Yao Ming, more than a basketball legend (2)

08:31, July 21, 2011      

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Yao Ming has a big heart.

When a deadly earthquake hit China's Sichuan Province, Yao donated two million yuan to victims and helped to raise money for quake relief efforts.

"When I was an elementary student, I was taught to help people when they are in need," said Yao, who launched the Yao Foundation in 2008 that helps Chinese children in poor areas.

Yao also dedicated himself to awakening the public's awareness of social welfare and green issues.

"As one of the most high-profile athletes in these Games and with a fan base of millions across the world, I am sure he can help us raise public awareness on the environment and Climate Change issues," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner when Yao became the first-ever Environment Champion of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 2008.

"In my role as Environmental Champion, I will work with governments, private sectors and the public to promote good and effective management of our environment so we can preserve the planet for future generations," said Yao.

As Goodwill Ambassador of the international wildlife conservation organization "WildAid", Yao calls for the protection of endangered animal species and says no to eating shark fins.

When Yao and his wife Ye Li, also a basketball player from Shanghai, got married in 2007, they publicly announced that they would not allow shark fin soup to be served at their wedding banquets.

Yao's sturdy attitude against shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy that has a long history in China, even aroused panic among seafood providers as they signed joint statement to protest against Yao.

Yao also represents China's AIDS Prevention Campaign and the NBA's "Basketball Without Borders" and "Read to Achieve" programs. He promotes bone marrow donation and has offered to donate his own marrow if his sample is in need.

Luo Yang, a leukaemia patient who idolized Yao, had received a surprise phone call from the super star player who encouraged him to fight against the disease and sent him 20,000 U.S. dollars, before the teenage boy died in peace.


On July 20, 2011, Yao Ming announced his retirement from professional basketball. "As towering star retires, China is unprepared to replace him," lamented a New York Times headline.

Randy Williams, an American scholar on the Sino-U.S. relations, saw Yao as "an icon of China".

"Has there been anyone like him? The embodiment of the cultural aspirations of the Chinese society, Yao became an iconic symbol of his native country's growth and global status," Williams said.

As Yao decided to hang up boots, speculation is rife about what he will do next.

Yao once said he could work as a journalist because he was clever enough.

Back to Shanghai Sharks? Likely. Yao took over his former club as the sole owner when the club was deep in financial difficulties in 2009.

Just be a family man? Maybe. Yao had expressed his regrets on many occasions for not having enough time to be with his family.

He may even indulge himself in digital games. It is not a secret that Yao loves World of Warcraft and other role-playing computer games. He says that, in the virtual world, he can enjoy the luxury of being an ordinary man.

In the real world, he wasn't, and will never be ordinary.

Yao's career as an NBA star is over, but his impact as a culture ambassador, a philanthropist and a symbol of the country will continue.

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