Go behind the scenes with SI.com's Arash Markazi whoâs âOn The Scene,â writing a regular journal from anywhere and everywhere about anything and everything.
7/07/2006 01:46:00 PM
Air to the Max
Nike Air Max 360 finally makes walking on air a possibility.
I’ll skip the engaging prose and just come out and say it: I love Nike Air Max. I left out the "the" before Nike because to me it’s more than just a shoe; it’s a name I’ll always remember. It’s like that first girlfriend you never forget, the one whose first, middle and last name will forever be engrained into your memory and whom you’ll always be hopelessly in search of no matter how many times you look her up on MySpace and Facebook.
I remember the first time I saw Air Max. I was about eight years old and she was sitting in my cousin’s room, neatly perched atop his shoe rack and fresh out of the box. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like something out of Back to the Future. The transparent air bubble in the rear of the shoe, the crazy red- cream-and-white colorway and the way my feet felt when I put them on while my cousin was in the restroom. I was hooked.
Since then Air Max has gotten quite a few makeovers. I mean, who hasn’t since the '80s? It came back in five different forms over the next decade. While the 270-degree exposed Nike Air Unit on Air Max 93 caused me to react like Macaulay Culkin when he put his dad’s aftershave on in Home Alone, it’s Air Max 95 that has stood the test of time for me. Forget for a moment that it’s quite possibly the most comfortable shoe ever made, it's also a veritable canvas for heads who like to play Picasso on their kicks. The number of colorways you can rock on the graduated side panels, loopholes and straps are enough to cause the mind to detonate.
It was understandable, then, that when Nike released Air Max 360 earlier this year, I was like an anxious family member at an airport terminal as I waited to get my pair and try them on. No shoe in recent memory has been hyped as much as the 360 has, but it lived up to everything that was said and written in the weeks leading up to its January release when I slipped on the first foamless, fully air-soled Air Max. It really was like walking on air. Even the laziest guy (guilty as charged) feels the need to do a few laps around the block when he puts these shoes on. I still have to say my favorite Air Max is 95, followed by the OG and then the 360. What’s yours?
O.J. Mayo won’t have to change uniforms if he follows through on an oral commitment to play at USC in 2007.
O.J. Mayo, widely regarded as the best high school basketball player in the class of 2007, is expected to announce within the next 72 hours that he has committed to play for the University of Southern California, according to a source close to the situation.
"I’ve been surprised before," said the source, "but I’d be shocked if he’s not a Trojan."
Mayo, who plays for the North College Hill (Ohio) Trojans, is technically a Trojan already, but he won’t have to get used to a new mascot until he turns pro if everything goes as planned. Neither will his teammate, Bill Walker, generally regarded as the second-best player in the class, who is expected to join Mayo at USC. Both players have said in the past that they will play together in college.
The combo of Mayo, a 6-4 guard, and Walker, a 6-5 forward, would be the biggest recruiting tandem the Trojans' basketball program has nabbed since Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble came to USC over 20 years ago when they were heavily recruited by head coach Stan Morrison out of Dobbins Technical High School in Philadelphia. After Morrison was fired following their freshman year in 1986, however, the tandem transferred to Loyola Marymount. Mayo and Walker are also expected to be at USC for only one season before transferring -- to the NBA. Mayo is already projected to be the top pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.
Mayo, who would be the second-most famous O.J. to don the cardinal and gold 32 at USC, officially visited the Southern California campus last week and met with athletic director Mike Garrett and head coach Tim Floyd and his staff and also played a few games of pickup basketball with some of the current players during his three-day stay in Los Angeles. While he spoke with coaches and players, Mayo said on several occasions that he was coming to USC, the source said.
While Mayo, whose talent has been compared with recent high school phenoms LeBron James and Greg Oden, can't sign an official letter of intent until November and recruits have been notorious in the past for changing their minds and rescinding oral commitments, the move to Los Angeles makes sense for Mayo, who has said that he would like to turn around a program rather than be one of a dozen All-Americas at a school with a trophy case full of titles.
During his visit, Mayo was apparently sold on the idea of ushering in a new era for USC basketball at the brand-new Galen Center, which is set to open this fall, and playing in front of sold-out crowds in the second-biggest media market in the country. The media-savvy USC athletic department would no doubt help make the tandem of Mayo and Walker their basketball version of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, as celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell and Spike Lee move from the Coliseum sideline to Galen Center courtside.
Mayo, who is in New Jersey this weekend with Walker for the Reebok ABCD Basketball Camp, was expected to hold a news conference at the camp to announce his decision. While USC is the clear No. 1 on his list at the moment, Mayo is likely still going to visit and continue to talk to Kansas State and Florida, even if he makes an official oral commitment to USC -- meaning that no matter what happens this weekend, Floyd and his staff will still be selling the program to Mayo for another five or six months, until he’s officially signed.
I guess you could call it an addiction. One without meetings, six-step programs or support groups (at least none that I know of). It’s why I instantaneously look down at a stranger’s shoes rather than their eyes when I first meet them, why I cramp my feet into a size 9 Jordan XXI because the 10’s were all sold out, why its perfectly normal to go shopping with my girl and roll home with more bags than her, why I still feel secure in my masculinity while arguing about a shoe’s colorway and trying on my boy’s new pair of Air Max 360s before going out on a Friday night.
So, yes, you can call it an addiction, an infatuation, a fixation, but I like to call it a kicksation. Those who know, know, and those that don’t have at least been exposed to sneaker heads – a rare breed of individuals who live and breath the materials that surround your feet – when main stream media outlets have reported on heads rumbling in the streets of New York for a pair of Pigeon Dunks, camping out in the San Francisco rain for days to get their hands on the new Jordans and throwing down more than $2,000 for a pair of kicks they’ll never rock but brag about owning.
The game has certainly changed over the years. There are dozens of books and magazines out there dedicated to the sneaker culture, as well as shows and documentaries chronicling its origins and legends. While some might complain about the commercialization and proliferation of the once underground game, it’s hard to argue with all the advancements that have and continue to take place. Look no further than the Nike ID studio, upscale boutiques like ALife, Nort and Supreme (just to name a few) and the ease of searching for hard to find kicks on eBay to see that the game is changing for the better.
For a variety of reasons New York has always been the Mecca for sneaker heads. While I was living there I got the feeling one of the reasons for this was because in a city dependent on public transportation and where cars are more of a luxury than a necessity, most cats use their kicks to express themselves the same way someone elsewhere might express themselves by rolling in Diablo or Giovanna wheels. (Now if you’re a real baller you have both, but you get my point.) That’s why it’s a little harder being a “head” in LA now where most people only walk to and from their valeted cars and people pay health club dues if they want to walk more than a mile. There’s no hour-long train rides where you keep your head down and scope out what your competition is rocking. But I’ll try anyway to give you some sneaker love from time to time and my first foray into kicksation with you guys will be tomorrow when I review my favorite shoe, Nike’s Air Max. In the meantime, hit me up and tell me what your favorite shoe is and throw in any crazy stories you might have about finding that hard to get pair.
Growing up I was always fascinated by Brazil. Everything about the country always seemed so exotic and beautiful; from the majestic Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro to the sultry samba sounds played by Bossa nova bands to the ridiculously gorgeous women who grace the streets of Sao Paulo during the carnival to the supernatural talents of its football players who all seemed to be born with a ball attached to their feet.
I always felt that there was a connection between the beautiful sounds of samba and the beautiful looking football that the Brazilians played. After all, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that the same humble South American country changed the face of music and football in the late 50s and 60s with Joao Gilberto’s sultry sounds on the guitar and Pele’s sultry moves on the pitch.
In order to better understand the relationship between Brazilian music and football I sat down last week with Sergio Mendes, arguably Brazil’s most famous musician, who’s latest album, Timeless, features The Black Eyes Peas, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, India.Arie and Q-Tip.
I met with Sergio while he was rehearsing for his 40th anniversary concert at the Hollywood Bowl for Brasil ’66, the band and the title name of the album that helped launch his career.
AM: How does Brazilian football and music relate to the heart of the country’s culture; are they intertwined in some way you think?
SM: When you grow up in Brazil as a kid, you’re playing football on the streets and the beach all the time. It’s like kids in America with basketball. They play all over the streets so it’s urban and the same goes with the music. We have the Carnival which is the yearly one week party where everybody is one the streets playing instruments. It’s a very musical country because we have such a cultural diversity. We have the Africans who came as slaves, we have the Portuguese who colonized us, we have all the European invasions with the Dutch, Italians, we have the biggest Italian population outside of Italy, and we have Japanese, so when you mingle all those cultures you have a very interesting mix. You have the diversity of rhythms. You go up north and you have reggae in the Maranion, you go to Pernambuco and you have Marakatu and the Frevo, you go to Rio and you have the Bossa nova and Samba.
Music is a national treasure like football is. It’s in the blood of everybody. It’s a very musical people, they love to sing and the Carnival is the expression of that, with people from all classes, the rich and the poor, everybody gets together to sing and to play. If you see that then you’ll understand that music and football is in the soul of the people.
AM: Why do you think both Brazilian music and football exude such a joyful, happy feeling? It seems almost effortless, yet the two have mesmerized people around the world for years.
SM: That’s a very good question. When you see Ronaldinho play he always has a smile on his face and when you listen to Brazilian music you can’t help but smile as well. I don’t know why that is. I think it’s because of that combination of cultures that I told you about. I think we’re basically happy people. There’s not much money in Brazil, but we’re happy.
It’s interesting because you see others countries that are very rich and economically stable, for instance Scandinavian countries, but they don’t seem as happy as Brazilians. How come? Maybe money doesn’t bring that much happiness. You go to Scandinavian countries and you have a high degree of suicide and things like that yet they have everything. So there’s a discontent. You go to Brazil and, of course there’s some discontent because there is still a lot of inequality and poor people that don’t deserve to be that poor and the distribution of wealth should be better, but people are generally happy down there. The fact that they have such beautiful football and music helps that.
AM: Are their any correlations to making beautiful music in a band and playing beautiful football on the pitch?
SM: Another excellent question. When I look at my band, I have guys from America, Brazil and Japan and they are all happy, great musicians who’ve come together for a reason and I think it’s the same thing when you have a very well put together team like the current Brazilian team. The word that I would use to describe both is harmony. One of the good things about music is harmony and Brazilian music has a lot of beautiful harmonies and Brazilian football has great harmony between the guys; they like each other.
AM: What were your thoughts on Nike’s use of your hit song, Mas Que Nada, for their “Joga Bonito” ad of the Brazilian national team?
SM: I think it’s beautiful. I was so happy when I was approached to be a part of that because Nike is a brand that everybody knows and they do things very tasteful and it was a beautiful commercial and I was honored that they selected my song to be with the Brazilian team.
AM: Why is it that Mas Que Nada is so identifiable with Brazil even 40 years after it topped the charts?
SM: Well, I had the first hit with Mas Que Nada in 1966 with my band Brasil ’66 and it became an instant hit all over the world. I think it has to do with the simplicity of the melody. It’s a very catch chant that you can sing to in every language. It became almost an anthem, people recognized it with Brazil, and I think it’s beautiful. There aren’t many songs like that and I’m happy to be associated with it.
AM: Tell me some of the memories you had growing up with Brazilian football?
SM: I grew up in a small town called Niteroy, which is across the bay from Rio, and like every other kid we played football on the beach and streets and it was very hard to run and play on the beach but we loved it. That was our daily activity. That’s all we did all day long. Then you play in school and they you start going to the games. My team is Botafogo, black and white with the lonely star. In Brazil we also have the buttons game that we grew up with and played all the time.
The first recollection I had of Brazilian football was when I was very young. We lost the 1950 World Cup in Brazil [Uraguay came back from a 1-0 second half deficit to beat Brazil, 2-1, in front of 200,000 fans], and they had just built the Estadio do Maracana. and I remember my father crying and friends of my father crying also and it was like a dark cloud came over us that we lost at home. It was like a big shameful thing, but I remember that vividly. It was such sadness all over the country. But I also remember 1970 when we won the World Cup, I was in Mexico for the game and that’s when I met Pele and I met all the other players as well. In fact I just ran into Carlos Alberto while I was in London last week.
AM: In 1978 you produced and arranged the music to the movie, Pele, but the amazing part was Pele actually composed and sang the main theme. How did that come about?
SM: Oh yeah, well here’s the story behind that. He was playing for the New York Cosmos at the time and there was a documentary about his life being done by a French director and at the time the same guy that brought Pele to the Cosmos and play in the States was the same guy that brought me here and signed me to Atlantic Records, Nesuhi Ertegün. He loved football and he put together the Cosmos with the Warner people and he brought Pele here and we would see each other a lot. So I had the opportunity to do the soundtrack and while we were recording here in LA, I told Pele, you have to sing and he said, ‘No, I’ve never sang,’ and I said, ‘No, just sing.’ So he played a little guitar and he sang and my wife sang with him in a duet and it was great. He was no doubt the best player ever.
AM: Who’s your favorite player to watch now?
SM: I love to watch Ronaldinho, he’s like a magician on the field and the smile he has you just can’t resist that. But I think Robinho is a fantastic player, he’s the next great one, and I think Kaka plays beautifully too, so I would say those three guys are my favorites now.
Finally a quick background story on the picture at the top of the story. After trying to set up this interview for some time, I got a confirmation on a date and location before I went to the Brazil-Australia game in Munich, Germany last month. Taking this as more than just a coincidence I got Sergio a T-shirt from the game and gave it to him when we met. He loved it so much that after the interview he took off the collared shirt he was wearing and put it on and posed with me for a picture. It was quite an honor considering Mendes is known for his Forrest Gump like photo album where he’s taken pictures with every president from Lyndon Johnson to George Bush and every entertainer from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Justin Timberlake and John Legend. I can only hope my picture is somewhere near Joe Pizzulo, who brought down the Hollywood Bowl during the Brasil '66 anniversary concert when he sang another Mendes hit song, Never Gonna Let You Go.
Vince Carter and I have at least one thing in common now: the brand new Sidekick 3.
Matthew Peyton/Getty Images
So I just got back to Los Angeles after a week in New York City, covering the NBA Draft and the various parties surrounding the event. As I was telling a friend at the NBA, with the draft being held annually in New York at the end of the season, the party circuit the night before and the night of the draft is becoming almost as good as All-Star Weekend (not quite, but almost). The draft might not have as many parties (there are usually pages of parties to choose from during all-star week), but the quality of parties that were thrown in New York were certainly top notch. Check out my diary of the scene here.
I’m going to hit you guys with an exclusive interview with my main man and Brazilian legend Sergio Mendes tomorrow that was supposed to be a bigger piece leading up to Brazil's semi-final game or even a Brazil-Italy final, but obviously those plans were quashed after the Samba Boys laid an egg against Les Blues last week. The interview, however, is still one of my favorites and I think you’ll enjoy it even though Ronaldinho and the rest of the Brazilian boys are out.