Yao retires, who will be the next "Chinese icon"? (2)

08:41, July 21, 2011      

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Yao, whose face is perhaps the most recognizable Chinese one worldwide, has become a bridge between the east and west. He helped the NBA explore a promising market in the world's most populous country, and conveyed the likeable image of Chinese people to the world.

Yao made the cover story of the Asian Edition of Time Magazine twice, and was selected by the magazine as one of its "100 most influential people in the world today" twice.

"His contributions to the NBA cannot be overstated. He is such a huge man and on top of that, he is a phenomenal player," NBA superstar Kobe Bryant said when he was asked to comment on Yao's retirement.

"In terms of opening up doors for Chinese basketball players to come to the NBA, or for the youth here in China to believe that it's possible to achieve the dream of being an NBA player, all that started from Yao," said the 32-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard.

"Even that movement didn't have the impact and magnitude that Yao Ming has had," he said.

Yao also conscientiously fulfilled his missions as an international sports celebrity, characterized by his endeavors to protect wildlife, compassion to the poor and the disabled, as well as generous donations for victims of natural disasters, both in China and the United States.

"You can hardly find any negative news about Yao. I believe he has the image that every Chinese hopes to show the world, strong and rich, but modest and compassionate," Jin said.

In recent years, China has seen a significant change in its global status, as it has overtaken Japan as the world's second largest economy and been viewed as a major "threat" by some countries, said Su Qun, a senior NBA observer in an article.

Thus, China badly needs an icon, which is less political, but a more cultural one that was widely acknowledged, Su said. "And Yao Ming seems the gift bestowed by God."

Yao's individual efforts to step onto the global arena may just mirror the three-decade endeavors of the country to reform and open up to the outside world, according to a commentary article published in the Southern Metropolis Daily.


Is there a Chinese figure who can parallel Yao in terms of career achievements, personal qualities and international influence?

What Chinese people are anticipating may not just be an outstanding athlete, but also a "Chinese icon" that can represent a wholesome image of the emerging China, according to Meng Jian, a journalism professor with the Shanghai-based Fudan University.

It must be discouraging for Yao's fans to find that his Chinese peers, Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue both suffered major setbacks on the NBA court and have far from been a Yao-like international sports giant.

As Yao only played in five games in the season 2009 to 2011, the NBA lost large audiences and attention due to Yao's absence, according to Yan Jian, deputy editor-in-chief of the Chinese-language Basketball News.

The NBA may try every means to make up for it by, for example, giving more opportunities to Yi, the only Chinese player in the league, drafting more Chinese players into the league, or searching grassroots Chinese talents.

"Thus, the next Yao, or even a group of Yao in the NBA league, won't come too late. However, we should be fully aware that they were merely created by the NBA to save itself," Yan said.

Some Chinese are looking to the Grand Slam titleist Li Na and the Olympic 100-meter hurdle champion Liu Xiang, who were both born after 1980 and attracted a large number of fans by their prominent sports skills and distinctive personalities.

"They are the best in their field. But I think the global influence of tennis and hurdling is inferior to basketball, which can only be paralleled by football," Jin said, adding that Chinese football has sunk into a years-long dire state.

Looking beyond sports, some people pin their hopes on Han Han, a young racing driver and more importantly, an outspoken writer who often lashes out about the country's problems. Nevertheless, although admired by masses of Chinese young, Han hasn't got an international reputation like Yao.

Some pessimists simply lament that "China won't have another Yao Ming anymore."

The public anxiety over the next Yao showcases that Chinese people hope the country can obtain the "soft power" that can match with its marvelous economic growth, Meng said.
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