SPANISH HOOPS: CAN YOU SAY RACISTAS?


When was Don Imus put in charge of running the Spanish national basketball team?

The genius hoopsters from Madrid are having a tough time explaining away this one: In an advertisement that appeared in the popular sports daily Marca, Spanish players are smiling and purposefully pulling down skin around their eyes to make them appear slanted.

Just the way you want to show some Olympic respect for the host country of China.

The only thing worse than the photo is the carefully crafted excuse now being offered by the team, which not surprisingly came once the photo hit the newspaper and then Internet, followed by the inferno of questions.

"What happened was that during a photo session, one of our sponsors asked us to pose with a 'wink' to our participation in Beijing and we made an oriental expression with our eyes," Spanish player Jose Calderon wrote on his Web site.

The Toronto Raptors guard also said the photo was an "affectionate gesture."

Sure. I know many Asians who associate inappropriate and racially sensitive gestures against them with friendliness.

Calderon’s words might have some teeth if this was the first time Spain traveled the tactless road. But its athletes and fans are making a habit of coming off as thoughtless buffoons.

This is the same country whose soccer followers made monkey noises and threw banana peels at black players from England and had run-ins with black Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.

I wonder how this might play for Lakers forward Pau Gasol (who is in the picture making the gesture) in Los Angeles. I’m guessing if the Lakers are again NBA contenders and Gasol is contributing to the cause, there wouldn’t be much negative reaction from Asian fans.

Because, after all, winning is everything and this was meant as an affectionate gesture.

Right.

GYMNASTICS HAPPENINGS

It was strange being at the women’s gymnastics team final this morning. There might have been eight nations competing, but no one within five miles of the indoor stadium wasn’t watching China and the United States, included in the same rotational group.

I took my eyes off the duel long enough to see a Russian girl fall in her beam routine and the dark, gloomy stare from her coach that followed. We’re talking a cross between Mrs. Doubtfire and Don Rickles. The young lady finished her routine, walked slowly off the stage and burst into tears.

Mrs. Doubtfire walked within screaming distance and promptly relayed a not-so-nice evaluation.

My only hope: The scorned gymnast isn’t “mistakenly” put on a plane to Georgia following the Games.

One thing that continues to surprise me although it shouldn’t is how journalists from other countries react during competition. I was sitting next to a writer from China and by the amount of cheering he did, I can only infer he is related to the entire gold-medal team and its coaching staff.

At beach volleyball one day this week, European writers waved their nation’s flag and danced as their team spiked itself to victory.

I think it might be time to stand up and cheer and offer my peers high-fives when UNLV wins its third football game. This way, I can make a bold statement here and yet still have a great chance of remaining unbiased and professional the entire season.

MEDAL UPDATE

Day: Wednesday, Aug. 13.

Time: 5:24 p.m. Beijing.

Medal Count: USA 28, China 25.

Gold medal count: China 17, USA 10.

Translation: The golden torch has not only been passed, but it looks as though the hosts could run away and hide by the second week of competition.

Oh, by the way. There is carnage all over the Main Press Center work room right now. Heads on laptops. People sleeping through deadlines. As days pass, we lose more and more soldiers by the second. Our very own D-Day.