Every Tuesday, NiuBBall goes around the NBA in search of the many players with with Chinese tattoos on their body. Partly because we love Chinese language, partly because we love basketball, and mostly because we’ve never understood how a non-Chinese speaker can entrust his non-Chinese speaking tattoo artist with writing and combining Chinese characters correctly, we then grade these tattoos based on their calligraphy, structure and meaning.
Many will fail, a few will pass. But, just remember, even if your Chinese tattoo that you once thought was so cool and exotic turns out to be just a hodgepodge of gibberish, it could be always be worse: You could have “healthy woman roof” permanently emblazoned on your body.
This week, we take a look at some of the Chinese-inked players who are set to open up the 2010-11 season tonight tonight in the States/tomorrow morning in China.
Our first ever contestant is a man who is not new to Los Angeles, but he’s newest members of the Lake Show…
Name: Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Lakers
Tattoo Location: Left inner forearm
What he thinks it means: From Dime Magazine: This one is kind of contradictory. The symbol in the middle is the Chinese symbol for eternal life, but it’s surrounded the flames of Hell. I think they go well together.
What it actually means: Barnes’ tattoo is 永 (pronounced yong) is the character for “everlasting” or “forever,” so he’s on the right track. The calligraphy isn’t terrible, either.
But, if Barnes is aiming to combine the opposite symbols of “eternal life” and the perishing flames of Hell, he’s going to have to back to the parlor for some more work. 永生 (yong shung) — not 永 by itself — means “eternal life.” Lucky for him, it looks like there’s some room on his forearm for expansion, if he so chooses.
Final Grade: Close, but similar to his corner three in last year’s Playoffs, it needs more work.
失败 – Failure
Name: Derek Fisher
Location: Right inner forearm
What he thinks it means: According to various websites, Fisher’s tattoo means “to be faithful in heart, mind and spirit.”
What it actually means: 心诚 (pronounced sheen chung) is a word not typically used in everyday oral language. It is typically found in Christian texts, meaning “faith” or “sincerity” in relation to the Lord. When looking at each character’s meaning, 心 means “heart” and 诚 means “honest,” so in a literal sense the tattoo means to be honest only in one’s heart. However, since it has religious meaning, the word could very well imply faithfulness on all human levels, physical and metaphysical, if one chooses to interpret it that way.
The tat has particular meaning to Fisher, who left millions of dollars on the table in Utah in order to move closer to his ailing daughter’s doctors in 2007. He cited his obligation as a father and his faith in religion as his driving forces in making the decision.
It’s worth pointing out that character quality is rather poor, especially 诚. The “speaking” radical on the left looks sloppy and scribbled, while the second part isn’t much better.
Final Grade: Despite the bad calligraphy, Fisher doesn’t need to worry about his tattoo’s meaning. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be worrying about losing minutes to Steve Blake this year, though.
成功 – Success
Player: Jermaine O’Neal, Boston Celtics (trust us, it’s him)
Location: Right inner forearm
What he thinks it means: Unknown
What it actually means: Most of J.O.’s tattoo is a mess, but judging from the first character 棺 (pronounced gwan) — which happens to be the only one of the three written legibly — meaning “coffin,” we can guess with almost certainty that his intention was to have 棺材佬 (gwan sai lau), a person who sells coffins, tatted up. The Milwaukee Bucks’ John Salmons also has the same tattooed on his right arm below his shoulder.
It’s really the only clue we have: the middle character is all jacked up, while the 佬 looks a lot like a 伕, a character so out dated it doesn’t even appear on my computer’s Chinese language pack.
Final Grade: It’s evident O’Neal is trying to convey a bad-ass image to opponents, but since nobody outside of Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian can read what it says, who is he trying to intimidate?
失败 – Failure
Name: Marcus Camby, Portland Trail Blazers
Location: Right Shoulder
What he thinks it means: From Sports Illustrated: The upper tattoo on his right arm means strive to be the best. The one below it means clan–which for Camby shows love for his family. “I was one of the originators of the Chinese characters,” says Camby, who broke into the NBA in 1996. “When I got it as a rookie, I don’t remember a lot of people having them. [These characters] seemed like a no-brainer. I want to be the best. And I’ve got a lot of love for my family.” But why in Chinese? “I was into a lot of Chinese flicks,” he explains, “a lot of [kung fu] movies.”
What it really means: Nothing to a Chinese person. 勉 (pronounced mee-yan) means “to strive” and 族 (zoo) means “clan” or “race (of people).” To a non-Chinese speaker, the combination would naturally mean “to strive for one’s family/clan.” Makes sense on paper, at least.
But the character 族 is used to describe members of a tribe, clan or race. For example 汉族 means somebody who is a member of the Han ethnicity, which makes up the vast majority of Chinese living in China. 傣族 are people who are part of the Dai minority in Yunnan province. In all, China recognizes 56 ethnic minority and each one is written and spoken with the name of the ethnicity preceding the character 族.
Unless China recently added a 57th ethnic minority to its list, the Strive minority, there is not an ethnicity for Camby to be a part of. He’s a one man minority.
Final Grade: Remember, languages are different not just in writing and pronunciation, but in usage as well. Just because it makes sense in English doesn’t mean it makes sense in Chinese.
失败 – Failure
I don’t claim to be totally fluent in Chinese, and if you disagree with my assessments feel free to comment at the bottom.
Want to see your favorite player on “Is My Tattoo Chinese?” Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org preferably with a clear picture of the tattoo in question and I’ll put it up in the next edition.