Basketball is one of the quickest and cheapest ways for city-dwellers to get exercise and make friends today. And with over 300 million practitioners, China has no lack of friendly hoopers to can play with—just head over to the nearest basketball court.
However, if you want to fit in, and not just feign interest in the sport, taking the time to learn a few native expressions is a wise investment. To help, here are 10 Chinese basketball-related phrases that go beyond the literal—from idioms to bizarre metaphors to friendly insults:
Give you hotpot to eat 给你吃火锅
In basketball, as in life, sometimes you have to block someone in order to stay ahead. On the courts, saying this expression to your opponent (pronounced as “gěi nǐ chī huǒguō”) is a particularly funny way of sticking it to their face after you swat their shot. Trash-talking, though, is not everyone’s cup of tea, so when using this phrase, make it clear that your purpose is to entertain, not humiliate.
Very disturbing 很骚
The character sāo (骚) is often used in words related to disturbance or annoyance of some kind: sāorǎo (“molest”, 骚扰), sāodòng（“agitate”, 骚动）, láosao (“complain”牢骚).
Basketball fans, though, have turned this character into a compliment for craftiness on the court. If you see someone make a particularly difficult pass, open your mouth in astonishment and blurt out:
That’s a pretty tricky pass!
Zhè qiú hěn sāo！
Ejaculate on somebody’s face 颜射
The literal meaning of this word may seem rather explicit, but the expression is often used between close friends battling each other on the court. If you ever hit a shot in a Chinese friend’s face, smile arrogantly and sneer:
In your face!
Wǒ gānggāng yánshè nǐ le
All serious basketball fans know about the Jordan switch-hand layup: The GOAT rises up for a dunk with the right hand, only to switch hands mid-air, and complete a soft left-handed layup. Iconic.
In China, any mid-air movements–be it switching hands or going up and under–is called 拉杆 (Pull-rod, lāgān). Note that the word in spoken language often goes through érhuà, (Suffixation of a nonsyllabic ér to words，“儿化”). So after seeing somebody pull off this move you could say something like:
Wow! That up-and-under is so boss!
Wàsai! Nà lāgān’er tài niú bi le!
Three no touch 三不沾
Besides getting your ankles broken, airballing a shot is every baller’s worst nightmare (unless you’re Kobe Bryant). The sān (“three”, 三) in this expression refers to the three parts of the basketball hoop an airball somehow fails to zhān (“touch”, 沾): backboard, rim, and net. If your teammate fails to hit a game-winning shot, throwing up a cringe-worthy airball, scold them with the following phrase:
You take the buzzer-beater and airball it? You trying to imitate Kobe or something?
Derived from the chengyu 偷鸡摸狗 (tōujīmōgǒu, meaning to pilfer or womanize) this expression is often used when feeling exasperated at that inconspicuous-looking old dude who seems to always find a way–no matter how sneaky–to put the ball in the basket. To make your teammates laugh next time this happens, say:
How did that shot go in? This guy is just too crafty!
Zěnme yòu jìn le? Zhège rén zhēn huì tōu jī !
If it is obvious that one player on the team is the engine, the Mamba who carries the team by himself, then that person will often be called the “thigh,” or dàtuǐ. If you have a teammate who seems to always hit clutch shots, or is simply better than you and everyone else, feel free to pat them on the shoulder and say:
We’re all depending on you, you really are the engine of our team!
Wǒmen dōu zài kào nǐ, nǐ zhēn de shì wǒmen duì de dàtuǐ!
At the same time, weaker players who depend on the star of the team are often criticized for “holding the thigh:”
That dude is completely useless, just holding others’ thigh.
Every team, be it professional or amateur, has this player. He’s a defensive monster but an offensive liability. In the spirit of Chinese proletarianism, these kinds of players are called Lánlǐng, which means “blue collar,” a reference to the workers who do tough manual labor that the elites shy away from. If you feel like praising a hard-working player on your team, say:
This dude isn’t much use on offense. He’s our blue-collar worker!
Zhège gēmen’er jìngōng shàng gòngxiàn bù duō, tā shì wǒmen duì de lánlǐng!
Divine shooter 神投手
Shooting is one way that a player can make up for a lack of athleticism, so you’re bound to either team up or face some sharpshooters on the court. When this happens, shén tóushǒu (神投手), is a word to describe such a player, be it in warning or praise.
Pay attention to that dude over there, he’s a divine shooter.
Zhùyì yī diǎn’er nàgè gēmen’er, tā shì gè shén tóushǒu.