Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/27/2008 01:00:00 PM
Year Of The Tigers
HOUSTON -- One of the more innovative -- and completely out of left field -- developments in college hoops this year was a partnership between Memphis ... and Beijing. In September, coach John Calipari entered into a deal with the Chinese Basketball Association to teach a series of clinics and camps in China, as well as allow a delegation of CBA coaches to shadow the Tigers in October practices. (One of the coaches has remained with the team full-time as an observer.) The presumption in the short-term is that this will help sell a lot of Memphis gear in the Chinese market, and in the long-term, that when the CBA considers allowing the next Yi Jianlian to play a year of college ball in the U.S., he'll commit to Calipari.
The only visible effects of the partnership, here in March, is the Chinese coach hanging on the periphery of the Tigers' entourage, and the t-shirts a few players have been rocking in the locker room. I snapped the above photo of junior guard Antonio Anderson on Sunday in Little Rock, after inquiring about the shirt:
"That's for the people back in China," Anderson said. "We represent."
I asked him if he knew what the Chinese characters meant (since I had no idea).
"Naw," Anderson said. "I know it's something back to the China people saying thank you, or something like that."
To find out what the Memphians' tees actually say back to the "China people," I sent a photo of the tee to a Mandarin-speaking college friend who went to Shanghai to teach English after we graduated in '02 ... and has pretty much stayed there since, having turned into something of an entertainment mogul and DJ. The only thing relevant here, though, is that he's good at translating Chinese characters into English. Without knowing any of the context -- e-mailed it right out of iPhoto without telling him the team or player -- this is what he sent back:
"The characters are pronounced 'Meng-Fei-Qi,' but they are not combined like that in standard Chinese, so that means it's a proper noun not found in China whose pronunciation is similar. For example: Minnesota in Chinese is written 'Ming-Ni-Su-Da.' So my guess is that it's a name of a non-Chinese city, place or thing, like Memphis or Mencius [the philosopher]. The funny thing is, things like this are almost always written phonetically, and often written differently depending on who's doing the writing. Like, Bjork doesn't just have one name in Chinese. She has four."
I wrote him back to reveal Anderson's identity, and he replied, "Well, then it's definitely Memphis."
Not Mencius. Not a thank-you. Just Memphis. Mystery solved.