Yao Ming’s impact on the NBA might be the only thing bigger than China itself.
The 7’6 Chinese giant took the western basketball world by storm in 2002 when he was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets.
He knew very little English and could count the amount of times he’s been to America on one hand. When he arrived to his first NBA training camp, he would attract a lot of attention from all angles.
The coaching staff in Houston gave Yao the attention he needed to improve his footwork and basketball IQ. Fans would send their attention to his 7’6 frame (the tallest player in the league). The NBA front offices’ attention immediately shifted towards the growth of the NBA product in China while Chinese NBA fans got that much closer to their basketball icon in Yao Ming via mass media.
That alone is a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old kid who was forced away from his hometown of Shanghai, China for the first time in his life.
But in his rookie season, all questions were answered when he went head to head against Los Angeles Lakers big-man Shaquille O’Neal. At the time, Shaq was at the apex of his career while Yao was still trying to learn the basics of a pick-and-roll. If anything, Shaq (who hates sharing the spotlight) wanted to stomp his size 22 shoes on Yao Ming’s young career.
But when Yao Ming first went toe-to-toe against the “big-fella”, the “Great Wall of Yao” surprised all critics by going off for a double-double, ten-points along with ten-rebounds, leading the Rockets over the Lakers (Steve Francis did have 44 points that game while Shaq finished with 31) in overtime. Everyone was hoping the Yao Ming bandwagon.
Yao would go on to have a successful eight-year career in the NBA before retiring due to a fracture in his left foot and injuries to his right foot and right ankle.
What Yao Ming has done since his retirement is as remarkable as each one of his eight seasons in the association.
He stayed on as an advisor for the Houston Rockets. If you look at the Rockets jerseys when Yao first entered the league, they were a blue with a hint of red. Due in large part to Yao, the Rockets underwent a complete Chinese makeover. Now the jersey’s are red and orange matching the colors of China’s flag. They’ve even adopted a Chinese font for the Rockets logo.
Various media outlets point to Yao Ming as they key factor for bringing Jeremy Lin from New York to Houston in 2012.
Yao’s career after basketball also includes an ownership role with his former hometown team, the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
The CBA is a 20-team league played across mainland China that allows two foreign players (player’s born outside of China, usually American) to play on each team. The reason for limiting the number foreign players is to grow and develop the domestic talent in China.
While other leagues across Asia find it difficult to attract NBA talents, China embraces it. And the NBA players just keep on coming and coming.
This could be for many reasons. First, the salary in China is pretty competitive compared to any other leagues. Usually a “foreign-aid” will make anywhere between $750,000 to $1.5 million per season. Second, the CBA schedule is very fitting to that of the NBAs in the sense that is these ex-NBA players hope for an NBA come back they could do so in that same season. The CBA schedule consists of only 38 games compared to the NBA’s 82 games. A shorter season means less wear-and-tear on the body and an early exit (the CBA’s regular season finishes in late February) allowing players the chance to be picked up by an NBA squad looking to make a late push toward the playoffs.
When Yao Ming was playing for the Houston Rockets, every single basketball fan in China was talking about the Houston Rockets. They knew each and every one of Yao’s teammates because they would literally watch every single Rockets game via China’s CCTV 5 broadcast or other media outlets such as SOHU or HUPU.
If you were playing for the Houston Rockets during Yao Ming’s tenure, you automatically opened the best fortune cookie in the box. You see if you were Yao’s teammate, you were his brother. And for China, that means a lot. So when CBA teams looked for foreign aids, they would ask Yao Ming to kindly set up a meeting to talk about a deal with his old-teammates.
The average role player for Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets would become instant superstars in China.
From Rafer Alston to Chuck Hayes, heck even seven-time NBA all-star Tracy McGrady played in China for a year where he became a CBA all-star (despite not even playing in the all-star game).
Teams do this because it brings some of the die-hard Chinese NBA fans over to watch well-know NBA players in China’s (Yao’s Houston teammates) CBA. And the CBA is all about expanding their product to unreachable heights. They want to become the NBA of Asia.
Here’s a list of every one of Yao Ming’s Houston Rockets teammates that spent time in the Chinese Basketball Association:
John Lucas III
Ron Artest aka. Metta World Peace aka. The Pandas Friend