- Category : 1980-births
- Type : ME
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Rulership 3
Chinese athlete, highly acclaimed center for the NBA’s Houston Rockets. After playing five seasons with the Shanghai Sharks, Yao (his last name) joined the Rockets as the number one draft pick in the 2002 NBA season. As of 2007, he had led his team to the playoffs three times and had been consistently selected as an all-star player. He played for the Chinese basketball team in the 2004 Olympics and carried his country’s flag during the opening ceremony. He is probably the best-known Chinese national living in the United States.
Yao was literally made to play basketball. He is the product of an essentially arranged marriage between two star Chinese basketball players, his mother Fang Fengdi (6’2”) and father Yao Zhiyuan (6’7”). At his birth they were the tallest couple in China. He began basketball training at the age of nine at Shanghai’s Xuhui Sports School. Yao was initially a clumsy player. Ridicule and the painfully rigorous style of Chinese sports training led him to detest the game. As a child he wanted to be an archeologist, and he has retained a love of history in adulthood. He didn’t begin to take a real interest in the game he trained six days a week for until he was in his late teens. In 1992, Fang put Yao into a more academically challenging middle school, but he had started too far behind the other children and was soon sent back to the sports school. In 1994, he moved away from home to live at the Shanghai Sports Technology Institute, where he spent eight years. In 1997, Yao attended a Nike junior basketball camp in Paris, and the following year summer, he made a two-month basketball tour of the U.S., again in association with Nike. In 1999, under pressure from Chinese officials, he signed an extortionate contract that would have given one-third of his lifetime earnings to an American management company; negotiations to extricate him from it lasted three years. Soon after reneging on this contract, Yao signed a four-year, $20,000 endorsement deal with Nike.
On October 21, 2002, after five seasons with the Shanghai Sharks, Yao became the number one NBA draft pick, signing an $18 million contract with the Houston Rockets, though because of a recent defection the Chinese government gave its approval just hours before the draft was scheduled to begin. Beginning his rookie year, he was selected as an NBA All-Star for five consecutive seasons. In the 2005-2006 season, he led the league in the all-star balloting with over 2.3 million votes. As of June 2007, he was averaging over 25 points per game and over 10 rebounds. His career high was in a February 2004 game against the Atlanta Hawks, where he scored 41 points and made 7 assists. Yao has continued to represent China in international sports. After playing with the Chinese national team at the 2004 Olympics, he led them to the FIBA World Championship tournament in 2006. In 2004, he published a memoir, “Yao: A Life in Two Worlds.” In 2005, he was the subject of a documentary called “The Year of Yao.”
Yao’s mother began her basketball training at the age of 15 and retired at 28, in 1978. She was a fervent member of the Red Guard during the cultural revolution, joining at age seventeen. These activities came back to haunt her and her family when, in the late 1970s, her old coach—whom Fang had tormented and accused of counter-revolutionary activities—was rehabilitated and gained a high position on the Shanghai sports commission. Fang and her husband, who had married at the urging of Shanghai sports officials, both spent years after their retirement from basketball doing menial labor. Yao’s mother has been very involved in his career decisions. So, too, has a group of Chinese and American advisors that have been dubbed “Team Yao.” His parents moved to Houston when he was drafted into the NBA, and as of 2005 he was living with them in the gated community where his mother had chosen a house for the family, though he was spending game days and nights in a rented apartment in downtown Houston. In 2007, he was dating Ye Li, whom he met when he was 17 and whom he has said is the only girl he’s ever been interested in.
Yao is 7’6” (2.29 m) and 310 lbs (141 kg). He weighed 11 lbs. at birth (twice the average size of a Chinese newborn) and was 6’6” (1.98m) by age 13. At age seven, he became ill and lost the hearing in his left ear. He has sustained numerous injuries to his feet and legs. He broke his foot in two consecutive years while playing for the Shanghai Sharks. The second significantly decreased his jumping ability. In the 2005-2006 season he missed a total of 21 games due to acute osteomyelitis in his left big toe. He left the team to have surgery on December 18, 2005 and returned on January 30, 2006. A collision with an opposing center on April 10, 2006 fractured a bone in his left foot; recovering from the injury required six months of rest. In December of the same year he broke his right tibia, and he wasn’t cleared to play again until March 4, 2007.
Unlike many NBA superstars, Yao appears to be both humble and charitable. Like many Chinese he is an obedient son. At first, after signing his contract with the Rockets, he lived on an allowance given to him by his mom, and at least one of his friendships was seriously damaged when the friend ran afoul of her. Yao also describes himself as a fundamentally private person. In his memoir he writes that he was reluctant at first to write a book because “I’m not a hero…. I’m just doing my job.” However, he eventually decided to do so largely because he thought it would be a good opportunity to educate Americans about China and its people. In 2003, he hosted a SARS telethon which raised $300,000. His first name, Ming, which means “light” or “bright,” is composed of the two Chinese characters for “sun” and “moon.”
He married Ye Li of the Chinese women's national basketabll team on 6 August 2007 in Shanghai. His bride is 6'2" (1.88 m).