Saturday, August 28, 2004



Yes, the U.S. Men's Basketball Team settled for bronze at the Olympics, led by the foul-hampered Tim Duncan. The gold went to Argentina, led by the spectacular play of Manu Ginobli. As a fan of the San Antonio Spurs, I bring a somewhat unique perspective to this outcome, since both Duncan and Ginobli play for my favorite team. I could not be more disappointed for Duncan, or more pleased for Ginobli.

The fact that both Duncan and Ginobli live in San Antonio, Texas (my hometown), and play in the NBA also inevitably reminds me of some of my earlier musings about the peculiar "internationalism" of the modern Olympics. Various NBA pundits have demonstrated their razor-sharp analytical skills by diagnosing the presumed failure of the U.S. team thusly: The "international" level of competition has gotten better. There are more "international" players in the NBA now than ever before, which explains why an NBA Dream Team appears to be less dreamlike. By "international," they actually mean "non-Americans" or "foreigners."

Are these the conclusions we should draw about the basketball results? Are these the words we should use to describe them? Or, rather, is the state of "international" basketball just another sign that words like "international" are becoming more and more complicated these days? After all, Tim Duncan was not born in the United States (he grew up in the Virgin Islands), but he played for the U.S. Team. Is he an "international" player? Ginobli was born in Argentina but lives and works in the United States; indeed, this summer he signed a multi-million dollar multi-year contract with the Spurs. Is he an "international" player? Across a variety of sports, the Olympics similarly categorizes athletes by "nationality" even as that concept is losing much of its lexical precision, thanks to global markets and migration.

I'm reminded of Aihwa Ong's concept of "flexible citizenship."
"I use the term flexible citizenship to refer especially to the strategies and effects of mobile managers, technocrats, and professionals who seek to both circumvent and benefit from different nation-state regimes by selecting different sites for investments, work, and family relocation. Such repositioning in relation to global markets, however, should not lead one to assume that the nation-state is losing control of its borders. ... From the perspective of such immigrants as well-heeled Hong Kongers, however, citizenship becomes an issue of handling the diverse rules or 'governmentality' of host societies where they may be economically correct in terms of human capital, but culturally incorrect in terms of ethnicity." (From Aihwa Ong's "Flexible Citizenship among Chinese Cosmopolitans," in Cosmopolitics, p. 136)
Might we add professional athletes to Ong's list of flexible citizens--the "managers, technocrats, and professionals"? Or is this just another sad example of the fact that graduate students cannot turn off their dissertations long enough even to watch a sport they love? You decide.

Collective Improvisation:

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