Derrick Rose, sporting the Los Bulls jersey in a game versus the Miami Heat last season.

The 2009 season will mark the second consecutive year that a handful of teams in the NBA will honor their Hispanic fan base by donning Spanish language jerseys.  A few baseball teams established this great idea before the NBA got in on the act.  Personally, I think its a nifty idea, even if the cynic in me assumes that (like any alternate jersey), the primary reason for these nights is to boost jersey sales.

However, I think these jerseys may seem a little less patronizing if they actually translated the team mascots.  “Los Bulls” sounds like Chris Farley in SNL translating “El Nino” as “The Nino” a few years back.  And while that joke is mildly amusing, I doubt the NBA was aiming for something more significant than an unoriginal SNL joke.  What they were really after was a tribute to Hispanic players in the NBA and to the latino fans of NBA basketball.

I mean seriously: “Los Bulls”?

Although “El Heat”, “Los Rockets”, “Los Mavs”, “Los Suns”, and the “Nueva York” Knicks (which, of the group, makes the most sense) are also getting in on the act, I’m using the example of Los Bulls to illustrate the linguistic problems with these jerseys.

First of all, in English there are never definite articles in front of team mascots on jerseys.  The Mets, even if they are referred to as “The Mets”, never put both words on their jerseys.  It would look phenomenally silly and aesthetically cumbersome.  Can you imagine a jersey that says “The Diamondbacks”?  That’s simply too may letters.  As it stands, the team rarely even uses the entire word, instead using jerseys that say “D-Backs”, which from a distance can be a little problematic for obvious reasons (think “g” instead of “ck”).  At any rate, simply on those grounds, the “Los” in Los Bulls makes no sense.

The second and more important issue is the laziness involved in not bothering to translate the mascot?  When the the Giants and Brewers do this in baseball, they use “Gigantes” and “Cerveceros” respectively: creating jerseys that are just as freaking sweet as they are thoughtful.

Brewers shortstop JJ Hardy sporting the "Cerveceros" jerseys. The San Francisco Giants wear "Gigantes" jerseys for the same event.

In the case of the Bulls (or the Heat or the Suns, etc) there exists a straightforward translation.  In the case of the Bulls, its Toros.  Its simple, would look elegant on a jersey, and would actually look like serious tribute to Latino players and fans, not just something an unpaid intern came up with between goggle-chat marathons.

It would be one thing for a team to not do this if their mascot was not as easily translatable. The Astros, for example, is practically a made-up word.  No simple translation exists for it in Spanish as far as I know.  However, I am confident that there are possible Spanish translations for teams like the Suns and the Heat, and, as I’ve said before, definitely the Bulls.

Hopefully, in coming seasons, the NBA will class up its act and follow suit, but for now, its just bewildering and strange to envision Eduardo Najera wearing a jersey that says “Los Nets”.

In the meantime, if anyone would care to enlighten me as to the NBA’s rationale for these decisions, I’d love to hear it.  Seriously, I would.  Given the way that ESPN Deportes lists MLB teams translated but keeps all NBA teams in English, I’m assuming there’s some lame legal explaination behind it, but that would just be speculation.  For now, I’m pining for the day that I can buy my very own Milwaukee Venados jersey (a guess, by the way, with the help of the internet).

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