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/ 

LeBron James in Shenyang; Beijing

Cleveland is a great American city, and its best-known ambassador is in Asia.  Cleveland Cavaliers superstar forward LeBron James is in China on a tour promoting Nike shoes.  He met with students of migrant workers who have a special school outside of Beijing which Nike apparently supplies.

LeBron with migrant student in Chaoyang district, Beijing

LeBron with migrant student in Chaoyang district, Beijing

In 2006, boarding a plane in Cleveland-Hopkins Airport bound for Beijing, I met LeBron’s then-teammate Damon Jones, who was the first American basketball player to promote shoes in China (for the Chinese brand Li-Ning, no less). It is quite interesting that everything we discussed that day as being pie-in-the-sky (NBA games in China, tours by LeBron to China) has now come to pass.

LeBron also spent time in Shenyang, where he was presented with a locally-designed variant on his shoe, which the artist called “Loyalty.”

LeBron with Chinese shoe designer in Shenyang, Liaoning province

LeBron with Chinese shoe designer in Shenyang, Liaoning province

According to the press release:

At a presentation that took place during Nike’s grassroots activities in Shenyang, Ray Lei gave James a uniquely designed pair of Air Max LeBron VII shoes. Lei used Chinese warrior images on the shoe to symbolize loyalty and bravery. He also represented LeBron’s loyalty by using symbols personal to him: “Irish” and the green color represent loyalty to his high school team, St Vincent St. Mary; “23″ stands for his loyalty to his team; and “330″ (his hometown area code) signifies loyalty to Akron, Ohio, where he grew up. In order to connect the shoe back to Shenyang, cloud and water elements were used in the design, as they frequently were on the uniforms of the Qing dynasty. The rose is Shenyang’s city flower. Additionally fog patterns were infused into the design, a reference to Chinese fairy tales in which troops would appear from fog before battle – similar to LeBron’s signature chalk dust before each game. Ray Lei is a 22-year-old graduate of the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University, and is currently taking masters classes with Professor Wu Guanying, the father of animation in China. His talents encompass a range of mediums, including cartoon, graphic design, illustration, short comic, graffiti and Hip-Hop music.

And Shenyang, like Cleveland in the 1990s, is coming up.  More direct flights, more foreign investment, more destruction of Manchukuo-era architecture, more North Koreans with money, more South Koreans with even more money, etc.  LeBron’s presence there is further proof.  More in subsequent posts on China-Ohio connections.

Beijing Suburb (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Beijing Suburb (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Hoop Dreams by the North Korean border, Jilin province (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Hoop Dreams by the North Korean border, Jilin province (photo by Adam Cathcart)