Somewhere in New York this week, someone may have said that it’s raining cats and dogs. To most Americans, this strange phrase would make perfect sense. But it is purely an English creation, utterly meaningless in most non-English speaking countries, and useless outside of making the locals think you’re lost and confused. In his book Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation, polyglot, professor, and master wordsmith Umberto Eco dissects the realities and difficulties of translating a work of art from language to language, or even from art form to art form. Eco ponders whether a modern day Italian reading the Divine Comedy in its original form, outdated connotations of words and phrases included, has any advantage in understanding the text over an American student reading a translation that has converted those same words and phrases to their modern English equivalents. Trying to navigate a clear path to the translation is not easy. It’s a negotiation, a compromise; a translator can stay true to the actual words or try and replicate the ideas, trying to find the ground that validates the author’s intentions.
In Eco’s case, his abilities as a linguist allow him to translate his books into languages outside his native Italian. For those languages in which he feels his vocabulary is insufficient, he hand-picks a translator and work with them to recreate his ideas as accurately as possible. Much effort is spent on the idea of translation in the NBA as well, especially in establishing how a rookie’s skills will translate to the NBA from its collegiate equivalent, or how a player’s skills might translate from one squad or system to another. But unlike the author and professor, basketball players are not always making their own choices in regards to where they end up. They’re not always translating their own work. If a player’s previously shown ability in college or another team is the original text, then the coach and the GM are the translators that manipulate those words into the language of their team.
The Mavericks game against the Lakers on opening night was a perfect case study on this subject, with a focus on the performance of two point guards. Both teams went into this game with marked changes to their respective rosters. For the Mavericks, those changes were largely believed to be to the detriment of the team (or at the very least, not to Dallas’ advantage). For the Lakers, the additions came by way of adding a two-time MVP and the best center in the league to their starting five. The future did not look bright for Dallas as Dwight Howard has as many Defensive Player of the Year awards as Dallas had starters who had never played a regular season game as a Maverick. And yet the team that, on paper, improved the most, seemed at times lost.