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Read on and you'll see what Jay-Z has to do with all of this.
The folks at Bassett Productions (Tom, Sidney, and Andrew) recently made an incredible video about community basketball leagues. It was one of the most riveting pieces I have ever seen about basketball "for the rest of us". The documentary (I'm not quite sure if that's the right word) was actually market research for one of their clients, so unfortunately none of you will probably ever see it, as it remains the property of the client.
Before I give you what's left in my brain's memory banks of the short, let me preface by saying I was interviewed for this market research by Bassett some time ago up at Potrero Hill Recreation Center, which seems to be a magnet for interesting and unique basketball endeavors. Potrero's been the site of Latrell Sprewell's long-forgotten Converse commercial, the former home of the summer Pro-Am league, the one-off practice facility for the Dick Motta-era Dallas Mavericks, and so on and so forth.
There were kids from the neighborhood playing wiffle ball in the gym when Tom, Andrew, and I arrived, so we went to the back room. We also went outside by the grass and the fence, but despite the gorgeous view of the Bay, it was too windy. So there I was in the back room of Potrero, sitting directly in front of a camera -- something I will never get used to, unlike my counterpart dreamleague NYC commish Brian Yang, who has appeared in dozens of movies -- for at least an hour-and-a-half, in my trademark sloppy attire: jeans, Nike Air Max sandals, Quicksilver jacket (btw, all of these are gifts from my in-laws!), and of course, Dream League t-shirt. What, you thought Poor Man's Commish could afford a fashion consultant or even had the time to go to the mall?
I just gave them the core dump on dreamleague, starting with my history with the Asian American leagues in California and then across the nation, followed by our mission to make it a symbiotic relationship with underprivileged and disadvantaged neighborhood youth, how we grew, the other Asian league communities I have met, and pretty much everything else that can be gleaned from any page on our website.
I even made it a point to include my quote about how Asian basketball leagues are something we Asian Americans can be very proud of, being homegrown here in the US of A. It's not "Chinese opera, kung fu, sushi or lumpia", as I am quoted as saying in the last paragraph of an article in the SF Chronicle from 2006. Our leagues are something we created as born-and-bred Americans. I'll get into this a little later, but I truly think it's a smaller version (at least for now) of what hip-hop is to the African-American community. For once, it's something Asian-Americans can be identified with -- those of you who are Asian can probably attest to how undefinable the Asian community in our nation can sometimes get.
You know me, like this here post, I can talk on for days about anything related to dreamleague because I find every little nook and cranny so fascinating. It was not hard for me to do Q&A with Tom for an hour-and-a-half. What amazed me later was how Bassett took my "lecture" and put it into this riveting 15-minute-or-so exploration into three or four tight-knit basketball communities.
As it so happens, Bassett's offices are down the block from Potrero. I paid a visit the other day and got to see what they produced.
It starts out with Jeff Ng saying that basketball doesn't have any passion anymore. Ng is aka "Jeff Staple" of Staple Design. He runs his 10-or-so-team league of local artists/designers/trend-setters in NYC under the banner Nike Recess Federation or "NRF" (Nike is a huge client of Ng's and his colleagues and, from what I know, his friends at Nike probably provide his league with jerseys and other equipment).
Btw, some of Ng's Asian players in the NRF actually play in dreamleague NYC too.
Ng is in his office talking about the NRF and the current lack of passion in basketball as the piece goes back and forth between Ng and clips of NBA extravaganza, such as the dancers and fireworks that you see all the time during NBA game introductions. Ng's office appears kind of cluttered, so I already know he's a hard worker, but his office ain't got nothing on Poor Man's Commish's! Thank goodness my place is way too small to be conducive to filming.
Let's take a brief pause from the video for a moment. So I'm sitting there in Bassett's offices with Tom, Andrew, and Tom's wife, watching this thing on Andrew's Mac, somewhat taken aback by what Ng is saying. No more passion in basketball? After all, Poor Man's Commish sees passion for 12 hours straight every Sunday, every week, in dreamleague.
Well, good thing I just let the thing play on. Ng was saying that basketball viewed from the perspective of the NBA lacked passion. His premise was to say that basketball's entertainment aspects were starting to overshadow the game itself. That's where the NRF came in.
For you dreamleaguers out there reading this, it's pretty easy to understand how the NRF can bring back the passion of basketball to Ng and the NRF's 100 or so participants. The video showed one of his teams huddling up, arms interlocked shoulder-to-shoulder, getting ready for a game (presumably the championship, from what I know) at Madison Square Garden. In NYC, I've heard of MSG being used as the venue for various community league championships. Believe me, out here in the Bay we've looked into this for Oracle Arena, but the costs are not surprisingly exorbitant and, quite frankly, Oracle Arena is not quite to the Bay what MSG is to Manhattan (i.e., accessible and cozy, if you will).
Anyways, I digress. Ng also mentions how one of his players came up and told him that, with the 9-to-5 grind, the NRF was the only thing this player looked forward to during the week.
Joe Oliva of the Boys & Girls Club here in the Bay Area is also interviewed. He has a youth team made up of Asians and Hawaiians. Oliva has made a certain Hawaiian phrase (apologies to Oliva, as I can't remember the details, but it's something like "strength" or "passion") symbolic to his young players. He's emblazoned the word on his team's uniforms and the players all say that they look forward to putting those uniforms on. They embrace this Hawaiian phrase more than even the team's official nickname.
This takes away from the passion of the game. So why put it here? Well, this here slideshow widget is based on keywords and it came up with nothing slideshowable for Ng, Rez Hoops, et. al. Keyword used here: nba cheerleaders.
Then the piece moves onto Rez Hoops, which is short for Indian Reservation Hoops. It starts out really funny because you're out in the Arizona desert and there's this rickety wooden backboard out in the middle of nowhere. There's a closeup of a little anthill on the ground near the backboard. The guy they interview (and again, I apologize as my memory fails me, I don't recall his name) has pretty much the stereotypical Native American accent, soft-spoken voice, and stern/wise look. He says that not only do you have to watch out for the bumps and anthills on this court out in the middle of nowhere, but you have to watch out for snakes!
Then we transition back into a really nice gym where the guy talks about Res Hoops. There's clips of the local TV broadcast of the region's high school girls' team that wins the state championship. The guy talks about how those girls learned everything they know about basketball in his program. He mentions how people come up to him and say that they heard the broadcast of the game on the radio, and they feel like they know the point guard who made a great move to the basket or something like that. I'm not quite sure because, again, of my memory and the fact that I've only seen this piece once, but I think he was also alluding to local folks being able to picture how this girl is making a move to the basket, on the radio broadcast of the state championship, because she's been doing it all her life back at the gym or by that rickety wooden backboard, avoiding the snakes.
I think my first appearance in the film occurs right after Ng, but I can't quite remember. Among the things I do remember is that I look and sound weird. I wonder if my buddy the dreamleague NYC commish ever gets used to seeing and hearing himself on film.
Basically, Ng, Oliva, the Res Hoops guy, and I get to introduce ourselves for a sentence or two while our name and organization are listed. Then snippets of our interviews are interspersed between other action shots of whatever, be it the NBA stuff with Ng or the TV broadcast of the Res Hoops' girls' state championship team. I don't recall what other images they showed when I talked, because they didn't have any accompanying footage of what we do at dreamleague besides my interview, unlike Ng's NRF stuff at Madison Square Garden, the on-location shots of Res Hoops, or Oliva's kids who were also interviewed.
However, just this past week I did a follow-on interview, along with Oakland Parks & Rec supervisor Paul Bates at his offices in downtown Oakland, for Bassett. They also came and interviewed some Bay Area dreamleaguers after Sunday games, again up at the convenient Potrero Hill. So there will be another piece that will delve a little deeper into community leagues. I don't know if it's just dreamleague Bay Area or not. I'm very much looking forward to seeing that.
Anyways, aside from how weird I look, while intro'ing dreamleague, they got a nice closeup shot of the top half of my dreamleague San Francisco Gothic t-shirt, which shows our website address quite prominently.
And then two other really cool things. They included my little bit about how this wasn't dim sum, sushi, or Chinese Opera. Sweet!
As it came to a close, they had my little part where I said something to the effect of...
"Somewhere out there, all these commissioners like me or with all these basketball teams and leagues, we're just...we're just shepherding the game."On video, Bassett made that part really cool, really hitting the heart. This blogpost does no justice to it, but the whole piece was simply amazing and I hope to someday be able to show you all.
Tom even said that his wife had been put to tears, which pretty much sums up how passion for the game just was really brought out from this video.
Sitting there in front of Andrew's monitor, I was so blown away at the time, flattered, and just utterly thankful to Tom, Andrew, and Sidney that they had produced such an incredible piece of film that I didn't get a chance to check if Tom's wife had been brought to tears this time again. But the fact that she had dropped what she was doing to come and take a look at the video again with us, just goes to show you how proud she must have been for Tom and his crew and for us community basketball "shepherds".
Anytime I'm at Bassett's offices again, I will beg to see it again. I'm deeply indebted to them for this, even though it can't be viewed (at least not right now).
And I think you all really -- and not be corny -- should be proud of not just dreamleague, but Asian basketball leagues (or any affinity-based basketball league, such as the NRF) and long-standing annual off-the-radar community tournaments in general. As I said before, it's one of the few things we truthfully can call our own, home-bred, American-made.
Because I'm always up late with the laptop doing something dreamleague-related and having the TV on in the background (btw, the only good late-night programming seems to be on MTV or VH-1, which is maybe why they are so powerful), the other day I was watching Hip Hop Honors on VH-1 and saw two awesome in-depth looks: one about the rise of Jay-Z and the other about the rise of Kanye West.
Now, the fact that Jay-Z is worth at least a half-billion dollars should be pause enough for you ballaz out there to treat this as would be a Harvard MBA study on Warren Buffett for the bourgeios. It's an inspection into how it is possible that an everyday boy-in-the-hood named Shawn Carter can become the mega-platinum superstar Jay-Z who now owns a multi-hundred-million-dollar clothing line, is the CEO of the most respected brand name in hip-hop history, and is married to such an amazing person as Beyonce Knowles.
Add Kanye West's story about how he never took "no" for answer, locked himself up in the studio while everyone else went to go party, always had the utmost confidence in what he did no matter how bad things were going, and even overcame putting his foot in his mouth with the only label exec who would meet with him at the time, and you have two icons who really deserve to be where they are. Btw, with Kanye and keeping in my mind that I kind of lost track of hip-hop (i.e., what's hot, who sings what) around maybe the time when Black Eyed Peas decided to go mainstream, I can see now why, from my disconnected distance, he always seemed so defiant and arrogant. That's just his way of dealing with all the countless people who told him no. We all have our own ways of dealing with it.
The common denominator for these hip-hop moguls was hard work and dedication. And more resonant in Jay-Z's case, bringing his craft, mastery, and experiences to share, to the masses and yet still on a level that could strike a nerve.
I'm thinking that if we Asian league commissioners can keep true to what we do, but then again open it up little by little and if somehow everyone -- Asian, non-Asian, black, white, purple -- could experience what we're able to experience here in dreamleague each and every week, that's truly where this is all going.
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