When the NBA finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers rolls around today (May 31), Chinese fans won’t be shouting “LeBron” or “Steph” at their screens.
Instead, fans in China—where the NBA is the most-followed sports league on the internet—have a whole host of their own nicknames for players. Below are some of the more colorful ones for players from the Cavs and the Warriors, with a special hat-tip to Nick Kapur, an assistant professor Rutgers University in New Jersey who has been compiling NBA players’ Chinese nicknames on Twitter.
LeBron James: 詹皇 (zhān huáng), or “Emperor James,” inspired by his English nickname “King James.” James fans also fondly call him 吾皇 (wú huáng), or “My Emperor.” When James first entered the NBA, he was called 小皇帝 (xiǎo huángdì), or “Little Emperor.”
James skeptics, however, choose to highlight his infamous traveling violations by dubbing him 六步郎 (liù bù láng), or “Six-Step Bron,” using three Chinese characters that sound similar to “LeBron.” After James once attempted to explain his traveling call as a “crab dribble” classic, people started to call him 蟹皇 (xiè huáng), or “Crab Emperor.”
Kevin Love: 爱神 (àishén), or “Love God.” Some feel he plays too softly, and instead call him 爱女神 (ài nǚshén), or “Love Goddess.”
J.R. Smith: 神经刀 (shénjīng dāo), or “Psychotic Blade.” The nickname is a nod to Smith’s unpredictability and inconsistency, as he can hit 11 three-pointers in one game yet also give away victories with baffling turnovers.
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry: 萌神 (méng shén), or “Cute God,” which echoes his English nickname “Baby-faced Assassin.” Because of his relatively small size and youthful looks, fans also call him 小学生 (xiǎoxuéshēng), or “Primary School Student.”
Curry’s other nickname is 库日天(kù rì tiān), or “Curry Fucks the Sky.” Kapur also translates it as “Steph Skyfucker”—for Curry, the sky is not the limit.
Kevin Durant: 死神 (sǐshén), or “God of Death.” The name is inspired by a famous image of Durant as the Slim Reaper, which speaks to his ability to “kill” the game with winning shots. Durant was also dubbed 雷神 (léishén), or “God of Thunder,” for his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 书包杜 (shūbāo Dù), or “Schoolbag Du,” refers to his preference for wearing backpacks to press conferences early in his NBA career.
Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder to join the Warriors in 2016 broke the hearts of many fans, who have since begun to call him 杜跑跑 (Dù pǎo pǎo), or “Du Run Run.” It echoes the nickname “KowarD” given to him by Thunder fans (his initials are KD), and comes from 范跑跑 (Fàn pǎo pǎo), or “Fan Run Run,” the nickname of a controversial teacher surnamed Fan who abandoned his students during a deadly earthquake that hit China in 2008.
Klay Thompson: 佛祖 (fózǔ), or “Buddha.” His short, curly hair and kind face remind Chinese people of the Buddha (link in Chinese). He’s also dubbed 汤神 (Tāng shén), or “Soup God.” The first Chinese character of the phonetic translation of “Thompson” is the same character for “soup,” while “god” is a nod to his ability.