China is one of the (if not the) biggest market in the world and home to one of the most powerful economies in the world. While sports like hockey and football haven’t really caught on very much over there, one North American sport has a MASSIVE following over there, and that is basketball. And what is the catalyst behind this huge following? Well, that would be Yao Ming. Yao Ming almost single handily brought basketball to the Chinese market and thus became one of the most popular basketball players (and athletes, for that manner) on the planet.
Right from birth, there was a good chance that Yao Ming was going to be a basketball player. This is because not only was he born at 11 pounds (more than twice the average Chinese baby, but also because his father was 6’7 and his mother was 6’3, and both were pro basketball players. Yao himself began playing ball at the age of nine and by the time he hit ten years old, he was already 5’5 and grew steadily each and every year thereafter and doctors believed he would reach over 7 feet tall. At thirteen, he joined the Shanghai Sharks junior team, and played there for 4 years before eventually getting on the senior team, and he continued to dominate (including averaging almost 40 points a game and over 20 rebounds a game during the playoffs of his final year).
Yao decided to declare for the 2002 NBA draft and with his skill and speed (for a man his size) and his 7’6 frame, he was thought to be the number one overall pick. And on the night of the draft, the Houston Rockets did indeed select him with the first overall pick, making him the first ever international player selected first overall who never played any college ball in the states.
While his first few years in the NBA were still great, his superstardom went beyond what took place on the court. Yao Ming was a hugely popular figure and thus, was breaking records in terms of all-star game votes and even made it over Shaquille O’Neal his rookie year by 250,000 votes, even though Shaq was coming off three straight Finals MVP awards. Yao Ming led the NBA in all-star voting in 2005 and 2006, becoming the only non-American player to ever do so.
While Yao’s size definitely helped him average 19 points, 9 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks a game, it also hurt him. His seasons for 2005-2011 were fairly full of injuries, most being issues with his feet, as it is not easy to support a man who is 7’6 and weighs over 300 lbs. And unfortunately, in 2011, Yao Ming retired from the game of basketball due to his injuries. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2016, which was very well deserved.
Since retiring from the NBA, Yao Ming has actually purchased the Shanghia Sharks and has become incredibly involved with the conservation of elephants and rhinos and has ran numerous PSA’s about it and he is a big time animal lover.
His contributions to the game and its reach around the world were massive and he was one of the most important players in NBA history.