In the world of basketball, especially in China, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t recognize the name Yao Ming. He was one of the first players from China to play in the NBA, but he was more than just a basketball star. Yao helped build bridges between the U.S. and China through sports with lasting results.
CGTN’s May Lee has more from Houston.
The Houston Rockets is the team of James Harden, one of the best players currently in the NBA. But the Rockets are also synonymous with the one and only Yao Ming… a star Chinese basketball player in the NBA. Although Yao retired in 2011 due to injuries, fans still revere him.
“Yao Ming, had he not had the injury, would have gotten a championship for us,” one fan said.
Another said, “He was remembered as a legend. Everybody knew who Yao Ming was in Houston.”
But that wasn’t the case when Yao was first drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2002. He had his share of skeptics who questioned his ability to adjust to the NBA. But then came an early matchup between Yao and the great Shaquille O’Neal.
Former Houston Rockets and now TV sports analyst Matt Bullard remembers the pivotal moment.
“I was a little skeptical that he was going to be good right away, I thought it was going to take a little while, but I just remember when he dunked on Shaq in one of his first games, I was like, “Oh man, Yao’s legit, he’s going to be really really good.”
He was also good for elevating the Houston Rockets’ global recognition.
Craig Ackerman, the TV and radio broadcaster for the Houston Rockets said, “I certainly think Yao played a role in that because the Rockets are now a global brand, and I don’t think they were a global brand before Yao’s arrival and I’m pretty sure the Rockets are China’s favorite team.”
In 2017, the Rockets were sold for a record $2.2 billion, a value that many experts said could never have been reached without Yao Ming.
Without a doubt, Yao Ming left his mark on the Houston Rockets, but his influence and reach went far beyond the court. Yao gave back to the community, and he especially focused on Chinese youth, many of whom related to Yao’s story of being a stranger in a strange land.
At the Chinese Community Center of Houston, children both directly and indirectly, have felt the impact of Yao’s generosity.
Lisa To, Youth Director at the Chinese Community Center of Houston said, “One of the first memories that we have of him is him coming to the center, and he wasn’t even able to speak English yet, which I think the kids really got a hoot out of because a lot of them are new immigrants as well and they’re trying to struggle to learn English so here they see this successful athlete that’s trying to speak to them in English, but can also communicate with in their native language.”
And he didn’t just donate his time…Yao helped raise funds, often digging into his own pocket. This full size indoor basketball court is a direct result of Yao’s efforts.
For a basketball player whose time on the court was cut short, few would argue that the legacy of Yao Ming is solidly implanted in the community of Houston, the Rockets organization, the NBA and the world.
“You look back at the history of the NBA and you see guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant and now James Harden. And you would say that Yao should be included with those names as far as Basketball wise,” Matt Bullard said. “But I don’t think you could say any of those guys had the same impact as Yao has had off the floor.”
And that impact is still going strong.
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