There's the Chinese giant and his Congolese mentor. There's the Argentinian expat, the Slovenian and the scruffy Spaniard who mocked Chinese giants in Beijing last summer. And there's even an Italian-speaking African American. Has the NBA ever been a stronger metaphor for sports as a global village?
When the Los Angleles Lakers-Houston Rockets series started, the primary match-up focused on the teams' leading stars, Yao Ming and Pau Gasol, whose Spanish Olympic team sparked controversy last summer when a photo captured them slanting their eyes in apparent mockery of their Chinese hosts.
The Rocket's Ming went down with an injury on May 9, joining his backup, the Congolese icon Dikembe Mutombo, himself fluent in nine languages. The injuries have opened the door for players like the Argentinian, Luis Scola, and the Slovenian, Sasha Vujacic, to draw from their own divergent paths and play a mean game of ball.
The most compelling character study in the series has been superstar Kobe Bryant and his two notorious defenders of wildly different backgrounds.
There's Michigan-born Shane Battier who graduated from Duke University and passed on a Rhodes Scholarship to enter the NBA. His teammate, New-York-born Ron Artest, left school early for the NBA and once hopped into the stands to hunt down and pummel spectators. On the surface, they couldn’t be more disparate, but the necessity to shut down Bryant has united the odd couple in an incredible show of unity between the unlikeliest of peers.
If we could apply this kind of solidarity to the real world, humanity could be on to something.