barkley and johnson draped in american flag
Picture of Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson with the American flag draped over their shoulders to cover the Reebok logos on their jacket. Barkley and Johnson had agreements with other footwear brands. John Stockton and Chris Mullin, 1992 Dream Team teammates, look on.

Here’s a fascinating article from Yahoo Sports about the sports footwear industry and the NBA, and a few facts:

Fact #1: Only 10 NBA players currently have their own “signature shoe” with a US-based brand. In case you’re interested, they are: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at Nike; Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony at Jordan Brand; Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard at adidas (James Harden’s shoe will launch in 2017); and Stephen Curry at Under Armour.

Fact #2: A shoe deal for an NBA lottery pick (a person who is in the top 5 or 10 of the NBA draft of high school, college or available international players) could mean earning from USD200 to 700K per year. The article points out that Andrew Wiggins, who signed a 3-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for over USD17million, also signed a 5-year agreement with adidas for another USD11 million.)

Fact #3: Every player in the NBA has a relationship with a sneaker brand; even the benchwarmers, players looking just to make a training camp roster, can get what is called a “merch” deal. Such an agreement with a footwear marketer gets them a free allotment of footwear for practices and games.

Fact #4: Sneaker brands scout out basketball prospects at the college and high school levels, just like basketball scouts do

Fact #5: Nike has dominant share of the NBA player market, as 68% of the 300+ players wear the Swoosh. Adidas is number 2 at 15.6% with about 70 players wearing the three stripes.

For past stories in “The Sneaker Wars” series, see below:

unification mass wedding_February 2016

On Saturday, February 20, approximately 15,000 couples, or 30,000 people were married at a single event called The Holy Marriage Blessing Ceremony, in GapYeong, South Korea. Popularized by Unification Church founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, 3,000 of those couples were married in Korea, while the other 12,000 participated via the internet.

One third of the 3,000 couples who were married in the Church’s CheongShim Peace World Center were renewing their vows. But about 800 of the couples agreed to be matched by the Church, a custom that Reverend Moon had heavily endorsed in the past. In fact, these unions have often brought strangers of different nationality or race together.

Rev. Moon, who passed away in 2012, had presided over some of the biggest mass weddings ever, including 30,000 couple in Washington DC in 1997, and 40,000 couples simultaneously in Korea, US, Brazil and Venezuela in 2009.

The Unification Church and its mass marriages are not without their controversy. To nameHiroko Yamasaki one, since this is a blog about the Olympics, is the case of Hiroko Yamasaki (山崎浩子), who was a member of the Japanese rhythmic gymnasitics team at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. Along with a well-known singer and actress, Junko Sakurada, Yamasaki was married at a mass wedding presided over by Rev. Moon, along with 20,000 people from 130 countries, in August of 1992.

According to this account from the newspaper, The Australian, Yamasaki disappeared. No one knew where she had gone, not even her new husband, Hideyuki Teshigawara. Months later, Teshigawara filed a missing person’s report to the police, which led to a nation-wide search for the Olympian.

And then suddenly, one day, Yamasaki appeared, on television, saying “Everything was a mistake.” She went on to say, “I was placed in a world of delusion where people’s minds were being controlled. So I still cannot figure out to what extent the affection I felt towards Teshigawara was real.”

Over two decades later, Yamasaki is now the national coach of the Japanese women’s rhythmic gymnastics team.

FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships 2014
Hiroko Yamasaki (JPN), SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 – Rhythmic Gymnastics : Japan’s ?Reinforcement Coach Hiroko Yamasaki during the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships 2014 in Izmir, Turkey. (Photo by Takahisa Hirano/AFLO)
FIFA Official arrested
One of the seven FIFA officials arrested walks from the Baur du Lac hotel following a dawn police raid_New York Times

FIFA, the world organizing body for football, and famously the organizer of the World Cup, is based in Zurich, Switzerland. But when authorities quietly escorted 7 FIFA executives out of a posh hotel in Zurich where a FIFA executive meeting was being held in May, 2015, it was due to the work of the FBI in the United States. I thought, “Wow”, that’s influence. Why is the US driving this and not another country, perhaps one more steeped in football lore where the loss of purity in sport would rankle more deeply.

I’m still not clear on this, but according to this thorough and fascinating piece from ESPN, the roots of the investigation that led to arrests at FIFA began in an FBI Bureau in Brooklyn, New York. When FIFA announced in December, 2010 that not only did Russia win the right to host the 2018 World Cup, but that Qatar won that honor as well for 2022, suspicions ran particularly high that something fishy was up.

As the article explains, “even the laziest ExCo members lived like kings. They each received $200,000 annual stipends, along with liberal per diems every time they went to Zurich. And they controlled the votes that decided where the most watched event in sports, the World Cup, would be played. This selection process seemed engineered for bribery, the FBI agents thought.”

Chuck Blazer with FIFA head Sepp Blatter
Chuck Blazer and Sepp Blatter in better days.

The FBI first focused their attention on a member of the FIFA ExCo who happened to be based in New York, Chuck Blazer. He’s a large man, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin joked looked like Karl Marx, and was so caught up in cloak-and-dagger, stab-you-in-the-back FIFA politics, and so sick from the ravages of diabetes and cancer, that he turned. Blazer became the FBI’s inside man, recording conversations with other FIFA leaders for over a year, providing a “wealth of information” on the inner workings of a scandalous organization.

Another primer for the FIFA scandal is this piece from 60 Minutes, which features the lead FBI investigator John Burretta, as well as the long-standing thorn in the side of FIFA and the IOC, BBC journalist Andrew Jennings. Jennings’ talk on corruption in FIFA had fallen on deaf ears for years before he finally found redemption in these arrests.

John Burretta on 60 Minutes

Of all the things I learned, here’s the bit that got me. Not only did Blazer live in the luxurious Trump Tower (rent $18,000 a month), he had a smaller apartment next door, “reportedly for his cats”.

Tommy Kono Iron Man cover

One of the greatest weightlifters the world has ever seen started his career in an internment camp during World War II.

Tommy Kono, the only Olympic weightlifter to have set world records in four different weight classes, won gold in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, gold in the 1956 Melbourne Games, as well as silver in Rome in 1960.

But at the age of 12, Kono and his family were removed from their home in Japanese Alley in Sacramento, California, and relocated to Tule Lake Segregation Center, which is at the northern-most part of California, near the Oregon border.

Kono and his family were assigned to Tule Lake because of geographically proximity to Sacramento. But of the ten concentration camps designated to hold over 110,000 Japanese or American of Japanese ancestry upon enactment of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, Tule Lake was the maximum-security camp that came to house those considered most disloyal or disruptive. (The order was issued exactly 74 years ago on February 20, 1942.)

Little Tommy Kono, skinny, terribly shy, and sickly due to asthma, had to grow up in a camp that housed the most disruptive inmates in a facility that was overpopulated, unsanitary and squalid.

Strangely enough, it may have been the best thing to happen to him personally.

Tommy KonoPhoto by Y Ishii Jan 19 1957
Tommy Kono Photo by Y Ishii Jan 19 1957

Tule Lake is high above sea level, and as Kono told me, “it was a dried up lake, where no bushes or trees would grow.”For the first time, Kono could breathe free and easy, and enjoyed good health for the first time in a long time.

At the age of 11, Kono was 4 ft 8 and a half inches tall and weighed 74 and a half pounds. In other words, he was scrawny. But his friends in the camp were weight training enthusiasts, and as this article explains, they “gave him a fifteen-pound barbell and the advice, ‘It’s good for you, keep lifting it up, lots of times.'”

Weight training was an activity he could do to improve his health, see measurable results, and feel good about himself. Kono told me this was the positive side, the meritocratic side of camp life for him. “There was nothing there (to distract me). No stuff hindering me. You have to understand when you’re in Tule camp you are like everybody else. I got to be in pretty good shape.”

After World War II ended, Kono and his family were not compelled to go to Japan. Kono went back to high school in Sacramento, continued his weight training at a local YMCA until he was drafted into the US Army. So despite the fact that his loyalty was questioned only 8 years earlier, he was considered loyal enough to join the US military in 1950. That was when the Korean War was raging. Kono was targeted to be a cook in South Korea in support of the troops. He had heard that North Korean snipers were targeting cooks in particular – the logic being that if the cook went down, so too would morale.

Fortunately, Kono was breaking California weightlifting records and winning tournaments. When the US Army found out Kono was a really good weightlifter, they decided to move him to safer grounds where he could train for a possible spot on the US team in Helsinki.

Kono had come a long way. He told me that he had difficulty explaining what it was like to lift 300 pounds to a layman in the street. To show how strong he was, he instead would take a hot water bottle (those thick red rubbery things that kept you warm when you were sick as a child) and blow them up. “I blew up hot water bottles with my mouth. First they’re red, then it becomes pink, then white, until it finally bursts!”

This from a boy who had trouble breathing in asthmatic fits.

Kono admits to having an inferiority complex as a teenager, being so small and sickly. And not only did weightlifting improve his health and strength, it introduced him to the world of body building. Kono not only was an Olympic champion, but he was also a body builder champion, who won three Mr Universe titles in 1955, 1957 and 1961. A young Arnold Schwarzenegger considered Kono a role model.

“In Europe, everybody lifts weights.” Kono told me. “It’s a common thing. Arnold was a weightlifter living on the outskirts of Vienna. He saw me in 1961. He was 13 years old. He decided that ‘if that little guy can win Mr. Universe, I could do that too.’ He started training hard, he won Junior Mister World, and eventually he won the big one.”

Kono Schwarzenegger

Tommy Kono passed away April 24, 2016.

Three high school friends from Yokohama are on a mission as they take the train to downtown Tokyo. In Goro Miyazaki‘s film, From Up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から), it’s 1963, the Olympics are a year away, and Tokyo is crowded with people, congested with cars, and filled with the sounds of jackhammers and creaking of cranes.

Up on Poppy Hill_construction

Change is coming to Tokyo, for good and for bad. A subplot focuses on the high school students who are protesting the decision to demolish an old mansion that houses the various clubs that make the school’s social tapestry: the philosopher’s club, a newspaper, a group that forecasts the contents of future exams. A small group of students eventually change the views of the majority who had previously believed that “out with the old and in with the new” applied to all places and things. This sweeping change in views saves the club house.

Certainly, that was a powerful societal theme in Tokyo in the 1960s – How do we change and modernize so that the international community looks upon Japan with respect and admiration, while still maintaining who we are as Japanese?

Up on Poppy Hill_Olympic Sign
“For a successful Olympics, make Tokyo beautiful.”

The main plot is a love story between Umi, a girl who lost her father in the Korean War, and Kazuma, a boy who’s real father is a mystery, but was at first suspected to be the same as Umi’s. The mystery unravels as Umi and Kazuma ask questions about their past, learning of the pain and angst of their parents’ generation who lived and died in the turmoil and confusion of the Pacific and Korean wars.

And yet, because this is a story of young love, the tone is upbeat and sweet. The son of acclaimed anime director and screen writer of this film, Hayao Miyazaki, applies a rosy sentimental touch to the times. The film opens with a springy, jazzy tune called “The Breakfast Song”, that speaks of the optimism that comes with the day’s first meal.

The scene when Umi and Kazuma’s love first blooms enters with the bouncy hit song of that time, Kyu Sakamoto’s “Ue o Muite, Arukou” (aka: The Sukyaki Song). You can see that in this clip below (with English subtitles).

Want to take a nostalgic look at Japan in 1963? Watch From Up on Poppy Hill.

 

citi field not so clean venue
The home field of my New York Mets, CitiField, displays over 20 sponsors in this particular view. You wouldn’t see any ads in an Olympics venue.

For the International Olympic Committee, the “Clean Venue” policy has been inviolate. No advertisements or hint of commerce is allowed to be seen on or within the Olympic stadium. Not even the top global sponsors are allowed to show their logos in the stadium despite paying millions to market using the Olympic brand. They do so, somewhat ironically, because the Olympic brand, with the clean venue as a symbol, represents ideals beyond consumerism.

Olympic turnaroundAs Steve Jones of head of Coca Cola’s Marketing in the 1990s put it, “A clean field of play is an Olympic equity. One of your core assets. The field of play is an important branding space that you own. Own every inch of it! Sharing your branding space dilutes the Olympic brand. Don’t compromise your greatest opportunity to build brand power. There is no valid loss of revenue argument when the risk is loss of brand equity.”

Thus, the IOC aggressively protects the Olympic brand, and can at times seem obsessive. Michael Payne, author of the great sports marketing book, Olympic Turnaround, wrote about how McDonalds, a TOP Olympic sponsor, perhaps somewhat intentionally, snuck their logo into the eyesight of thousands, if not millions, during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games. Payne, who was a member of the IOC’s marketing team, got a phone call just as the ceremonies were under way.

“Have you seen the broadcast image of the athletes coming over the ramp?” screamed the brand protection manager. “What are we supposed to do about the McDonald’s sign?”

I ran around the stadium to see the problem myself. There, as the athletes marched over the ramp, in the distance was a large elevated McDonald’s neon sign. It provided a perfect backdrop for each nation as they came into the stadium. The sign might have been in the distance, located by the temporary McDonald’s restaurant at the Olympic Park, but on television it looked like it was attached to the main stadium. The sign had to be switched off – and fast.

The McDonald’s restaurant was near the Olympic sponsor hospitality village. I called the IOC manager at the village, and told her to get over to the McDonald’s restaurant and find someone to turn off the lights. She got to the restaurant, by the time the athlete parade had reached the letter c, and Cambodia was stumbling down the ramp. She found it closed and locked up. Understandably, all members of staff were in the stadium watching the ceremonies.

“Then break in,” I yelled to the IOC manager – by now we were up to Denmark in the athletes’ parade, and there was no way for the television cameras to avoid the neon advertising sign. “They will arrest me”, she pleaded.

“They will arrest all of us if we do not get that sign switched off now.” so an IOC manager proceeded to break into a partner’s restaurant to get their sign switched off.”

There was a break in, the logo went dark, and the IOC apologized to McDonald’s for the break in, although it’s unclear how the lights of the logo were left on.

Now, I’m sure this happened. But I have looked closely at the video of the 1996 opening ceremonies in Atlanta, and I just don’t see the McDonald’s sign. Admittedly, this youtube is not a high resolution video.

Fortunately, i was saved by a reader who provided me with a photo of the shining Mickey D logo. Thank you tylerkochman!

McDonalds at 1996 Atlanta Games
Click on photo to go to source, and see photo 45 in the gallery.

rose colored glasses

When I heard that four newspaper companies joined the growing number of local sponsors Dentsu has been signing up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, I couldn’t believe it.

The independence of the press, as far as I am concerned, is paramount. And yet, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun all signed a contract with the Japan Olympic Committee to be sponsors.

Right after the Nagano Winter Games ended in February, 1998, the Japanese press reported on a bribery scandal of Olympian proportions. Eventually there were stories of how the Japanese authorities and Olympic officials wined and dined IOC members, particularly its leader, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

As explained in this article entitled “The Olympic Bribery Scandal” from the organization The International Society of Olympic Historians,

It was reported in the Japanese media that the Nagano bid committee spent an average of $22,000 on 62 visiting IOC members. But further investigational efforts were forestalled when it was discovered that Nagano had destroyed all the records of their bid committee. If they had a smoking gun, it had been put out. Samaranch attempted to elicit information on other bid committees by writing to each bid committee or relevant National Olympic Committee going back to 1990, and requesting evidence of IOC Member wrongdoing.

So here’s the question: Will Japan’s major newspapers, which are now paying for the right to be Olympic cheerleaders, going to have the guts to look in the shadows? Will they ask uncomfortable questions about freaky financing, suspicions of doping, backroom discussions?

A popular tabloid, Nikkan Gendai (日刊ゲンダイ), not an Olympic Sponsor, recently raised this issue, referring to renown sports journalist Gentaro Taniguchi. The Japan Times quoted Taniguchi’s interview in Nikkan Gendai:

(Sports journalist Gentaro Taniguchi) told tabloid Nikkan Gendai that the job of journalism is to “monitor those in power,” and here we have four such monitors “boosting an event in partnership with the state.” There’s nothing much you can do about TV, since broadcasters have to purchase rights to the Olympics in order to air the games, so they are already “part of the cheerleading team.” But print media? For the simple reason that they paid to be sponsors, these four newspapers, which are also profit-making organizations, will expect a “return on their investment,” meaning they will do what they can to guarantee that the Olympics are successful — so no negative coverage.

The Gendai article, which ran on Jan. 29, attempted to detail what it viewed as the hypocrisy involved. Together, the four newspapers paid the JOC ¥6 billion for the privilege of calling themselves official sponsors, which is one rank down from “gold partners,” who pay ¥15 billion each, but one rank up from “official supporters,” who pay between ¥1 billion and ¥3 billion.

Having said all that, newspapers being Olympic sponsors isn’t unprecedented. At the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, 10 Canwest newspapers signed up as sponsors. Said the President and CEO of Canwest Publishing: “We’re still going to preserve the most important part of all of our mastheads, and that’s the integrity of the journalism that we publish every day.”

I hope they did.