Ozzy Osbourne, Satan and Oly Hoops
Like every other sporting venue in the world, Wukesong Gymnasium--home of the Olympic basketball tournament--blasts the seminal riffs from "Enter Sandman" and "Welcome to the Jungle" before and during games.
Unlike many venues, however, the Gym is also home to fans who say things like this.
"Satan brings joy and victory to Lithuanian basketball," Arturas Mironcikas told me today, with a smile.
"Heavy metal: best music in the world. Seriously," said the bearded man known as Sekla, Lithuanian basketball's most famous and photographed fan. "Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, Obituary, Ozzy Osbourne, Death. They are no more, unfortunately."
He's right, you know. Death is no more.
I had been trying to figure out why so many of the large Lithuanian contingent here pose for the inevitable fan photos with their fingers splayed in heavy metal position, and also why they carry around a small cutout of Ozzy Osbourne rocking a Lietuva uniform.
The answer to the first question is simple: many of the key supporters, like Sekla, are heavy metal nuts. The answer to the second?
"They are symbols, you know?" said Arturas's son, Rytis.
Symbols of ferocity, of humor, and of Lithuanian pride. Ozzy, you see, played a show in Vilnius a few years back, and the promoters got him to wear a Lithuanian national basketball uniform throughout. As a joke and a tribute, the supporters turned the resulting photo into a life-sized cutout, and brought their Ozzy to international tournaments, complete with a microphone stand.
Chinese authorities, though, wouldn't permit life-sized Ozzy into their venues, so the Lithuanians made the smaller one they've used this month.
"This is Chinese Ozzy," Arturas Mironcikas said. "This is half-Ozzy."
What else do these fans do? They chant "[Expletive] you referee," but in English, "so he can hear that and understand it," Sekla explained. "He was doing [expletive], actually."
They wear shirts that read "basketball monsters," for reasons unclear. They sing football-style anthems, like "Ant kalno mūrai, joja Lietuviai" ("On the hill the Lithuanians are marching," was the translation I got) and "Viens, Du, Trys, Grazi Lietuva Kaip Gelece Zyid Visada!" ("One, two, three, Lithuania is beautiful like a flower that always blooms," I was told). A bit livelier than "U-S-A!," anyhow.
Then there's Dainius Mazėtis, who shaved his locks into one of the odder styles I've ever seen; short on the sides, long and skinny in the back, butchered on the top. "The Dragon," he called it.
"Just joke," Mazetis said of his head, the same word he used to describe the Ozzy love. "I have a vacation for one month. In regular life I'm respectable citizen, but now I have opportunity to have a joke."
And as to the final question, concerning why so many Lithuanian fans had come to China? Some of the supporters tried to help me understand, following their team's quarterfinal victory over the host nation today.
"Basketball in Lithuania, it's the main thing, like religion," Giedrius Sipavicius told me. "We call it second religion. You know Sabonis? That's our second God....We are just three millions. Before, in China, no one knows who is Lithuania, actually. And after this game? Take a look. Everyone knows. We are going to show to the world who is Lithuania."
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