Kevin Garnett’s Chinese Blog

What Happens When NBA Culture Meets Chinese Political Culture -- image via HoopChina BBS -- click for a fascinating tribute to one Chinese fan's obsession with Kevin Garnett

Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett, I found out yesterday from undisclosed sources, has been maintaining a bilingual (English-Chinese) basketball blog which is very, very popular in the PRC.

As described in this entry on LeBron James, NBA stars, including some in Cleveland, have been promoting shoes in China for while.  The fact that Kevin Garnett is now wearing Chinese shoes and shilling for a Chinese company (ANTA) has gone virtually unremarked in English-language media during the NBA playoff season.

A good overview, with some pictures of Garnett running the gauntlet of press events in Beijing in August 2010, is here.  He will be back in China in July and August, meaning in all likelihood he will be crossing paths with a handful of other NBA stars on the move on the mainland.

I suppose that the lack of criticism of Garnett for giving up his Adidas or Nikes for a Chinese brand is a positive sign, and reminds us that the National Basketball Association is one of the more proactive cultural groups in the U.S. promoting ties with China.  (Yes, I think we should link sports and cultural exchanges, in spite of the fact that the NBA is a multi-billion dollar business and does not appear to have much in common with the New York Philharmonic!)

Secretary of State Clinton, quite naturally, made sure to include NBA initiatives in her recent meetings on cultural exchanges with Chinese counterparts in Washington.

As for Garnett’s blog, it is bilingual by virtue of the ANTA translators, not Garnett himself.  (Garnett, in fact, never so much as went to college, but he has probably done more world travelling – “study abroad,” if you will — than the most globe-trotting undergraduate.)  So the translation is a bit rocky, and interesting.

How, for instance, do you translate “homeboy” into Chinese?  (哥们, it seems, is the answer.)

Here is the first paragraph of the entry:

As you know, we were knocked out of the playoffs by Miami. It’s unfortunate that we are out and in my mind didn’t reach our potential. Taking the last couple of days to think about things and the season was long. Their [sic] were ups and downs all season and dealing with teammates, leaving teammates, gaining teammates. Long hours, flights, practices, workouts, etc… Another season under my belt, but not satisfying. I’ll be getting back to the “lab” (workouts and court work) to work on my craft, so I can keep improving. I will be working on my skills and constantly trying to get better.

正如新闻所说,我们被热火踢出局。很不幸我们没能更近一步,在我看来,我们没有发挥我们的潜能。最后几天,我们花时间回顾了这个漫长的赛季。比赛中有高潮,也有低谷;与队友有离别,也有欢聚。漫长的时间,飞行,练习,精疲力竭…贡献了一个赛季自己的经验,结果却不尽如人意。我将回到自己的实验室打磨自己的技术,我需要不断进步。我会提高自己的水平并不断地变得更强。

A big challenge for any translator is to capture something ephemeral, which is to say, the whiff or the aura of an unconventional sentence.

Garnett, for instance, goes positively literary with this complete sentence:

 Taking the last couple of days to think about things and the season was long.

The translator renders it as 最后几天,我们花时间回顾了这个漫长的赛季, something literally like “In these most recent days, we spent time to look back on this long season.”  花 (hua, to spend) is added to the sentence to make it more grammatically feasible to Chinese readers.  Further rendering KG’s impressionistic writing into grammatically correct Chinese, the translator also has to add a “we” to describe who is “thinking about things,” a revealing cultural choice — faced with an individual reflecting on performance and a team reflecting on its performance, the Chinese translator will chose the group, naturally.

Specific word choices are also wonderful.   花 (hua, to spend) gives the sentence an air of futility which, I think, captures KG’s intent.  And the season is described as “漫长” which I think of along the same lines as the German word “unendlich” or (almost) “endless.”

Finally, it was instructive for this author to get out of the trenches of reading Huanqiu Shibao bulletin boards — where, presumably, one can find some insights into mass views (or the CCP-endorsed and often created “mass view”) on North Korea, Japan, and the U.S. — and understand better who is really on the Chinese internet.

Kevin Garnett’s last entry of the season has, in three or four days, amassed more than 90,000 readers and collected 2227 comments, almost all of which are completely positive.  After all the name calling and mud-throwing over at Huanqiu, it was almost redeeming to feel the positive energies of thousands of Chinese basketball team telling Kevin Garnett — Kevin Garnett! — to hold his head high and keep going.  加油!

Kevin Garnett with Anta Shoes Rep. at Press Conference in Beijing, August 2010 -- image via sneaker-supply.com

Additional Reading: Gady Epstein, “Investors Profit on Chinese Answers to Nike, Adidas,” Forbes, 27 August 2011, http://blogs.forbes.com/gadyepstein/2010/08/27/investors-profit-on-chinese-answers-to-nike-adidas/ 

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