Yao's Impact Shouldn't be Underestimated
Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is set to retire tomorrow at a press conference in Shanghai. Yao's career was cut short by injuries and he never fully reached his potential as a dominant big man on the basketball court. His skill and touch for a man his size was remarkable though.
Even though Yao fell short on the hardwood, his impact for the NBA was as great as any player who has ever played in the league other than possibly Michael Jordan. Yao opened the gates for the NBA into Asia and introduced billions of new fans to the league. Today, the NBA has offices in China and the league takes players on annual trips through Asia each offseason. Shoe companies have seized the opportunity to promote NBA players in China. And broadcast rights for Asia are a very lucrative source of income for the NBA.
I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Yao Ming in China during the Fall of 2007 when he and Steve Nash hosted a charity fundraiser that featured several other NBA stars including Carmelo Anthony and Baron Davis. I saw first hand the love the people of China have for their gentle giant and the pride they have for the man who has given so generously to charity over the years. Yao is a soft spoken man with an underrated sense of humor. He is widely respected by his NBA peers.
On Wednesday he will announce the end to his playing career, but I have a feeling Yao will continue to be an ambassador for the NBA and the game of basketball. Billions of children in China are playing the game of basketball today because of Yao - that is quite a legacy.