Demon Bird Mothballs

This was brought to my attention by Basketbawful reader Stephanie G and (I have since discovered) has been reported elsewhere (like here, here and here). But I'm going to cover it again because it's so awesomely stupid that it absolutely must be included on any site that covers the best of the worst of professional basketball.

Back in the summer of 2003, Shawn Marion got a tattoo down his right leg in Chinese lettering that was supposedly a translation of his nickname "The Matrix." Only it wasn't. I mean, it really, really wasn't. Hanzi Smatter -- a site dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture -- noted that Shawn's tattoo really means, uh, something else:

= Demon, evil spirits; magic power.

= Bird.

= Camphor (a plant where its chemical exact is used for making moth balls).

That's right: Shawn Marion is Demon Bird Mothballs. I suggest you sit down and let the awe wash over you in a cool wave.

That's a pretty big misfire. (Although not quite as bad as the chick who had "inferior goods" tramp-stamped on her lower back.) Shawn probably should have consulted with somebody other than the dude at the tattoo parlor before inking his leg. According to Hanzi Smatter, The Matrix (as in the movie) is translated as 黑客帝国 (which means "Hackers' Empire"). And matrix (in the mathematical sense) is translated as 矩陣.

This hilarious mistranslation reminds me of the multicultrual heroes that appeared on the old Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon. Apache Chief, El Dorado, Samuri...these not-so-super characters were created by simply mashing together a few awkward cultural stereotypes. As Seanbaby once pointed out: "Now that I mention it, I don't think [Apache Chief] was Apache or a chief. His name doesn't make any damn sense. That's like putting a white guy on a team of Native Americans and naming him 'Minnesota President.'"

At least Shawn isn't alone. Marquis Daniels has a tattoo that means "Healthy Woman Roof." No, really.

Oh, and if you think think America has a monopoly in cultrual ignorance, I suggest you check out Engrish. Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension!

Fun fact: As the Hanzi Smatter pointed out, the tattoo also appears on his action figure.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Your site is great! I will now ridicule Shawn Marion and his mothball leg every time he sets foot on the court! From my couch of course.

Check out my site for crazy sports, news, movies, and other outlandish stories at

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I say we just shorted it to Demon Balls.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This should be pointed out EVERY TIME he plays on national television.

Does that count as an "Epic Fail"-ure? I have to think so. I mean, that, and whining about being forced to play with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire. Poor, poor Shawn! Somebody give him a hug quick-

Anonymous Anonymous said...
never understood why people put chinese letters as tatooes with no understanding of the language
get a chinese friend and THEN get a tatoo easy as that

Blogger d2s4ui1 said...
It looks like Shawn was going for the Japanese phonetic translation. As the Hanzi site points out, the characters sounded out in Japanese are "ma-tori-kusu", which is as close as you can get in Japanese, considering every letter in the Japanese alphabet (with the exception of "n") ends with a vowel when converted into roman letters (For example, "Alex Rodriguez" would phonetically translate to "Arekusu Rodorigezu"). However, the Japanese language has a separate alphabet for foreign words, and so "Matrix" in Japanese would actually read "マトリクス" instead of "魔鳥樟". On the other hand, when people get their (non-Asian) names done in Japanese calligraphy, the calligraphers typically choose to sound out the names using Chinese characters instead of the foreign-words-alphabet. And since his tattoo can be interpreted as art (like calligraphy), you can make the case that the tattoo artist didn't make a mistake. The problem is that, although it is technically "Chinese lettering" as the NBA news report states, it does not translate to "Matrix" in any language. Rather, it phonetically sounds out "Matrix" in Japanese.

Blogger Justin Tenuto said...
Daniel with the knowledge! Well done. That was informative, with the minor downside that I can't make fun of Marion with as much impunity as recently assumed.

Now: Bring on the Worsties.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
i'm thinking about getting some Chinese character tattoos on me that state: "Sonic Warrior Men Missing from Sea City consult Ultimate Commissioner With Details of Horrible Theft." yes, that's a lot of ink and yes it will be on my lower back.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
what a wiener!
demon bird mothball
i dont see the similarity

i have a picture from the FUTURE.
michael beasley.
in the middle of a heat game.
i made this.
i am very talented at photoshop.
message me if you need a picture to be made or something

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I never thought I'd see a stupider NBA tattoo than Luke Walton's monkeys-dunking-basketballs.