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August 22, 2008

The Pate White Hope

Right now, Manu Ginobili is probably not interested in my condolences or congratulations. In a game in which he played only five minutes because of an injury, Manu's Argentinean teammates lost to their American counterparts and that perpetual adolescent we know as Carmelo Anthony. So I'll forgive Manu if he doesn't want to hear my hollow sports pieties.

Manu Ginobili

Manu, then and now.

But that won't stop me from trying. Like many Americans, I had to watch my Olympic basketball online, through a grainy video screen the size of a postcard. Like most Americans—including, for a while at least, our coach Mike Krzyzewski—I'm not very familiar with the basketball players of the world. This combination of ignorance and streaming video poses a problem when the Americans play, say, Spain or Greece. Not so with Argentina. Thanks to Manu's distinct bald spot, I could track his cuts, rotations, and flops with clarity and ease.

But I don't want to thank Manu for improving my viewing experience. I want to thank him for providing a perfect metaphor for the Olympic Spirit. Let's remember that Manu is no innovator: Networks have experimented with similar visual aides, most famously the FoxTrax, a technology that bathed hockey pucks in a pale blue glow. What Manu is, though, is all natural. I don't mean simply that he's Rogaine-free. Tom Brady may rely on hair restoration, but then a bald spot wouldn't do much good since Brady wears a helmet. Brady's not being vain, he's being pragmatic.

But in an Olympics that, from its anthems to its fireworks, has been marred by artifice and dishonesty, Manu fights back. His baldness is a call to arms: World-class presentation doesn't have to mean extravagance or deception. When sport is at its best, says Manu's bald spot, sport can stand alone.

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