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Yi Jianlian on Learning English

One of the most watched NBA games ever took place in November of 2007. Why would a game near the beginning of the season be watched by so many people? Most of the fans watching were in China. It was the first time Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets played against young star Yi Jianlian and the team that drafted him, the Milwaukee Bucks. More than 200 million people tuned in to what came to be known as the “Chinese Super Bowl.”

Though in the US, Yi’s fame is nowhere near that of Yao’s, he is a superstar in China and he’s still new to the NBA. His game has to improve if he’s going to take over where Yao leaves off, but his English is coming along nicely. When he first arrived in the US, he used an interpreter and spoke little English. But when we approached him–in English–for an interview at a recent Washington Wizards media session, he didn’t hesitate and confidently agreed. The result is our latest Celebrity English Lesson in which Yi teaches the phrase “put the ball on the floor.”

One thing we cut from this video is a part where I asked Yi if there were any basketball terms he had a hard time with when he first came here. The answer surprised me. He said he didn’t know what was meant by “cut to the basket.” Of course, this phrase means to run quickly toward the basket so that your teammate can pass you the ball and you can score. It’s not something I think of basketball slang exactly, so Yi’s comment may help us find more good basketball idioms we’ve been overlooking.

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