Varnish Remover

Hoop Dreams

Around the World, produced by David Beinstein for NBA Entertainment.

Come playoff season, the NBA takes no prisoners. Basketball is everywhere, and excess is everything. The players are Brobdingnagians, and their conflicts, aptly epic. They’re on your screen and in your face, these icons, chattering relentlessly about success, shoes, hot dogs, shoes, pop, phones, shoes, shoes … when suddenly, the prattle stops and you get a break. It isn’t a break from basketball, and it isn’t a permanent break. But for 30 seconds, Around the World gives you the hype without the talk, the intravenous feed, if you will.

A lively guitar and plastic colors animate this Grand Tour, which begins with an overhead shot of the globe, North America in the foreground. A young black boy dribbles a basketball across an improbably bucolic New Jersey toward the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan behind her. Cauliflower clouds scud by and birds take wing. The dribbler pauses at water’s edge, then lofts the ball toward Lady Liberty, who reaches for it. The ruddy basketball and the boy’s red, white, and blue togs seem to reinforce the message: This is America’s game. ‘Twas a time when baseball was the national pastime. No longer.

But the statue misses, and the ball sails over the Atlantic, past a curious Big Ben and the Arc de Triomphe. Clearly, we’d fumbled the point. Basketball isn’t America’s preserve: Europe loves it too. And it transcends color and gender: The player who grabs the ball, dodging a spry Eiffel Tower, is white and female.

Seeing a plane in the background, you know what’s coming. The ball’s on the move again. Destination: Egypt, where a young boy lobs it past the pyramids and an inquiring Sphinx. Then onward to China, the next pause on the tour, and the Great Wall, which invites the backboard. And again, there’s a shot of the plane, climbing into the sky after unloading … basketballs? Not likely, given that they’re made there now.

We pull back into space, and the spinning globe morphs into a basketball, the stars around it outlining a player and a hoop. Constellation NBA. “I love this game.”

Around the World is an engaging spot, fast-paced and eye-catching. That said, it’s worth looking beyond the platitudinous fuzz about basketball being the world’s game and the ultimate unifier, to the fact that it’s a prime U.S. export. While satellite technology has increased the sport’s reach, U.S. domination of its every aspect has increased basketball’s appeal among the capitalist underclass, the have-nots who see and crave the trappings. How long before the NBA has franchises from Zurich to Shanghai? Everyone wants a piece of the pie. And the NBA wants you to know that it’s sharing.

–Robert Shrum