Yao Ming is the first Chinese player to have a major impact in th N.B.A. and the first Chinese athlete to become an international superstar. Standing 7-foot-6-inch (2.29-meters) tall and wearing size 18 shoes, he was drafted No. 1 by the Houston Rockets and made the N.B.A. All-Star team his rookie year. The American press heralded his arrival as beginning of “Ming Dynasty” and some regarded him a savior for the NBA, opening up new markets in Asia and giving the NBA a boost at a time when interest was sagging at home in the United States.
Yao was selected to the NBA All-Star team eight times. He averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds during his NBA career. More importantly, his impact expanded the NBA's influence in Asia into lucrative merchandise sales and TV ratings. Yao had played six years with the Chinese national team before joining the Rockets, and was already a star in his home country. He carried the Olympic torch through Tiananmen Square and his country's flag during the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He also donated $2 million and set up a foundation to rebuild schools in the wake of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
Yao played center. He was regarded as a skilled team player, a fearsome shot blocker and, surprisingly for a big man, was a good at making three-point shots. Craig Smith wrote in the New York Times, “He can run the floor like a small forward, find open teammates cutting to the basket, deliver a jump shot flawlessly and, unlike Shaquille O’Neal, shoot 80 percent at the free throw line.” In China they call him “Big Brother Yao.”
Yao is adored in China. In 2006, he was named China’s most influential athlete ever. One graduate student in Beijing told the Washington Post, “If Yao Ming’s on TV, I doesn’t matter what time it is...we’ll sneak out of the lab and go back to the dorm to watch. We think’s he’s great. We’re proud of him.” AP reported: The 7-foot-6 centre expanded the NBA’s influence into the world’s most populous country, creating lucrative merchandise sales for the league and TV ratings that skyrocketed whenever the Rockets played.
Yao is widely respected not only for his ability but for the fact he has remained modest and hardworking despite his wealth and fame. He has been held up as a personification of the spirit of China as it has embraced capitalism. Beijing-based lawyer Wang Sintao told the Washington Post, “He handles national interests and his individual interests well. He always remembers that he is from China.” One Chinese fan told the Post, “Yao is very Chinese in style, very modest. He doesn’t display a temper, and when he plays he never hurts the other athletes. Every time he appears in public, he dresses formally and neatly. And he is quite patriotic.”
Yao is China’s first global sports superstar with a personal brand valued at more than $1 billion. Even after his retirement he remains one of the most popular celebrities in China. When U.S. President Barrack Obama addressed a meeting of Chinese-American business leaders he predictably quoted the Confucian sage Mencius but also quoted Yao Ming : “No matter whether you need are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.”
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Chinese Basketball Wikipedia ; Far East Hoopsfareasthoops.50webs.com ; Brief History hoopedia.nba.com ; New York Times article nytimes.com ; Asia-Basket.com asia-basket.com ; NBA in China Blog nbainchina.com ; NBA.com article on China nba.com/news ; Wikipedia article om Chinese Basketball Players Wikipedia ; NBA.com Page on Yao Ming nba.com/playerfile ; Club Yao, Official Yao Ming Site yaomingfanclub.com ; Yao Ming Foundation theyaomingfoundation.org ; Books: Operation Yao Ming by Brook Larimer; Yao’s autobiography: Yao: A Life in Two Worlds
Good Websites and Sources on Sports in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Sports Today chinasportstoday.com ; China Daily Sports chinadaily.com.cn ; China Sports Review chinasportsreview.com ; China Sports Blog chinasports.wokpopcorn.com ; South China Morning Post Sports scmp.com ; Sports in Ancient China Chinese Olympic Committee ; Traditional Sports Travel China Guide
Links in this Website: SPORTS, RECREATION, PETS on the Main China Page (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets) factsanddetails.com/china; SPORT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; TEAM SPORTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SOCCER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; BASKETBALL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; NBA IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE BASKETBALL IN PLAYERS Factsanddetails.com/China ; YAO MING Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPICS AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; CRICKET FIGHTING AND UNUSUAL SPORTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; RECREATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENTERTAINMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GAMES AND GAMBLING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Yao Ming’s Early Life
The son of two former basketball players, Yao weighed 10 pounds at birth. His father is 6 feet 10. He played for the Shanghai city basketball team. His mother is 6 feet 2. She was captain of the Chinese national women’s team. His grandfather was a 6-foot-8-inch factory worker. Yao was measured regularly from the time he was an infant to predict his growth. He lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear at age 7 when doctors gave him the wrong medicine for a kidney problem.
His parent’s marriage was arranged by the government. Yao’s mother was a Red Guard. Her activities endeared her to Communist Party leaders in Mao’s time but later came back to haunt her when an official she persecuted was rehabilitated and placed in charge of Shanghai’s sports program, leaving Yao’s parents with barely enough money to feed him.
Like his parents Yao initially hated basketball. It wasn’t until he was nine years old and attended a Harlem Globetrotters game with his mother that he saw basketball players enjoying themselves. Yao’s first coach told the Los Angeles Times, “He didn’t like basketball very much in the beginning. He was so much taller than the other kids and was an awkward mover. It took time to cultivate his interest, by playing the games and making him feel the fun of basketball.” To make sure he didn’t skip practice his coach went to his house and accompanied him to practice everyday.
Yao was sent to a full-time sports academy when he was 12. At that age he was already 6 foot, five inches. By measuring his knuckles sports officials predicted he would grow to 7 foot five inches and special attention was given to groom him to be a future star. Yao later said he didn’t even like playing the game until he 18 or 19. “My parents would probably prefer for me to go to college and play basketball only as a hobby.”
Yao was regarded as such a lucky find he was watched nearly 24 hours a day and served meals in special kitchen “reserved for champions.” Yao joined the Shanghai Sharks when was 13. By 14 he was training 10 hours a day. The training was tough. The Shark’s coach put him and the other players through four practices a day: The first at 6:30am, the last ending at 8:30pm.
Yao Ming’s Basketball Career in China
Yao Ming played center with the Shanghai Sharks. In his last season in China he averaged 32.4 points, 18.9 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots. The Sharks won 23 of 24 games, including the China Basketball Association Championship. His fans called him “Young Giant Yao.
While playing for Shanghai, Yao was paid $70,000 a year. He lived in a dormitory with his team mates and either slept on an extended cot or a bed that was extended with a wooden cabinet covered by blankets.
Once playing for the national team Yao made all 21 shots he attempted. In his first match against top-ranked NBA players, at the 2000 Olympics, he didn’t do so well. He fouled out and scored 5 points and had three rebounds after only 16 minutes of play.
For a while, when he was in China, Yao refused to dunk the ball because he considered it ungentlemanly thing to do. In China, Yao doesn’t like to draw attention to his height. Whenever he enters a room the first thing he often dies is sit down even if no chairs are present.
Yao Ming Joins the NBA
Yao was the NBA’s top draft pick in 2002. He was drafted at the age of 21 only hours after receiving clearance from the Chinese Basketball Association. It was the first time a foreign player who didn’t play college ball in the United States was drafted No. 1. Upon hearing the news of his selection Yao said, “This is a new start in basketball and life career.”
Yao was only allowed to enter the NBA draft after he made a vow of loyalty to Beijing and promised to give a hefty chunk of his salary to the government. According to N.B.A. rules, Yao’s team could only pay his team a transfer fee of $350,000. Yao’s team and governments wanted much more than that: The Chinese Basketball Association, the central government and the Shanghai government demanded 50 percent of Yao’s earnings and endorsement money for the duration of his career. Yao was supposed to split the remainder with his team, his coaches and his agents. In addition to that the Sharks wanted the Rockets to provide coaches and players to make their team the dominant team in China. The Chinese Basketball Association also wanted the right to recall Yao at any time for any reason.
Explaining why the Sharks demanded so much, the team’s manager Li Yaomin told the Los Angeles Times, “In the U.S., parents spend money to train athletes. In China, the state pays for everything. We feed him, we dress him, and we house him. When a child grows up, he must take care of his mother.”
In the end Yao received approval from the Chinese sports federation only after the Rockets and the NBA promised that Yao would fulfill his commitments with the Chinese national team and pay the CBA five to eight percent of Yao's NBA salary for his entire career. The Shanghai Sharks were promised a buyout worth between $8 million and $15 million, depending on the length of his career.
Yao Ming in America
When Shaqille O’Neal was asked what he thought about the new Chinese player, he said, “Tell Yao Ming, “Ching chong yang wah ah so.” “The joke went largely unnoticed when it was first printed but later created a racist incident after a columnist for Asian Week attacked O’Neil for making it. Yao defused the situation by saying. “Chinese is hard to learn” and joking that he was glad when Shaq turned down a dinner invitation, saying , “I was afraid my refrigerator wasn’t big enough.” O’Neil later said, “Yao Ming is my brother. The Asian people are my brothers.”
Yao picked up English surprisingly quick and won many fans with his relaxed, self-deprecating style. He moved into a house in Houston with his mom and dad and interpreter, Colin Pine, and left his girlfriend back in China. He had few difficulties adjusting to life in the United States and soon developed a taste for ribs, pizza and Starbucks coffee and SUVs and passed his time with computer games and action movies. Once when asked what his favorite American music was, he said, “I like the national anthem. I listen to it 82 times a year.”
An estimated 300 million in China watched Yao’s first game for the Rockets. Describing the nervousness he felt when he played in his first NBA game, Yao told AP, “I felt suffocated and I just wanted to find an exit, but I just tried to focus on technical details and then things settled down.” These days he is regarded as a perfectionist who often dwells on his mistakes and ways he can improve even when he has a 30 point night.
Yao Ming’s Early NBA Career
Yao bulked up and increased his upper body strength when joined the N.B.A., tipping the scales at around 300 pounds. He joined the Rockets nine days after the season began and his inexperience was painfully obvious in his early games. But he steadily improved. In his first head to head confrontation with Shaq, he had ten rebounds and blocked four of Shaq’s’s shots.
Yao had an excellent rookie year. At first he was under utilized but as the Rockets became more used to him as a member of the team he was sought out at the end of close games and came through with clutch free throws. He was picked over Shaquille O’Neal as the starting center in his first All-Star game during his rookie year. There was talk that he might be named rookie of the year but that didn’t happen. The Rockets failed to make it to the playoffs. After his rookie season, Yao helped the Rockets reach the playoffs in the next two seasons.
Yao is at his best both offensively and defensively when he is parked by the basket. An opponent told AP, “It seemed like he was just imbedded in the paint. It seemed like he spent 20 seconds in there sometimes.” In a good game Yao can score 40 points, shoot 13-for-16 from the field and have 10 rebounds.
After his first year in the NBA was over Yao lead the Chinese national team to victory in the Asian Basketball Championship which served as a qualifier for the 2004 Olympics.
Yao won a starting spot in the NBA All-Star game in 2004 for the third straight year. He received a record 2,558,278 votes, more than Michael Jordan did when he had his best tally in 1997 with 2,416,136 votes.
Yao Ming’s Later NBA Career
In seven NBA seasons Yao has averaged 19.1 points and 9.3 rebounds (2010)/ In 2007 Yao was named an NBA All-Star for the sixth time. In the 2005-2006 season he was the top All-Star vote getter ahead of Kobe Bryant. He essentially carries his team, which often goes on losing streaks when he is injured.
Yao is regarded as one of the hardest working players in the NBA. He begins his morning workouts at 6:00am and shows up an hour and half earlier than other players for games and practice. He does all the drills and watches all the film. After surgery for one of his injuries he was back in the weight room in five days and running within weeks, weeks ahead of his rehabilitation schedule.
By 2006 Yao had bulked up to a weight 310 pounds. Even so he remained surprisingly light on his feet. Former Philadelphia 76er star Allen Iverson said, “He’s special. he’s gift from God.” Chris Ballard wrote in Sports Illustrated, “To watch him shoot is to see motion at its most refined. He keeps the ball high and releases it with his right hand in a short flicking action. He does not jump and barely moves his legs. It is almost robotic.” He shoots 86 percent from the foul line.
Yao can bench press 310 pounds. When he joined the Rockets he had problems doing incline presses with 45 pound dumbbells. Now he does the same exercises with 120 pound dumbbells. What is remarkable about his strength improvements is that he has been able to do it without adding weight. He only weighs about 10 pounds more than when he joined the Rockets. His coach doesn’t want his weight to go any higher out of fear his career will end early because of stressed joints.
As of 2009 Ming was seven time all star, 88 percent free-throw shooter and has been called the “cornerstone” of the Rockets franchise. There was a clear lack of arrogance and posturing when he negotiated a contract extension with the Rockets.
If he gets the ball in the post and plays aggressively he’ll either score or get fouled. This puts a small team in foul trouble in particularly deep trouble. After one game in December 2008 in which Yao scored 33 points, with 19 in the final quarter he said. “I’m just attacking the rim. If I catch it in the paint and turn around and draw contact, seven or eight times out of 10, the referee will give me the call.”
Yao Ming’s Success
Yao is up there with Jackie Chan and Jet Li on the list of the biggest superstars in Asia. He has been embraced not only by Chinese but also by Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese and Southeast Asians---and Americans too. Attendance at Rockets games increased 55 percent after he joined the team. Lots of Asians show up at the games he plays in. In China, newspapers add extra pages to cover his play in detail and millions tune in to watch him on television live even though games are often broadcast in the wee hours of the morning. Companies around the globe see him as their big chance to break into China’s markets.
Yao signed a four-year contract with the Rockets worth $17.8 million, half of which was promised to Chinese sports authorities. Yao reportedly earns more than $100 million a year through endorsements. He has deals with Nike, Kodak, Apple, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Yanjing Beer, and Visa International. He has a two-year, $5 million deal with China Unicom, China’s No. 1 cell phone maker. In an Apple advertisement he was matched with two-foot-eight-inch Verne Troyer, the midget from the Austin Powers movies. His 10-year endorsement deal with Reebok is worth $100 million if all the incentives work out.
Companies with ties to Yao---like Pepsi, McDonald’s, Reebok---all have ambitious expansion plans in China. Disney wanted Yao to be involved in the opening of the new Disneyland in Hong Kong. His earning in 2007, according to Forbes, were $56.6 million.
Yao carried the Chinese flag during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics. A five-story high poster with his image have been hung in Shanghai. He was given the “model worker” award in 2005---the first multi-millionaire and overseas resident to receive it.
Yao is represented by a team of agents that includes three Americans, two Chinese and one Chinese-American, “Team Yao,” a kind of fan club and mouthpiece, is run by his cousin. Yao is mobbed wherever he goes in China. Girls break into tears if he doesn’t give them an autograph.
Yao Ming’s Troubles
Yao has been criticized in the Chinese press for dodging his responsibilities to the national team. In 2003 he was diagnosed with high blood pressure. On his official website he said: “I have been exhausted because of the poor security at National Team games...too many public appearances and commitments by the Chinese National Team and incessant fan disturbances at the team hotel.”
In December 2005, Yao underwent surgery to clean out an infected toe that required doctors to shear off part of the bone. He missed 21 games. A few months later in April 2006 he broke his left foot playing for the Rockets. Yao played with the injury for a few minutes and even made a three-point shot. He thinks it was injured when he was accidently kicked by an opposing player. Again he required surgery. He needed four months to recuperate and missed the rest of the season. .
Yao played with the national team at the world championships in Japan in June 2006. He was under pressure to play in the tournament even though he was still recovering from his injury.
In December 2006, Yao fractured a bone under his right knee when he was leaping for a blocked shot and his knee got caught under the body of team mate Chuck Hayes, whose weight came crashing down on the knee. Yao said he remembers feeling a great weight, then sharp pain. He left the court clutching his knee and screaming . The injury occurred just as Yao was finding his form again. He had been averaging 27 points and nine rebounds a game, and had topped 30 points in four consecutive games and was mentioned as an MVP candidate.
Yao returned in March 2007 after missing more than two months. In the games afterwards Yao wore a big black knee brace. Although he is only 26 his feet look like those of a man in his 40s.
In February 2008, when the Rockets were in the middle of the second longest win streak in NBA history, Yao was lost for the rest of the season with a stress fracture to his left foot. Yao was having a great season, averaging 23 points and 10.8 rebounds. No specific event caused the fracture, rather it was “an accumulation of stresses on the bone.” Yao first complained of pain at the time of the All-Star game. He had to decide between having a screw surgically implanted in his foot or wearing cast. Both treatments require four months to heal. Yao is expected to play in the Olympics in Beijing in August.
Yao Ming’s Foot Injury and the Beijing Olympics
at the Opening Ceremonies
at teh Beijing OlympicsYao had surgery on the stress fractures in his left foot. The kind of surgery he had usually requires a considerable amount of time to mend. Performed in Houston by the Rocket’s team doctor, the procedure required placing screws across the bone to hold it together, a procedure which requires about four months of recovery time. Yao chose to have the season-ending surgery in part so he would be ready for the Olympics.
For Chinese, the foot injury was seen in the light of how it would affect the national team in the Olympics. The condition of the foot, his treatment and the progress of his recovery became a national obsession and were the subjects of blog posts and sports columns in China. Yao himself said, “If I cannot play in the Olympics for my country, that would be the biggest blow of my career. I don’t want to know how disappointed the people of China would be...I’ll do the best I can to come back, get stronger, protect myself.”
Yao was not completely 100 percent at the time of the Olympics. In July he returned to action, with a standing ovation to greet him, in a game in Hangzhou in which the Chinese national team defeated Serbia 96-72. Before the game Communist President Hu Jintao called him and said, “the whole nation is very concerned about your foot. How is it going now?”
Describing Yao in the China-U.S. game in the Beijing Olympics, Harvey Araton wrote in the New York Times, “In a blowout midway through the forth quarter, he was still grabbing rebounds, taking up space and taking the occasional charge. He absorbed the brunt of Dwayne Wade drive, and got up hobbling. You worried for Yao at that moment, or at least the Houston Rockets surely did. But, who couldn’t admire his loyalty, his commitment, his readiness to play when a medical license wasn’t required to know he couldn’t be ready after his latest deflating injury?”
See Olympics Basketball
Yao Ming After the Beijing Olympics
By the time the 2008-2009 NBA season started, Yao seemed to be in good shape. The Rockets got off to a good start. He played in 77 games and helped the team make it the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
Yao injured his foot again in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers during the playoffs at the end of the 2008-2009 season. In his final game he scored 19 points and had 14 rebounds---his sixth straight double double---and played until the final minute. He suffered a hairline fracture. The original prognosis was that it wasn’t severe and he could recover in 8 to 12 weeks. A closer looks determined the injury could be “career-threatening.” He underwent complex surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2009-10 season. He lasted only five games at the start of the 2010-11 season, before breaking his left ankle. He had surgery in January, and was lost again for the season.
Yao Ming’s Recovery
Yao underwent major foot surgery in 2009. His recovery went well but he missed the entire 2009-2010 season. Yao returned to action in a preseason game in October 2010, he said, “I’m happy that I can get on the court and I can run. I was running without pain...and I think that’s a good first step. “
Yao sustained a hairline fracture in the foot during a May 2009 playoff game. It was initially thought he would be back in two or three months but the injury did not heal. He then had major foot rebuilding surgery in which he underwent a bone graft and realignment of the bones in the arch of his foot.
In July 2010, Yao said he was still having problems with his foot and if it didn’t heal properly he would consider retiring from basketball.
Without Yao the national team has not played well. It lost to Iran in lackluster game in the Asian Championships in 2009. Yao has criticized China’s basketball leaders for focusing too much attention in the Beijing Olympics and the CBA league and not enough on developing talent.
In September 2010, the Houston Chronicle reported that Yao’s playing time would be limited to 21 minutes per game to ensure he stays healthy and reduces stress on his bones, . “Twenty four is his number all year,” Rocket trainer Keith Jones told the newspaper. The plan was put in place in the advise of Yao’s doctor.
Jones said he thought Yao would be the biggest obstacle to the plan. “Yao is his own worst enemy,” he said, “He feels good and wants to go. We will be fighting him every day. I know we will. He’s going to feel good, he’s going to want to do more, he’s going to question us, he’s going to question the doctors. That’s Yao. He’s a competitor.”
The reconstructive surgery to Yao’s foot aimed to flatten and help distribute the stresses. “When you look at the course of Yao’s career, stress fractures have been part of his foot.” The Rocket’s team director Walter Lowe said, “So to say he’s not at a risk to continue to have stress fractures would be crazy. So he is at continued risk. The new position of his foot should...make these stresses lower.”
Yao returned to action in October 2010 in a preseason game in Beijing. He played for 19 minutes as the Rockets defeated the new Jersey Nets 91-81.
Yao Ming Injures Himself Again
In December 2010, still early in the season, Yao Ming was told he would have to miss the rest of season because of a stress fracture in his left ankle. Doctors said the new injury was related to the previous year’s injury. Lowe said the reconstructive surgery that Yao had on his foot does not put him at great risk of stress fractures, but that Yao has always been prone to them.”
Houston coach Rick Adelman said, “It’s just really sad, and you have to really feel for him because he’s worked so hard to come back and then to have this happen. Last week he was talking about getting out to play pretty soon, and now to get the news, you really feel for him and feel for our team.” Yao was due to make $17.7 million in 2010-2011 season after signing a five-year contract extension in September 2005.
In 2009-2010 the Rockets went 42-40 and missed the playoffs with Yao on the sidelines, and were just 10-15 at the bottom of the Southwest Division when Yao’s ankle fracture was discovered.
Yao Ming off the Court
Yao started a charity foundation to help victims of the Sichuan earthquake and donated $71,000 for relief efforts. When people complained he could give more with his high salary he increased the amount of his donation to $286,000 and later said he would give $2 million to his foundation to rebuild schools destroyed by the quake.
Yao carried the Chinese flag in the Opening Ceremonies in 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Yao Ming and Jackie Chan were selected as goodwill ambassadors for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.
Yao Ming’s Private Life
During the games at the 2004 Olympics Yao wore a red friendship bracelet. It was given to him by the only girlfriend he ever had, six-foot-three forward Ye Li , a player on the Shanghai Octopuses and a member of the Chinese national team. She had initially rejected his advance and didn’t agree to go out with him until he gave her a collection of Olympics pins that he had collected at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In August 2007, Yao and Ye were married in Shanghai. Yao treated Chinese teammates to a 10-course meal and repeated shots of from six bottles of fiery mao tai liquor at a posh restaurant in Beijing.
Yao has lived with his parents for a long time. He sends out polite holiday cards to both his team mates and opponents and likes to spend his free time reading ancient Chinese history. When he attended the All-Star game in Las Vegas he was up doing rehab work at 6:00am rather than attending parties. When a coach found 30 beer cans in his hotel room during a trip to China Yao claimed only 20 percent of them were his. An old friend was in town, he said.
In 2007, Yao missed the start of the NBA season so he could march with athletes with disabilities in the Special Olympics World Games. Yao has also been an outspoken critic of the consumption of shark fin soup. In a move that is common in the West but rarely seen in the China he spoke out for his cause in public. At a press conference in Beijing held by the conservation group Wild Aid the former player for the Shanghai Sharks vowed he never would eat shark fin soup again. He encouraged his fellow Chinese to do the same and said “endangered species are our friends.” His efforts seem to have been largely ignored in China.
Yao drives a Infiniti QX56 SUV, and listens to U2 tapes when he is driving. When he first came to the United States he had never driven a car and his old lady style of driving and the fact he once backed into a friend’s car are the objects of many joke by his teammates. When Yao flies he gets the first row in First Class.
Yao’s English is very good. He hasn’t used an interpreter since his third season. He likes to make jokes and has a dry sense of humor and is well acquainted with English swear words, mostly mumbled under his breath when he makes a mistake. .
In January 2010, It was revealed that Yao Ming’s wife was pregnant. With his wife also being a basketball, Netizens went wild with predictions of the child’s impact on future basketball teams. Yao’s 2.28 meter wife Ye Li gave birth to a 3,345 gram baby girl in Houston in May 2010.
When it was reported that Yao’s wife was going to the United States to give birth to her child, basketball fans in China became upset over the idea of Yao’s child having an American passport, which he or she would be entitled to have for being born on American soil, depriving China of a potential great basketball player. In one Internet posting, quoted by AFP and the Chongqing Business Daily, a fan wrote: “This will not only be a huge loss to Chinese basketball but, as far as feeling are concerned, will be something very difficult for Chinese fans to accept.”
In May 2011, Yao sued Wuhan Yunhe Sharks Sportswear Co for using his name and logo on its “Yao Ming Era” shoes.
Yao Ming Retires
Yao announced his retirement from the NBA in July 2011 at the age of 30. In recent years he had been plagued by injuries and missed 250 regular season games in the last six years. The announcement in Yao’s hometown of Shanghai has a big media event. It has held in a large reception hall. Reporters had to arrive hours before the even began to go through security checks.
AP reported: “The NBA's version of the Ming Dynasty is done. After helping pro basketball gain a foothold in the world's most populous market, Chinese star Yao Ming has retired. Yao made it official Wednesday, telling a packed news conference in his hometown that a series of foot and leg injuries forced him to end his playing career at the age of 30. Yao Ming smiles during his retirement press conference.
Yao said: "I will formally end my career...Today is an important day for me and holds a special meaning for both my basketball career and my future," Yao said in comments translated into English. "I had to leave the court since I suffered a stress fracture in my left foot for the third time at the end of last year. My past six months were an agonizing wait. I had been thinking (about my future) over and over. Today I am announcing a personal decision, ending my career as a basketball player and officially retire. But one door is closing and another one is opening."
Houston general manager Daryl Morey attended the farewell conference after getting permission from the NBA because the lockout prohibits contact with players. He said he was tired from the long trip, but "I would be sorry if I wasn't here." "It's a big moment," Morey said. "Yao had a sense of humor, a great attitude and sense of working together. I hope we can continue his culture in the NBA."
Despite news of Yao's pending retirement being out for several weeks, the actual announcement was treated with the pomp that Yao's appearances in China bring. The Grand Shanghai Ballroom was crammed at the back with dozens of television cameras and black-suited security men outnumbered the hundreds of media. China Central Television planned to carry five continuous hours of Yao coverage.
Yao entered the conference room at a five-star hotel dressed in a dark suit, after the master of ceremonies led a count down to his arrival.Yao's wife, Ye Li, and their 14-month-old daughter, Yao Qinlei, and Yao's parents, Yao Zhiyuan and Fang Fengdi, were in the room. Qinlei was dressed in a red qipao, a traditional Chinese dress. He later appeared with his family on the stage to the applause and cheers of the room. Yao thanked his family, friends, coaches in China and in Houston and fellow competitors such as Shaquille O'Neal "for making me a better player." "I will be always with you," Yao said. "Thank you."
Yao's contract expired after last season, and the Rockets said they were interested in re-signing him if he came back healthy. Yao said in April in China that his professional future depended on his recovery from a stress fracture in his left ankle.
NBA commissioner David Stern sent a message via video link: "Yao Ming has been a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game," Stern said in a statement. "His dominant play and endearing demeanor along with his extensive humanitarian efforts have made him an international fan favorite and provided an extraordinary bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China."
After Yao Ming’s Retirement
Yao said he will return to work with his former Chinese team, the Shanghai Sharks, with the possibility of becoming general manager. He plans to continue his philanthropic work with his Yao Foundation.
A couple weeks after his retirement Yao began work as as TV commentator. AFP reported, “Retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming has garnered rave reviews for his new role as a commentator on Team China games at the Asian Championships, with colourful insights and playful remarks. Sports commentators have praised Yao for his game analysis and for injecting some humour by poking fun at his former teammates. [Source: AFP, September 23, 2011]
"He's made a big difference. He has definitely attracted viewers," the Basketball Pioneer newspaper quoted China Central Television official Qi Xin as saying. "Audiences always want to hear him. No matter what he says, it becomes a headline."
In a recent post-game interview with China's veteran centre Wang Zhizhi, Yao joked about a rare dunk the 33-year-old former Dallas Maverick threw down on Syria. "The last time you dunked the ball, your six-year-old son hadn't been born," Yao quipped. In advising opponents on how to stop Washington Wizard power forward Yi Jianlian, Yao said: "They could try using pepper spray on their hands and wave them in front of Yi's face when he posts up."
During Yao's first turn as a commentator on national broadcaster CCTV on September 15 when China played against Bahrain, Qi said ratings climbed to a hefty 1.3 per cent, up from 1.1 per cent for the NBA finals. "Yao not only explains the what, he explains the why and he does it without all of the ranting and rambling that usually accompanies all of that with other announcers both in China and the United States," said the Niubball site which blogs about Chinese basketball.
Yao Ming and the NBA Hall of Fame
Asked if he thought Yao should have a place in the basketball Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant said the Chinese player deserves the honor. "It was exciting to watch such a tall guy but that can shoot the basketball and put so much pressure on your defense by playing down low, and also his defense, too," Durant said. "He does so much for the game, and he does deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. He's so dominant in the game, and he changed the game by him just running up and down the floor."
"As a player, you come into the league, the first thing somebody asks you is what you want to do when you get here, and a lot of players say, 'I want to dunk over Yao Ming”," Durant said. "So you can tell how much impact he has in the game. "He comes in, he works every day and you can tell that he's never in trouble and he sets such a good example for the players coming into the league."
Yao Ming's agent has asked the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame to set aside the former All-Star center's nomination for a later year. Yao was nominated by a member of the Chinese media as a contributor to the game, and would have been eligible for induction as early as 2012. But Hall of Fame president and CEO John Doleva said Yao's agent, John Huizinga, called Wednesday morning to request that Yao's nomination be tabled for now.
Doleva said Huizinga told him that Yao believes it's too soon for him to be placed on the ballot. "He (Huizinga) indicated that Yao has great respect for the institution and equal respect for those elected before his consideration," Doleva said in a phone interview. "He just feels that it's too soon to be considered as a contributor."
Yao would be eligible to enter the Hall of Fame as a player in 2017 -- five full seasons after his retirement. He's more likely, though, to enter as a contributor after bridging the NBA to the Asian market. His charisma, popularity and basketball skills helped spike merchandise sales and prompted record TV ratings for games after the Rockets made him the top overall pick in the 2002 draft. NBA commissioner David Stern called Yao "a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game."
Yao also donated $2 million to set up a foundation to rebuild schools destroyed by the earthquake in Sichuan province in May 2008. He carried the Olympic torch through Tiananmen Square and his country's flag during the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Yao Ming Back at School
In November 2011, AP, “It’s back to the books for retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming. The former Houston Rockets centre started classes this week at Jiaotong University, one of the top schools in the country. “The teacher showed me some mercy and did not leave me any homework,” Yao joked to reporters after his first day of courses at the university’s Antai College of Economics and Management. [Source: AP, November 8 2011]
Yao said the first order of business was assessing “how weak my foundation is” and working with instructors on a tailored course of study. Yao, who retired four months earlier is taking classes in mathematics, English and modern Chinese history “a subject he enjoyed in high school. He hopes to apply the knowledge to his business and public service ventures, which range from ownership of his hometown Shanghai Sharks professional basketball team to overseeing a multimillion-dollar charitable foundation.
Rumors have also been circulating online that Yao failed his final exam in advanced maths at Shanghai’s Jiaotong University, which he joined in the autumn, with a score of 38 out of 100 -- claims denied by his management team. “Yao believes his exam marks are a private matter and does not want to disclose them. But it was definitely not 38,” Yao’s personal spokesman, Zhang Mingji, was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Daily. [Source: AFP, January 16, 2012]
Yao Ming Enters Politics and Makes Wine
In January 2012, AFP reported: Not content with owning a basketball team, studying business and making wine, China’s former NBA superstar Yao Ming has now become the youngest -- and tallest -- legislative advisor in Shanghai. The 31-year-old was formally accepted as a member of an advisory body to Shanghai’s legislature at the weekend -- a position that entitles him to make proposals for possible new laws -- the official China Daily reported. [Source: AFP, January 16, 2012]
A photograph printed by the newspaper shows the 2.29-meter Yao towering above other newly selected members of the advisory body -- his latest venture since he formally retired from the Houston Rockets in July. “Raising proposals is very serious business and I do not want to be hasty,” Yao was quoted as saying.
Since July, Yao’s busy schedule has involved him going back to school for a university degree in business management and helping manage the Shanghai Sharks, a Chinese basketball team. In November, he also set up a company to sell his own brand of wine using grapes from California’s famed Napa Valley, and his new role in politics has sparked concern Yao may be taking on too much.
But Zhang Chi, a spokesman for the Shanghai Sharks, dismissed these worries. “We can trust him that he can balance all aspects of his work and study and do well in this job,” he was quoted as saying. “What Yao wants is to use his influence to do good deeds for society but not to seek a political position.”
Image Sources: NBA Player Files Gallery
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2012