Giant Footprints: Yao Ming's Story

17:03, July 21, 2011      

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A People's Daily Online Production by Zhenyu Li: The Yao Ming Story

He was the first ever No. 1 pick in the NBA draft to hail from overseas. He is among the NBA's best centers. He was, as of the 2010–11 season, the tallest player in the NBA, and the most recognized face hailing from the world's most populous nation. His name: Yao Ming.

From day one, Yao Ming had the makings of a basketball superstar in his blood. Born on Sept. 12, 1980 in Shanghai, one of the most developed cities in China, Yao entered the world as the only child of two former accomplished basketball players in China who stand 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-3, respectively. According to the book "Operation: Yao Ming," Yao's parents were convinced to marry each other so that they would produce a dominant athlete and that during Yao's childhood, he was given special treatment to help him become a great basketball player.

While growing up as an abnormally tall child, Yao started playing basketball at age nine. At the age of 13, he started playing for the Shanghai Sharks junior team, joined the senior team four years later and played for five years in the Chinese Basketball Association. In his final year with the Shanghai Sharks, he led the team to a championship and averaged 38.9 points and 20.2 rebounds a game, while shooting more than 76 percent from the field during the playoffs.

In 2002, after negotiating with the CBA and the Sharks to secure his release, Yao was selected by the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Since then, he has emerged as one of the Houston Rocket's most valuable players.

Before Yao's initial NBA season, several noted commentators predicted that Yao would fail in the NBA, and Charles Barkley even promised that he would kiss Kenny Smith's behind if Yao scored more than 19 points in any of his rookie-season games. Only after seven games, Yao began to dazzle fans with brilliant performances. On November 17, he scored 20 points on a perfect 9-of-9 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line against the Lakers. And in his confrontation against the Dallas Mavericks ten days after, he grabbed an amazing 30 points. Barkley made good on his bet by kissing the rear end of a donkey purchased by Smith for the occasion.

Yao soon became a marquee name, and eventually, he was perceived as a rival of the NBA superstar center Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal would be criticized for comments he made before his first clash with Yao, as he told a reporter to leave Yao a message: "Tell Yao Ming, Ching chong-yang-wah-ah-soh," a "message" which mimicked the Chinese language. Yao took it in stride and eased the situation by joking that "Chinese is a hard language to learn." In the game, Yao scored six points and blocked O'Neal twice in the opening minutes and made a game-sealing dunk with 10 seconds left in overtime. Yao finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks, while O'Neal ended up with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 0 blocks.

After nine seasons in the league and enjoying an illustrious career with eight All-Star selections and a career average of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, on a rainy day on July 20, 2011, Yao Ming, the Chinese Giant, the tallest man in the NBA, hung up his No. 11 jersey for good, leaving behind giant footprints on this prestigious basketball court.

And the book of Yao is yet to be closed.
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