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NBA Stars Puzzled by Chinese Nicknames
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"Little Emperor", "Warrior" and "Stone Pillar". In China, LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neil and Tim Duncan sound more like kung fu legends than NBA superstars.

The less fortunate get a cutesy makeover that would make even the pimpest player blush: Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony is "Sweet Melon", while Dallas Mavericks' MVP Dirk Nowitzki is known as "German Racecar".

When Nuggets guard Allen Iverson visited Shanghai two years ago as part of an Asian swing, he was less than enthusiastic when he learned of his Chinese moniker, "Little Ghost".

A.I. thought "ghost" was too negative, but he had less of an issue with "little" - a seemingly strange choice as in Chinese culture it is usually reserved to denote one's junior.

What the players fail to recognize is that Chinese nicknames have a more profound meaning than the basic translation into English.

"Little means a bit cute and smart in China," said Li Wei, a PR agent in Beijing. "Allen Iverson can go anywhere on the court, the 3-point line, the paint. Nobody can touch him, like a ghost. It's all positive. We don't call him "The Answer" (his US nickname) because "Da An" doesn't flow in Chinese and it's hard to pronounce."

Li, who has been following the NBA since professional basketball took root in the country 10 years ago, said some words just have different connotations in different cultures. This will be good news for Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudemire, known among Chinese fans as "Little Tyrant".

"In Chinese, tyrant is a very, very good word, because it implies dominance. And that's what he does in the paint. Monster would be an example of a bad word connoting something evil," she said.

The league is growing in popularity in China each year, said Phebe Loo of the NBA's Beijing office. As such, it is hardly surprising that a generation of aspiring Yao Mings have adopted pet names for their heroes in a bid to make them their own.

When the names started cropping up in local newspapers and magazines, Loo and her colleagues culled the best of the bunch and sent them to the official website earlier this year.

The NBA opened its Beijing office in late 2003, two years after the league began printing a Chinese version of its magazine Hoops. NBA commissioner David Stern has since labeled China as the league's No 1 overseas market, and now Kobe Bryant is poised to become the leading American athlete in China, if the hype is to be believed.

Last month the NBA Players Association inked a deal to market individual stars like Bryant here with China's largest investment company, CITIC Guo'an Group. Meanwhile, Chinese sports apparel company Li-Ning was reportedly hoping to replace Nike as Bryant's shoe sponsor.

In terms of merchandise sales, the LA Lakers All-Star is now more popular on the mainland than local hero Yao Ming. Bryant's No 24 jersey shot to the top of the NBA's sales list in China this year - five slots above the Houston Rockets' All Star, who slipped from third place to sixth. Iverson is second on the list.

But if it makes A.I. feel any better, Kobe also comes in for some downsizing, Chinese-style: his nickname is "Little Flying Warrior".

(China Daily June 5, 2007)

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