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Day 107 – World Sport (A Return to 798)

June 18, 2010

Dateline: Beijing, China – Friday, June 18, 2010

Yesterday was a trip to Beijing’s 798 Art District. Today was a return, this time with Lillian’s out-of-town friend April. But first, Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics series. You knew this was coming.

As always, up at 9 a.m. for the game. Same as Wednesday, I opted for the hostel to avoid all the Celtic fans and Laker haters. Unlike Wednesday, no one watched the game with me. Not one person even stopped to watch a few minutes. It was like I was at home, sitting on a couch, watching the game except with Chinese announcers and no sound coming from the arena. I could take the highs and lows in peace.

By now, you probably know the Lakers won. The game itself, though, was a pitched battle. Kobe had a terrible game. So did Gasol. The game had a weird vibe to it from the start. If you looked at the stat sheet, the Celtics should have been killing the Lakers. They practically couldn’t miss, whereas the Lakers couldn’t buy a shot. The vaunted L.A. offense—supposedly finesse and high scoring—sputtered. The only thing that kept them in the game was rebounding and creating Celtic turnovers—two attributes more readily associated with a gritty, defensive team. If the Lakers were going to win, it was going to have to be playing a style that didn’t come naturally to them.

With L.A.’s two best players struggling, someone had to produce more than normal. Ron Artest anyone? Yup. He didn’t score much, but he hit key shots and snagged a few rebounds to keep the Lakers close. Like the team, he played a style he hadn’t all playoffs. In his case, he didn’t suck.

The Celts led most of the way, but the Lakers pulled it out in the end. Watching them celebrate, hug, and even cry a little, I thought two things:

1) Kobe’s my guy because he’s on my team, but he’ll always be an enigma. Watching him hug and laugh with his teammates, I couldn’t tell how much was real emotion and how much was him doing what’s expected. The guy’s basically a child movie star, having been in the limelight since high school. He’s lived in an alternate universe. But unlike Lebron, he seems awkward. He’s like the geeky kid who, by accident of fate, was gifted with popular talent. In my mind, he’s never been able to reconcile his personal awkwardness with his public popularity. He probably never will.

2) Adam Morrison’s mustache: two-time NBA champion. Sometimes it is better to be a little fish in a big pond.

And that’s that. Lakers. 2010 NBA champions. Good times.

Afterwards I met up with April and we trekked back out to 798 Art District. I visited new studios and we wandered around places I’d been before. Since I had a buddy along, some pictures even have me in them.

In particular, I revisited a gallery I’d been to the day before that hosted an artist that fascinates me. Zeng Pu paints on a horizontal canvas with very wet oil. He then tilts the canvas and allows the paint to drip a bit to get a watercolor effect. I would have bought a smaller piece, but it was already sold. I snapped a few pictures of my favorites and lived with those as my souvenirs.

Another studio housed large bronze statues of warriors kicking butt. These pieces were the kind that would go in the den of the “Mansion I Can’t Afford and Would Be Embarrassed to Buy.” If not for the size and weight, they’d be just as at home in a high end comic book shop or RPG store. Very, very cool.

Afterwards, we did a bit of shopping back at Nanluogu Xiang and near Houhai. Then watched World Cup with the Uyghurs at 31 Bar. The U.S. nearly lost, scrapped for the tie, then should have won. All day, the World Cup refs made bad calls. In the Germany-Serbia game, the ref went card happy and sent off one of Germany’s key players, yet Germany almost won. The U.S. should have won, but the incompetent ref called a phantom penalty that disallowed a goal and refused to provide an explanation. World Cup officiating is ruining the “world’s game.”

If FIFA would just innovate (allow limited replay, do red cards like hockey does penalties, hand out red cards after the match for diving, or just put two refs on the field instead of just one), then the game would be so much better. Unfortunately, soccer/football is a European sport and Europeans seem more concerned about “tradition” and “the way it’s always been” instead of “what works” and “what will make our sport not suck.” Give the U.S. leagues credit for finding ways to make their sports better. No matter how backwards they may be, they’re millennia ahead of FIFA.

Enough. The bottom line is the U.S. has its destiny in its own hands. If it beats Algeria in its final game, it will make it out of group play. Get with the program America. If you can manage to not allow a goal in the first 5 minutes, you’ll probably win.

They need to win, if nothing else because if they lose, unlike today I won’t have a band of Uyghurs to sooth me with Spanish music.

GALLERY: Click through to see Mervyn being assaulted by a monkey and pictures of paintings by Mervyn’s 798 artist; can you guess which painting was sold which he couldn’t buy?

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