Why Do Chinese People Love the Miami Heat's Shane Battier?

How It Works
Nov. 12 2013 1:17 PM

The Yao Effect

1384279761

I was a bit intrigued by the above poster that I saw in Hong Kong last week, mainly for the inclusion of forward Shane Battier along with the Heat’s “big three”. Battier’s certainly not an obscure player–a dependable veteran known for drawing fouls and giving better than average TV interviews–but he’s not exactly a household name.  

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

He’s never been an all-star. He wasn’t parting of the Heat’s opening night starting lineup, which featured Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers in addition to those other three guys. And I’m guessing that in terms of players non-basketball fans recognize, he ranks behind Ray Allen and Chris “Birdman” Andersen.

Advertisement

So why is he on the poster? Well, it turns out that Shane Battier is a really big star in China. This has less to do with his skill as a player or his personality than the fact that from 2006 to 2011 he played on the Houston Rockets with one Yao Ming, and as such all his games during this period were televised in China.

Known as “Mr. President” to his Chinese fans, Battier has his own branded basketball shoe on the Chinese market and was apparently almost as big a draw as James and Wade when the team traveled to Shanghai for some exhibition games last year. He describes himself as "third behind (James and Wade) in China because of my longevity and my relationship with China."

Battier isn’t the only onetime Rocket to benefit from the Yao bounce. Tracy McGrady was famously one of the leading vote-getters for the 2010 all-star game, based solely on support from legions of Chinese Houston fans, despite the fact that he was injured that year and hadn’t played a game. T-Mac later played for a season with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Qingdao Eagles and remains popular in China. (Our tour guide at one site told me he had chosen the name "Tracy" to use in his English class in honor of his favorite player.)

China is a hoops-crazy nation these days. The NBA took in around $150 million in revenue from the country in 2012 and Commissioner David Stern says he expects that figure to rise by 10 percent annually for the forseeable future. Players like Kobe Bryant are mobbed by fans when they visit. Basketball courts seem to be everywhere, including, I noticed, one for the guards inside the walls of the Forbidden City. And Yao’s goofy grin seems to be advertising products on every other billboard.

Yao shouldn’t get all the credit for this. Michael Jordan and the Dream Team did a lot to globalize the game, including in East Asia. But the retired Houston center certainly turbocharged the appeal of the game in his home country. If the above photo demonstrates anything, it’s that achievements on the court aside, Yao may have turned more people into basketball fans than any player since Jordan. 

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Use Facebook to Reconnect With Old Friends, Share Photos, and Serve People With Legal Papers

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?