Yao Ming

▪ 2004

      The basketball world witnessed the emergence of an unlikely new star in 2003. In his first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Yao Ming, a 2.26-m (7-ft 5-in), 134-kg (296-lb) centre from Shanghai surpassed virtually everyone's expectations to become one of the league's marquee players while at the same time gaining millions of new fans worldwide for the NBA. Although the Houston Rockets selected Yao as the top overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, many observers considered the choice to be a major gamble. With his phenomenal height, soft shooting touch, and deft passing ability, Yao undoubtedly possessed enormous potential, but prior to the draft he was largely untested against the kind of athletic big men who dominated the NBA. Any doubts about whether Yao could compete in the league were quickly erased once the season began, however. In a highly anticipated showdown against Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers, Yao swatted away the first three of O'Neal's shots and scored on a dunk late in the game to help seal the Rockets' 108–104 victory.

      Yao replaced O'Neal as the starting centre for the Western Conference team in the 2003 NBA All-Star game; in the fan balloting that determined the game's starting players, Yao bested O'Neal by nearly a quarter of a million votes. Yao was also a unanimous selection to the league's All-Rookie team. Although the Rockets narrowly missed making the NBA play-offs, Yao helped lead the team to a 43–39 record—an impressive turnaround from the Rockets' 28–54 record just one season earlier.

      Yao was born in Shanghai on Sept. 12, 1980. Both of his parents stood over 1.8 m (6 ft) tall and had played basketball. From an early age Yao towered over his classmates, and by the time he was 12 years old, he was attending a local sports academy and practicing basketball several hours a day. In 1997 he joined the Shanghai Sharks of the China Basketball Association. That same year he attended Nike camps in Paris and Indianapolis, Ind., where he first attracted the notice of NBA coaches and recruiters. By the time he led the Chinese team to a respectable 10th-place finish at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, Yao had become a national icon.

      Soon after receiving permission from the Chinese government to join the NBA, Yao traveled to the U.S., where the media spotlight shone on him more intensely than ever. He drew large crowds wherever the Rockets played, and Houston games were broadcast to huge audiences in China and other Asian countries. He became a pitchman for Apple Computers, Visa, ESPN, and Gatorade. After the season ended, Yao made headlines again when he returned to China to host a telethon that reportedly raised more than $300,000 for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) research.

Sherman Hollar

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▪ Chinese athlete
born Sept. 12, 1980, Shanghai, China
 
 Chinese basketball player, who became an international star as a centre for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

      Yao was born to accomplished basketball-playing parents who each stood more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) tall. From an early age Yao towered over his classmates, and by the time he was 12 years old, he was attending a local sports academy and practicing basketball several hours a day. In 1997 he joined the Shanghai Sharks of the China Basketball Association. By the time he led the Chinese team to a respectable 10th-place finish at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, Yao had become a national icon.

      The 7-foot 6-inch (2.29-metre) Yao was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. In the 2002–03 season he was voted by fans to start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game and was a unanimous selection to the league's All-Rookie team. Although the Rockets narrowly missed making the NBA play-offs in 2003, Yao helped lead the team to a 43–39 record—an impressive turnaround from the Rockets' 28–54 record just one season earlier. Yao earned All-Star honours in each of the following four seasons and helped the Rockets to play-off appearances in three of those years (2004, 2005, 2007). In addition to his phenomenal height, Yao was noted for his soft shooting touch and deft passing ability.

      Yao's impact on basketball culture extended far past his on-court accomplishments. He drew large crowds wherever the Rockets played, and Houston games were broadcast to huge audiences in China and other Asian countries. A media favourite, Yao became a pitchman for numerous companies and was the focus of the NBA's efforts to popularize the league around the globe.

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Universalium. 2010.

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