Samoa is an official Christian state, so religious holidays take on great importance here. Easter Sunday is always a special day.
However, in 2018, the holiday was eagerly anticipated for reasons beyond the celebration of Christ's resurrection. A major fight featuring Anthony Joshua, a boxer ranked as the top heavyweight, and Joseph Parker, a Kiwi of Samoan origin, was scheduled for Sunday morning local time, corresponding with its primetime showing in Cardiff, England, on Saturday evening.
Samoans normally don white clothing for church services, but instead opted for casual attire as they joined friends and family to watch Parker survive 12 rounds against the favored Joshua in a valiant, but losing, effort. The picture of a young man with the iconic Michael Jordan jersey caught my attention. On official licensed NBA clothing, the section above the number is reserved for the player's last name. In this case, instead of saying "Jordan," it merely said "Chicago" on both sides of the jersey.
The evidence was obvious; this jersey was clearly a knock-off.
The fake Jordan jersey spotted at a fale, or a traditional Samoan house, on the less densely populated island of Savai'i.Rohit Sudarshan
I'm currently visiting Samoa as a Fulbright fellow. This jersey reminds me of the daily walk I take to get to work where, in a half-mile stretch, I'll often pass a half dozen men wearing NBA jerseys. This is in downtown Apia, the capital and most densely populated part of Samoa, a collection of two large islands and four smaller ones.
The NBA, like many international businesses, has looked abroad to expand its product and has done so with remarkable success. With basketball's popularity in Asia and Australia, it's unsurprising that Samoa, a small island country in between these two larger continents, has a large share of NBA jerseys in circulation among its male residents.
What's interesting, however, is that the game is seldom played on the island, nor do its shirt-bearers follow the sport on television. In fact, basketball has not yet taken off in Samoa, a country where rugby remains the most popular team sport and boxing is the most popular individual one. The types of jerseys worn very much reflect the national disconnect with the sport in that almost all of them are of former players, or players who now play on different teams.
This young man received a Clyde Drexler jersey from a friend who visited the U.S.Rohit Sudarshan
The most common jerseys include Derrick Rose as a Bull, Rajon Rondo as a Celtic, Kobe Bryant as a Laker, and Shaquille O'Neal as a member of the Magic. The throwback jerseys I see give me the most joy. (The only contemporary jerseys I see regularly are adorned with LeBron James or Stephen Curry's names.)
Recently, I sought out the origins of these jerseys, which are supplied by smaller street shops as opposed to established local brand stores. As many would guess by their appearance, they are knock-off imports from China and are obtained and sold at an affordable price. The shirt-bearers themselves are fully aware of this. One remarked, "it comes from China but it's cool and very cheap." The jerseys are also perfect for the hot Pacific climate.
The bargain price of 20 Samoan Tala for two jerseys is less than $9 US dollars. This is a steal in a country where the minimum wage is equivalent to $1 USD per hour.
It's not just price that motivates Samoan men to wear these jerseys, though. Some of the jerseys carry familial significance as they are gifts from overseas Samoans. More Samoans live abroad than in Samoa, with a sizable contingent in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Even though many Samoans are unfamiliar with the teams and players, they do associate basketball with fashion. One person remarked that, "basketball is a cool sport ... I know this from American movies," while another said basketball jerseys are a fashion statement, perhaps a way to show yourself as a participant in global pop culture, something the U.S. dictates even in places seemingly far from its influence.
A basketball jersey often costs 12 Samoan Tala, or 20 for two — less than $9 U.S. dollars.Rohit Sudarshan
While Samoans often work abroad to take advantage of larger wages, they are drawn to their homeland and typically return to their extended families. These countrymen have the benefit of getting more exposure to the sport while abroad. One described to me how he cheered for the Warriors in 2017 while working in Auckland, but isn't able to follow the sport as closely now that he's back in Samoa.
When basketball is on at bars, it's usually to cater to expats or Samoans who have spent time overseas, but it fails to generate the large crowds that a rugby game gets. Samoans understandably like cheering for one of their own, and they cannot be found in the NBA. The NFL jerseys that are in circulation, by contrast, are of players with Samoan ancestry, such as Troy Polamalu and Domata Peko.
With the NBA Playoffs underway, it'll be fun to point out the significance of the teams to the shirt bearers. While access to television — or much less reliable internet connectivity — can be a challenge, there have been instances when I've found coverage of the games and was able to get a few Samoans to join the experience of watching. I was the lone viewer a few months ago when I watched Ohio State squeeze past South Dakota State in the NCAA tournament, but some of the other people in the bar enjoyed watching the college "kids" play and noted the differences in the game compared to the NBA Playoffs.
More regular support for the game will require a pioneer to make it to the international stage. As Joseph Parker can attest, a Samoan son will get support from the homeland even when he resides and trains outside the country, even on the most sacred of days.
This story is part of SB Nation's celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, in collaboration with Dat Winning.