Nick Kapur @nick_kapur Historian of Japan and East Asia. I only tweet extremely interesting things. May. 07, 2018 16 min read

A thread of Chinese internet nicknames for NBA players.

China is crazy for the NBA, but official sources use boring phonetic transcriptions, failing to take advantage of Chinese characters having both sound and meaning. Chinese netizens have "improved" on these official names.

Lebron James - 小皇帝 "The Little Emperor"

A play on the English "King James" that is also a slang term for a "spoiled only child" under China's "One Child Policy"

Used more when Lebron was young but now mostly by Lebron haters. His fans prefer 詹皇 (Zhan Wang or "King James").

Russell Westbrook - 威少 "Wei Dude"

Russ's phonetic name in Chinese (衛斯特布魯克 wei si te bu lu ke) is really long so they shortened it to "Wei Dude."

They also upgraded the "wei" from "guarding" (衛) to "dominating" (威).

Steph Curry - 库昊 "fucks the sky"

This is an extremely elaborate pun. One of Curry's phonetic names is 库里 (ku li) and the second character is a combination of the characters 日 ("sun") and 土 ("ground"). But 日 is also slang for "fuck." 1/3

Given Curry's penchant for launching shots into the sky, Chinese netizens apparently felt it would be more apropos to name him "fucks the sky" instead of "fucks the ground," so they replaced "earth" (土) with "sky" (天) in the second character. 2/3

Other common nicknames for Steph Curry include "Sprout God" (萌神) and "The Elementary School Student" (小学生), both playing on his diminutive stature. 3/3

Giannis Antetokounmpo - 字母哥 "Letters Bro"

Because his last name!

Kobe Bryant - 蜗壳 "Snail Shell"

Kobe is "Snail Shell" because it rhymes with "My [guy] Kobe."

When he was young they called him 小飞侠 or “Peter Pan” (literally "Little Flying Warrior") and at the end he became 唠嗑 (“Chatterbox, Gossip"), which rhymes with "Old Kobe."

Manu Ginobili - 妖刀 "The Demon Blade"

Perhaps the coolest nickname of them all, Ginobili earned this moniker for his ability to slash to the hoop using tricky footwork like the Eurostep.

Shaquille O'Neal - 大鲨鱼 "The Giant Shark"

Derives from the fact that the first sound in the Chinese word for "shark" (shayu) sounds like the first sound in "Shaquille."

Toward the end of his career, he was frequently called "O'Fat" (奥胖) - a play on "O'Neal."

Klay Thompson - 佛祖 "The Buddha"

Because his very short curly hair reminds Chinese people of the Buddha's hairstyle in traditional Chinese art.

Carmelo Anthony - 甜瓜 "Melon"

Because his English nickname "Melo" sounds like the English word "melon" which they then translated into Chinese (pronounced tian gua).

Kevin Durant - 书包杜 "Schoolbag Du"

Because he used to often wear a backpack to press conferences ("Du" is short for "Durant")

Charles Barkley - 飞猪 "The Flying Pig"


Michael Jordon - 帮主 "Gang Boss"

Jordan's ordinary name in Chinese is 乔丹 (qiao dan), but Qiao is also the surname of Qiao Feng, the leader of the "Beggars' Sect" in popular wuxia martial arts novels, often known simply as "Gang Boss Qiao" (乔帮主).

Vehicle nicknames!

Dirk Nowitzki is 德国战车, "The German Panzer Tank"

Tony Parker is 法国小跑车, "The Little French Sports Car"

Some nicknames are straightforward or are direct translations of the English:

James Harden - 大胡子 "The Big Beard"
Paul Pierce - 真理 "The Truth"
Allen Iverson - 答案 "The Answer"
Gary Patyon - 手套 "The Glove"
Kawhi Leonard - 可愛 - means "cute" but sounds like "Kawhi"

However, "Dr. J" did get turned into J博士 ("J, Ph.D."), and Steve Francis's nickname "The Franchise" was badly translated into 特权 ("Special Rights").

Scottie Pippen - 天下第二人 "Second Best Under Heaven"

Dwyane Wade - 典韋 "Dian Wei"

Dian Wei was a mighty warrior from the ancient Three Kingdoms Period who was a loyal sidekick of the general Cao Cao. He famously died covering for Cao Cao's retreat when they were ambushed by a rebel army. His name also sounds like "Dwyane Wade."

Stephon Marbury - 马政委 "Marburyist Political Commissar"

This is a pun on "Marxist Political Commissar," since in Chinese both "Marbury" and "Marx" are spelled with the same first character "ma" ("horse").

Kevin Garnett - 狼王 "King of the Wolves"

Leftover from his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves

Steve Nash - 风之子 "Son of the Wind"

Joel Embiid - 大帝 "The Great One"

"Da di," meaning "great emperor" is the title used in Chinese for rulers who are called "the Great," as in "Alexander the Great"

Tim Duncan - 石佛 "The Stone Buddha"

Due to his perceived unemotional nature

Hakeem Olajuwon was known as "The Dream" in English, but this got upgraded to 大夢 ("The Big Dream") in Chinese.

Anthony Davis - 浓眉 "The Thick Brow"

No surprises here.

Tristan Thompson - 八贤王 "The King of Eights"

Thompson held out of training camp in 2015 and received a contract worth more than 80 million, despite averaging only 8 points and 8 rebounds in 2014-2015.

"The King of Eights" was a nickname for several historical Chinese rulers.

Andre Miller - 莫文蔚 "Karen Mok"

Because people think he looks like Hong Kong actress and pop star Karen Mok

Sometimes the Chinese give people feminized nicknames if they think they are too soft or do not conform to masculine stereotypes.

Thus Pau Gasol is 家嫂 (jia sao, "Sister-in-Law") since it sounds a bit like "Gasol."

Gordon Hayward is 九妹 ("The Ninth Sister") since he was the 9th pick in the draft.

Boogie Cousins - 表妹 "Younger Female Cousin"

They directly translated his last name into Chinese, but went with the most effeminate version possible.

Kyle Anderson - 人类蠕动精华 "Human Peristalsis"

Because he plays so slowly

Robert Horry - 關鍵先生 "Mr. Crucial"

For his crucial shots in countless big games

Kyle Lowry - 小鋼炮 "The Little Cannon"

Derrick Rose - 玫瑰 "Red Jade"

A poetic play on his last name "Rose"

Mo Williams - 莫不傳 "Mo Won't Pass"

JaVale McGee - 囧神 "Gaffe God"

Paul George - 泡椒 "Pickled Chili Pepper"

This is just because the pronunciation, pao jiao, sounds a bit like "Paul George"

J.R. Smith - 神經刀 "The Nerve Knife"

Because he's so inconsistent it's like taking a knife to your nerves

Charlie Villanueva - 無眉大俠 "The No-Eyebrow Knight"

James Harden - 景德镇镇长 "The Mayor of Jingdezhen"

Jingdezhen is a town famous for making fragile porcelain, so "Son of Jingdezhen" (景德镇之子) is a term for an NBA flop artist. Harden is perceived to be the best at this "art," so he gets to be the "mayor" of Floptown.

Another common nickname for Klay Thompson is 汤神 "Soup God"

This is not related to "Splash Brothers, which the Chinese translate directly as 浪花兄弟 (although the Chinese word for splash - "wave flower" is pretty cool) 1/2

Rather, the character for soup (汤) is the also the first sound in the phonetic rendering of "Thompson," so this is sort of like saying "Thom-God"

Similarly, Kristaps Porzingis is called 波神 "Wave God," also like saying "Po-God"

The point is that they're basketball gods. 2/2

Dwight Howard was originally nicknamed 魔兽 "The Magic Beast," back when he was on the Orlando Magic.

But after his troubled stint with the Lakers, some angry Chinese Lakers fans started calling him 魔胎, which uses the same first character, but means "The Evil Baby."

Draymond Green - 追梦 "Chasing Dreams"

Because "chasing dreams" (zhui meng) sounds a lot like "Draymond."

It can also allude to Green's unlikely path to stardom after being selected with the 35th pick in the second round of the draft.

So many Mambas!

Chinese netizens love to adapt Kobe's nickname "Black Mamba" (黑曼巴) for other players.

Of course they translated "White Mamba" (白曼巴) for Brian Scalabrine and "Red Mamba" (红曼巴) for Matt Bonner. But they respect the "Mamba" name & prefer to apply it to somewhat more prominent players.

They're also more creative than just changing the color of the snake...

James Harden is the "Free Throw Mamba" (罚曼巴) for his otherworldly ability to get to the free throw line.

More critically, he is known by haters as the "Porcelain Mamba" (瓷曼巴), suggesting that he gets fouls from barely being touched or by flopping.

Victor Oladipo is the "Diligent Mamba" (苦练曼巴) because Chinese netizens feel he drastically improved since last year, and therefore must have practiced very hard over the summer.

Texting his trainer right after a game 7 loss only further validated this nickname.

Andrew Wiggins is the "Strength Conserving Mamba" (养生曼巴), because people feel he is not aggressive enough and avoids dunking.

Boogie Cousins is the "Technical Mamba" (T曼巴 - literally, "T Mamba") due to his propensity to be assessed with technical fouls.

Clint Capela is the "Pancake Mamba" (饼曼巴), because in Chinese scoring off of alley-oop lob passes is known as "eating pancakes."

In this context, Chris Paul and James Harden, as the lob passers, are known as the
"Pancake Makers" (做饼人).

Andre Iguodala is the "Coffin Mamba" (棺曼巴).

People feel he plays like an old man in the regular season, but then suddenly comes back to life in the playoffs.

This transformation is known as "opening the coffin lid" (打开棺盖).

More loosely translates to "Vampire Mamba."

Ryan Anderson is the "Standing Around Mamba" (站曼巴), because people feel he just stands around behind the three-point line, waiting for a catch-and-shoot pass.

Eric Gordon is the "Round Face Mamba" (π曼巴, literally "Pi Mamba") because his face is really, really round.

They have memes that prove this:

Corey Brewer is the "Laughing Mamba" (笑曼巴), because he is known for his smiles and laughs.

Manu Ginobili became known as the "Bald Mamba" (秃曼巴) once he started going bald.

Steven Adams is the "Box Out Mamba" (卡曼巴).

People feel Russell Westbrook is always looking to pad his stats, and that Adams is a genius at boxing out other big men so that Russ can swoop in and grab the rebound.

Kyrie Irving is the "Flat Mamba" (平曼巴) because of his stated belief that the Earth is flat.

Other Chinese nicknames for Kyrie include "Uncle Drew" (德鲁大叔, de lu dashu) and "Potassium Iodide" (碘化钾), since both he and it are abbreviated KI.

Bobby Portis & Nikola Mirotic - (血花兄弟) "Gash Brothers"

After Portis punched Mirotic in the face, Chinese media called them "Gash Brothers" by analogy with "Splash Brothers."

Could also translate as "Blood Brothers," with same meaning of becoming brothers by shedding blood.

Doc Rivers - 河文档 "River Document"

Isiah Lord Thomas III - 微笑刺客 "The Smiling Assassin"

A direct translation of one of his English nicknames

Isaiah Jamar Thomas - 最强175 "The Great 5'8""

Literally "the strongest 175 [centimeters]"

DeMar DeRozan - 北境之王 "The King in the North"

Yes, this is in fact a "Game of Thrones" reference

Chris Bosh - 龙王 "King of the Dinos"

This nickname has stuck with him since his days as the the star of the Toronto Raptors

Steven Adams - 海王 “Aquaman”

Because people think he looks like the new movie Aquaman played by Jason Momoa

When the Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to absurdly expensive deals prior to the 16-17 season and both proceeded to play terribly, Chinese fans took to calling them "Deng, the British Jordan" (鄧英喬) and "Mozgov, Championship Center" (莫冠鋒). 1/2

Both of these statements were factually true, as Mozgov had been the starting center on a championship team, and Deng may well be the greatest basketball player to come out of the UK. But the sarcasm was so delicious. 2/2

Ben Simmons is called "Mattress" (席梦思)

Many Chinese people explain that this is because a Chinese word for mattress happens to sound like "Simmons." But the connection is actually much more direct! 1/2

It turns out that even many Chinese people don't realize that this word for "mattress" originally came from the Chinese name of the Simmons mattress company.

It has become genericized like Kleenex or Jacuzzi.

So Simmons sounds like Simmons because they are both Simmons!


Chinese fans have also built an elaborate group of nicknames around the 76ers.

Since Joel Embiid is the "Great Emperor" (大帝), his teammates are his court...


Simmons is the "Si Emperor" (西帝) - 西 is from 西蒙斯 "Simmons" (and means "west" so this can also be read "Western Emperor")

Saric is the "Sa Prime Minister" (沙丞相) - 沙 is from 沙里奇 "Saric"

Covington is the "Co General" (科将军) - 科 is from 科温顿 "Covington"


Rajon Rondo - 真中锋 "A True Center"

Because despite playing guard, Rondo is terrible at three-pointers and free throws, scores almost all of his points in the paint, and brings down large numbers of rebounds.

Alonzo Mourning - 肾斗士 "The Kidney Warrior"

Because he kept playing well, even after a kidney transplant

This is a pun: "Kidney Warrior" (shen dou shi) sounds like the "saints" 圣斗士 (sheng dou shi) in the Japanese manga "Saint Seiya"

Vince Carter - 半神 "The Demigod"

Literally "half god" - this was a lazy attempt to translate "Half Man, Half Amazing"

I now have an article up at @Deadspin explaining some of these nicknames in more detail as well as providing some new nicknames for players on all four remaining playoff teams! 

The Chinese nickname for Nikola Jokic is "Fat Cola" - 肥可樂

This is a play on his first name and the fact that he used to drink three liters of coke per day

Zach LaVine - 文天祥 "Zach Skywalker"

This one is hard to translate. Wen Tianxiang (文天祥) was a beloved Chinese patriot famous for rebelling against the Mongol Empire in the 1200's. But 文天祥 also sounds the same as "Levine Soars through the Sky" (文天翔) 1/2

So although LaVine's Chinese nickname is simply "Wen Tianxiang," to capture this double pun in English, I've translated it as "Zack Skywalker" to similarly convey LaVine's aerial ability while punning on the name of a beloved cultural figure who fought against an evil empire. 2/2

I now have an article at the @Guardian explaining even more Chinese NBA nicknames, including nicknames for Russell Westbrook, Danny Green, Kobe Bryant, Lonzo Ball, and more explanation of Michael Jordan's "Gang Boss" nickname. 

When he was young, Manu Ginobili was sometimes called the "Pampas Eagle" (潘帕斯雄鹰) after the Pampas plain in Argentina

But after he went bald, people started calling him the "Pampas Condor" (潘帕斯禿鹰), because the Chinese word for "condor" is literally "bald eagle"

John Wall - 囧墙 "Wrong Wall"

The first character sounds like "John," but also means "apologizing for mistakes" (the same character used in JaVale McGee's "Gaffe God" nickname), and refers to Wall's numerous turnovers

The second character (墙) literally just means "a wall"

Zach Randolph - 烂豆腐 "Mashed Tofu"

Because the pronunciation of these characters (lan dou fu) sounds like "Randolph" and also because Randolph's slightly chubby frame reminds people of mashed tofu

Russell Westbrook - 忍者龟 "The Ninja Turtle"

Because people think he looks just like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle

Victor Oladipo - 奥迪 "Audi"

Because the first and third characters in Oladipo's phonetic Chinese name 奥拉迪波 (ao la di bo) are the exact same characters used for the German car maker Audi (ao di)

Also, people feel Oladipo's game is fast and slick, like an Audi sportscar

Damian Lillard - 流氓大亨 "The Hoodlum Tycoon" or just "The Hoodlum" (流氓)

This nickname arose after two brothers claimed in 2013 that members of Lillard's entourage beat them for taking Lillard's picture without permission. 1/3

"The Hoodlum Tycoon" is also the name of a famous Hong Kong TV drama from the 1980s that is widely known throughout Asia and was called "The Feud of Two Brothers" in English.

The title "Hoodlum Tycoon" refers to the brutal and cruel younger brother of the main character. 2/3

Other common nicknames for Damian Lillard include "King of the Northwest" (西北王), "Coach Li" (利指导), using the first character in his phonetic name, and "Rice" (大米 da mi), which sounds like the first two syllables of "Damian." 3/3

Some Chinese netizens also call Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum the "New Trash Brothers" (新垃圾兄弟), due to their penchant for flaming out in the early rounds of the playoffs just like the original "Trash Brothers" DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Bill Russell - 指环王 "The Lord of the Rings"

Because he has the most championship rings. This is also the same characters used for the J.R.R. Tolkien books and films.

Dirk Nowitzki - 司机 "The Chauffeur"

Because the last two characters of Dirk's phonetic name (诺威斯基 nuo wei si ji) sound exactly like the two characters in the Chinese word for "driver" or "chauffeur" (司机 si ji)

Celtics nicknames!

Terry Rozier is called “The Biological Son” (亲儿子) or “The Crown Prince” (太子) because Celtics GM Danny Ainge was so reluctant to trade him that he must be either Ainge’s biological son or the heir to his kingdom. 1/2

This is even funnier than it sounds because these same two nicknames had been used previously for Austin Rivers, who of course is Doc Rivers’ actual biological son.

So in other words people are saying that Rozier is Danny Ainge’s Austin Rivers. 2/2

Marcus Smart - 司马钢 “Sma-Brick”

Because of his painfully low shooting percentage

The first two characters are the Chinese surname “Sima,” which sounds like the beginning of “Smart,” and the third character is “iron" - Chinese slang for a badly missed shot (a “brick”) 1/2

The pronunciation of this nickname ("Sima Gang") sounds like ancient Chinese historian and statesman Sima Guang (1019-1086 AD), who as a child famously saved a friend who fell in a large pot by smashing the pot, much the way Smart's bricks smash against the rim of the basket 2/2

Jayson Tatum is called “Rex Rabbit” (獭兔, Ta Tu, a type of rabbit) because it sounds like “Tatum”

But many people switch the first character (獭, meaning “otter”) for an extremely similar character that means “lazy” (懒), and instead just call Tatum the “Lazy Rabbit” (懒兔).

Jaylen Brown is nicknamed 杰伦 (jie lun) because it sounds like “Jaylen”

This is funny because this is also the Chinese given name of the massively popular Taiwanese-born pop star Jay Chou (周杰伦 Zhou Jielun).

Al Horford - 伙夫 "The Cook"

Because it sounds like "Horford"

He is also called "The Basketball Blindness Detector" (球盲鉴定器) because casual fans see his size and think his points/rebound totals are too low, but miss all the subtle things he does to make his team better.

P.J. Tucker - 鞋王 "The Shoe King"

Because of his absurdly large collection of shoes

Kevin Durant - 死神 "God of Death"

From a famous pic of Durant as the Grim Reaper

Now refers to his killer instinct late in games, especially since he joined the Warriors

Like in English, the Chinese call game-winning shots "daggers" and refer to this as "killing" the game

Blake Griffin was called "Terrifin" (给力芬) when he first came into the NBA and wowed with his massive dunks. This combined the Chinese word meaning "terrific, awesome, powerful" (给力) with the last character of "Griffin" (芬) and also sounded like "Griffin" (gei li fen) 1/2

However in later years, as Blake Griffin's game declined, people took to calling him "Short Fin" (短芬), a reference to his unusually small wingspan for a person of his height

Of course they also made cruel memes about it:

Kyle Kuzma is called "trousers size" (裤子码) or just "trousers" (裤子) because it sounds like "Kuzma/Kuz"

This also alludes to Kuzma's self-admitted obsession with fashion

Another nickname for Dirk Nowitzki is "Silver Horned King" (银角大王), a demon in the classic Chinese saga "Journey to the West"

This is because people think Dirk looks just like this demon as it appeared in a famous TV drama version of the tale:

Paul Pierce is called 包皮 "The Foreskin"

Originally he was called "Captain Pierce" (皮尔斯队长), based on his English nickname "The Captain."

This was soon shortened to "Captain Skin" (皮队), since the first character of "Pierce" also means "skin." 1/2

Finally they just went all-in with "The Foreskin."

Some people have claimed this was also an allusion to Pierce's appearance, always wearing a headband, although it seems to be based mostly on the first character of his phonetic name. 2/2

Like Andre Miller, Shaun Livingston is also called "Karen Mok" (莫文蔚), because people think he also looks just like actress Karen Mok

Many Chinese people feel that Shaun Livingston and Andre Miller look exactly the same and they have trouble telling them apart

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