"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
(China Daily June 5, 2007)