“One of These Things Is Not Like the Others”: Linguistic Representations of Yao Ming in NBA Game Commentary

in International Journal of Sport Communication
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The re/production of Chinese cultural identity is often fraught with contradictions. When China’s Yao Ming was drafted Number 1 in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, he was supposed to reinforce and transcend Chinese/ Asian identity. Yao’s entrance into the NBA signaled a new understanding of Asian identity in the United States. To study this phenomenon, the author examined commentary from television broadcasts of U.S. NBA games featuring a prominent Asian athlete (Yao Ming) using critical discourse analysis. Analysis of 13 games from Yao Ming’s 2nd and 3rd seasons revealed that Yao is linguistically constructed as a panethnic Asian/Chinese person. In addition, the analysis upholds the stereotypes that Asian people are a “model minority” and unfit to play professional sports. Given the dearth of Asian players in the NBA, how do linguistic representations of Yao Ming in game commentary reinforce Asian and Chinese cultural stereotypes or create a new identity of China?

The author is with the Dept. of Communication Studies, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA.

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