueling this Mamba Mentality that maybe Kobe himself doesn’t even understand yet. I hope he keeps trying to define it.

Top athletes have never been great at framing up and putting their mentality into perspective beyond the cliches. So here is my challenge to Kobe the storyteller: Tell us something we don’t know. Tell us something that only you could tell us. Find your voice beyond the meme. It was a pretty funny character and we all appreciated it. I know your competitive spirit will keep haunting and driving you. I hope it drives you to write something that surprises you. And scares you even. And when that day comes, I hope you will dare to expose that truth to the rest of us.

You’re welcome.