The NBA owes a lot to Yao Ming

I’ve always loved that photo. It’s a safe bet that whatever happens over the course of the next year concerning Yao Ming and his health, he’s not going to going to be the same Yao Ming we’ve seen. Of course it’s sad when a big man falls after years of pounding a body unable to cope with the prolonged strain of basketball. But Yao Ming’s early retirement would result in more than just the loss of a star player. Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! Sports has this to say:

As the global game goes, he’s basketball’s most important player since Michael Jordan. He’s the reason the world’s most populated country grew smitten with the NBA. He’s the reason that the NBA makes hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Far East, why its American players were treated like rock stars in the Beijing Olympics.

A lot of NBA players and commentators treated Yao with disdain upon his arrival, an overhyped stiff they promised to embarrass. Truth be told, there was a racial element to the criticism. Perhaps they didn’t want to believe an Asian could become an NBA star. Perhaps they feared an impending wave of Chinese 7-footers to gobble up jobs. Whatever the genesis, the criticisms of Yao pushed beyond legitimate basketball doubts and were nasty and needlessly personal.

Perhaps, there’s never been a modern athlete with the burden that belonged to Yao…
He won the respect of his peers in the NBA. He worked relentlessly, and became an unstoppable force when his body was well.

This is absolutely true. I remember not believing he would amount to anything in the NBA, but I can safely say now that he has proven himself to me and countless others. If you still don’t think Yao is important to the NBA, you’d better remember that there’s a country of a billion and a half people across the ocean, and a large number of them (if you’ll pardon the generalization) don’t think the word “basketball” too often, but rather “that game Yao Ming plays.”

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