Can Georgia Hashtag Zaza Pachulia into the NBA All-Stars?
All of Georgia is on a mission to get its most famous basketball player, Zaza Pachulia of the Dallas Mavericks, to play in the National Basketball Association's All-Stars Game. Rarely getting a chance to help nudge one of their own into international stardom, nearly everyone in Georgia, from the president to pensioners, has been tweeting and posting away “#NBAVOTE Zaza Pachulia,” which counts as a vote for the player’s bid for the February 14 event in Toronto.
Much to the surprise of some American basketball wonks, 31-year-old Pachulia now ranks #8 among fan favorites from the NBA’s Western Conference to take part in the All-Stars, an annual show-down between North American professional basketball teams' best players.
He is the only non-US player among the top eight. His success has been put down, with good reason, to massive online backing from Georgia, a country of just over 3.73 million people.
The Georgian cybersphere, especially the nation’s hands-down favorite social network, Facebook, has been ablaze with Pachulia tags in a craze to vote the Dallas Mavericks center into playing in next month’s celebrity basketball tournament. The lineup for the All-Star Game is partly decided through a fan ballot which allows repeat voting. The poll closes on January 18.
With an eye to the timeline, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has tweeted his endorsement, while Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli posted photos and a video showing her throwing a basketball with soldiers and their children in support of Pachulia.
Georgian rapper Bera, the son of billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, apparently used his international rapper connections to secure endorsements, too. No less than Wyclef Jean hit the piano to sing a song for Pachulia. “Go cast your votes right now, Wyclef said, yeah, for my little brother Bera,” he sang in an online video.
Back in Georgia, the local version of the “Got Talent” television show aired a flash-mob performance to encourage viewers to vote for Pachulia. Even the US embassy in Tbilisi has joined the call.
But Georgians did not need much convincing. Over the past week, few Facebook statuses or comment exchanges went without plugs for Pachulia and tweets also streamed in. A Facebook event-page calling for a rally against Georgia making a controversial deal with Gazprom, Russia’s state natural gas giant, featured #NBAVOTE Zaza Pachulia right next to #NoToGazprom.
Detractors have been summarily dealt with. The hosts of the NBA's "The Starters" show apologized, partly tongue-in-cheek, after coming under attack on Facebook for having mockingly questioned Pachulia's ranking.
One Facebook user joked that Pachulia has become the first Georgian since the medieval King David the Builder to unite the country, ever prone to political and cultural antagonism. Whether or not Pachulia makes it to the top, he can indeed boast of forging an online unity unseen in Georgia since perhaps its 2008 war with Russia.