“The foot injury will not allow me to play so many games anymore. Like I said before, I will quit the national team and the sport one day. It’s what happens to every athlete.” – Yao Ming
Yao Ming has finally decided to stop battling his injuries and call it quits after 9 grueling seasons of uncertainty. As a diehard Houston Rockets fan this is a very sad day for me. Yao was one of my favorite players to ever put on a Rockets jersey and he will be missed in a big way in the city of Houston.
Yao’s story is a fascinating one. A genuine giant walking this earth with an unbelievable skill set to play basketball. When the Rockets acquired that first pick in the 2002 NBA draft I couldn’t have been more excited. The Rockets needed a new identity and how much more unique does it get than a 7’6 center from China joining your favorite team. I was skeptical at the time no doubt, and not having seen much footage of an international player had me wondering whether or not this mammoth sized man would be coordinated enough to handle the best athletes in the world on the hardwood. I was not alone, remember Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and others spreading words of doubt into the media world? It was like that feeling you get when you’re in high-school and your too short to make the basketball team, but some big klutz who really can’t play the sport is tall and finds an automatic spot on the roster…. ya you know that cliche story. Well it is true most of the time, height is a blessing when basketball is being played and Yao Ming had a lot of that.
When Yao Ming arrived in Houston, the city went nuts! It was the year of the Yao and a cultural fusion of fans were far more present than in the past. It was like the clash of American and Chinese media doubling and tripling in size of what we normally are used to seeing. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and when you think about it for a man like Yao that really just fit well. The poster you see was a great biopic on the journey Yao Ming had from China to Houston, and what type of expectations were demanded of him not just from Houston, but a nation with over a billion people. Just try putting into perspective what Yao Ming must have been feeling when he was drafted, to the moment he played his first NBA game. Ya it took time to adapt, but his talent was undeniable. This was a big man that was ripe for the picking. A big man that could be cultivated into the next great center to play the game. Rockets fans know what a great center looks like, Hakeem Olajuwon transformed this franchise into champions, and the scale of Yao Mings existence showed the potential to do the same. The entire country was enthralled by Yao’s height, his story, and how he would handle himself in front of the bright lights, and aggressive media. Now that we have the luxury of sitting back and looking at all the things Yao went through I think most of us can agree that Yao served as a brilliant role model and ambassador to his home back in China, and was unanimously liked by his peers in the NBA.
Like the movie Hancock I think Rockets fans were hoping they had drafted a superhero. He was a polarizing figure so that was taken care off, but could the man play? His fame grew instantly with unforgettable commercials with Apple, and Visa. A very marketable guy, that obviously stood out. The unique part about Yao was that he was genuinely a humble person, with a fantastic sense of humor. When Yao first came to Houston he could hardly speak English, a challenge to say the least. He quickly adapted to the culture, learned the language, and was in front of the mic cracking jokes like it was just another day at the office. This guy could absorb so much information, and yet stay humble enough to work on whatever was asked from him. Some would say that sense of being humble may have significantly shortened his career along with devastating injuries. The only drawback of drafting Yao Ming was that he still had to be committed to his Chinese national team. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that a guy of Yao Ming’s size should not be running 90 feet back and forth year round, but that is what he attempted to do. Maybe with some superpowers it would have been possible, but it was an unrealistic goal.
The Tracy McGrady Yao Ming saga looked good on paper, but probably is one of the most unforgettable moments for many Rockets fans. Though Yao’s retirement is a somber one, many fans are happy to see this injury plagued duo dismantled, and how can you blame them? At a time when Rockets fans expected a resurrection to occur, the Rockets fell into an abyss of injuries that never displayed what could have been a dynamic duo in this league. It’s a sad pairing for such significant superstars, but at the same time one that could not have been passed up by this franchise. Ever since that pairing split up the Rockets have had a tough time finding an identity. One thing’s for sure the most distraught person over this retirement is owner Leslie Alexander who certainly capitalized on the global market revenue that Yao Ming brought with him. The jackpot winners of Yao Ming mania were the Houston Rockets. Yao’s teammates were able to sign deals from Chinese shoe companies, something that would have never happened without the “Yao effect” and the Rockets were able to sell massive amounts of merchandise to there international fans via the Yao Ming connection. Les Alexander made it no secret that if Yao could play again he was willing to sign him to a new contract, and why not it’s a smart business move.
The hype surrounding Yao Ming was real and in my opinion he delivered. Yao could not control the injuries he sustained, and yes looking back on things now I am sure he and the Rockets would have made better decisions on how to control Yao Ming’s minutes, but at the end of the day Yao connected an international bridge for the NBA. A bona fide star, that was the perfect poster boy for international success. Yao’s way of representation was always classy, dignified, and respectful. Being that he controlled such a large platform, the way he handled it all cound not have gone better for the NBA and China. Through all the success and frustration Yao Ming remained humble and studious.
As a die hard Houston Rockets fan I wish Yao Ming nothing but the best in life. I hope he stays connected with the NBA as an ambassador who is able to help his homeland and his new home continue to grow through the sport, as he has been doing for the last nine years. Yao defines what a role model in sports should be, and is a perfect example for young stars entering the highly scrutinized world of sports.
I will leave you with this Rockets fans: