China is the most populous country in the world, and basketball is its most popular sport. Ergo, there are a lot of NBA fans in China, and not just because of Yao Ming. At various points in the last decade, they've also loved Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James as if they were their own.
Now, they can't refer to the best league in the world by it's real name due to the Chinese government's language purity initiatives. Bo Gu has more on Behind the Wall (via ProBasketballTalk):
As a result of practices that damage the "purity of the Chinese language," the regulator prohibited the "arbitrary" use of English words or acronyms from foreign languages mixed with Chinese. It also forbade the use of "ambiguous" words that are neither Chinese nor foreign.This is obviously an unfortunate situation, and not just because the Chinese translation of NBA is laughably complicated. One of the greatest things about the contemporary NBA is that it's a truly global league featuring players from all sorts of backgrounds and nations. It's partially defined by the multiplicity of experiences that make up its member athletes and franchises. That makes the league indicative of the world as it is rather than as a few people would like it to be.
When words in a foreign language have to be used, the government decreed that a note or annotation in Chinese must be added. And the names of foreign people, places and science terms also have to be translated into Chinese. [...]
In April, TV channels were told to ban English acronyms like NBA, which translated into Chinese in as long as 10 characters: "Mei Guo Nan Zi Zhi Ye Lan Qiu Lian Sai."
The Chinese language purity movement applies to spheres that reach far beyond the NBA, but it's reason for being runs antithetical to what the NBA is currently trying to be. Even if Chinese fans call the NBA by its "pure" name, they will still be watching a league in which "purity" is an impossible ideal with no grounds in real-world experience.
If the government is devoted to this initiative, is the next step to ban the NBA entirely? I doubt that's in the offing, but that suggestion should prove just how ridiculous this plan is. The NBA, like the world, is a complicated place, created in the United States but consumed by people all over the world; its name belongs to no one language or creed. At its best, it's an amalgam of backgrounds, and it'd be a shame to deny that wonderful fact in pursuit of a foolish notion of linguistic perfection.