Yao Ming, one of China’s most recognizable athletes, earned international fame for being the tallest basketball player in the NBA, and for competing twice in the Olympics. Retiring from professional sports in 2011, Ming has faded from the public eye. What has the sports superstar been doing?
Yao Ming Before the Rockets
Yao Ming was born in Shanghai, China, in 1980. Both of his parents were professional basketball players, and when he was born, Yao weighed twice as much as the average Chinese newborn. When he was 13, he started playing for the Junior Shanghai Sharks, a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. Four years later he moved to the regular team, going with them to the CBA finals his third and fourth year with the team. During one game of the tournament, Yao made every one of his 21 shots.
The next year, Yao entered the NBA draft, encouraged by the deputy general manager of the Sharks, Li Yaomin. Li also advocated Yao use Evergreen Sports, Inc. as his agent, in a contract later deemed invalid. There were initially concerns over Yao’s eligibility to play in the NBA, because of how the CBA had reacted to another skilled player who left China to join the NBA.
In 2000, before actually getting to the NBA draft, Yao played for China in the Summer Olympics, solidifying his role as a Chinese sports icon.
Yao eventually was the first pick of the Houston Rockets, a prerequisite of China letting him join the NBA. This made him the first international player to to selected first overall without first playing in an American collegiate division.
Yao Ming with the Houston Rockets
Because of his commitment to the CBA, Yao was exempt from pre-season training with the Rockets to play for China in the FIBA World Championships. In the pre-season coverage, many sports journalists predicted that Yao would fail in the NBA, and during his rookie season, many teams and players were not supportive of the Chinese talent. The Miami Heat, playing into cultural stereotypes, handed out fortune cookies during their home game against the Rockets. Shaquille O’Neal, playing for the Lakers, had made potentially racist jokes toward Yao, though O’Neal would later apologize and rescind the remarks.
Yao defied all predictions and taunts, doing exceedingly well his first season, eventually coming in second in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award, and becoming the first non-American rookie to start in the All-Star Game. He was voted Sporting News‘ Rookie of the Year, and won the Laureus Newcomer of the Year award.
After the season finished, Yao secured multiple sponsorships, and throughout his career would represent multiple major brands, including Nike, Reebok, Visa, Apple, McDonald’s, Pepsi, and several years after suing Coke for unlicensed use of his image, switched to Coca-Cola.
Yao used his public presence to advocate for multiple causes. After his rookie season, he hosted a telethon to help prevent the spread of SARS, and has worked with Basketball Without Borders, the Special Olympics, and after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Yao helped raise millions of dollars to rebuild.
When the Rockets brought in long-time Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy, Yao was given a much more active role on the team, averaging his career high in points and rebounds. Also in 2004, Yao returned to the Chinese Olypmic team, this time being granted the honor of carrying the Chinese flag in the opening ceremony.
Starting in 2005, Yao began to incur frequent injuries, which often left him unable to play for many months. However, when he did play, he always performed strongly. After surgery to repair a fractured foot, Yao was able to play for China in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. During the 08-09 season, Yao was able to play in every game, helping the Rockets advance to the second round of playoffs for the first time since 1997. However, in the next round, Yao was diagnosed with a sprained ankle, which later proved to be a hairline fracture. Follow-up analysis revealed the injury to be more serious, and surgery was needed to repair the bone, keeping him out of the 09-10 season. Also in 2009, he bought his old team, the Shanghai Sharks, who were facing financial troubles.
For the next season, the Rockets gave multiple press releases outlining their plan for how to maintain Yao’s long-term health, including play-time limits and keeping him from playing on consecutive nights. However, on December 16, 2010, Yao developed an impact fracture in his left ankle, caused by an earlier injury. He was voted as the Western Conference starting center for the 2011 All-Star Game, his eighth nomination in nine seasons. However, rehabilitation after surgery prevented him from even attending the events.
At the end of season, Yao’s contract with the NBA expired, and a couple months later, on July 20, 2011, Yao announced he was retiring from the NBA. The announcement was met with respect, with people acknowledging Yao’s contributions to Chinese-American relations.
Whats Yao Ming Doing Now in 2018
After retiring from the NBA, Yao enrolled at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, taking a tailored program featuring mostly individual lectures, to be able to focus on his education.
In 2012, Yao Ming began work on The End of the Wild, a Chinese-produced documentary advocating the importance of elephant and rhinoceros conservation efforts. The tusk and horns of these animals are frequently poached in part due to Chinese demand, fueled by beliefs of medicinal properties. In April of 2013, Yao worked with multiple groups to produce the documentary, and promoting his “Say No to Ivory” and “Say No to Rhino Horn” campaigns. His main affiliate was WildAid, who helped to get The End of The Wild on Chinese broadcast and cable television in 2014.
Most recently, Yao has been making headlines for his involvement with Basketball Without Borders. Although Yao has been involved with the program for more than a decade, the program has recently massively expanded, and now has an annual training training camp for international teen players. There, Yao has worked to train over 2,000 teens since 2001, 37 of which have been drafted into the NBA.