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Star-Tribune: Yao beacon of pride for Asians

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Free Agent, Dec 21, 2002.

  1. Free Agent

    Free Agent Member

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    NBA center Yao Ming is a 7 1/2-foot beacon of pride for Asians

    Richard Meryhew
    Star Tribune

    Published Dec. 21, 2002

    When Yao Ming takes the Target Center floor at 7 p.m. today to face the Timberwolves, it'll be Minnesota's first chance to catch a glimpse of the NBA's latest rookie sensation.

    Yao's arrival, and his rapid success in a game dominated by Americans, is big stuff for an assortment of people -- Chinese-Americans, Chinese who are studying here and Twin Citians interested in Chinese language and culture, not to mention folks caught up in the excitement surrounding a 7-foot-5, 296-pound Houston Rockets player who can dunk a ball standing flat-footed and block most any shot that comes close to his air space.

    "There's a lot of national pride," said Greg Hugh, publisher of "China Insight," a monthly publication with about 5,000 readers in the Twin Cities.

    "Let's face it. I'm Chinese. And he's a role model people want to promote and take some pride in."

    Much like Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese baseball star who joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001 and became a sensation, Yao is drawing double-takes from fans around the league for more than just his height.

    Although there are 68 foreign-born players -- including three from China -- on NBA rosters, 22-year-old Yao is the first foreign player to be taken first in the NBA draft.

    That kind of talent, combined with that kind of height, has quickly turned Yao into an inspiration of sorts. The Rockets signed him this fall to a four-year contract worth more than $18 million.

    "Sure, Chinese people are excellent students, and we have many professionals, doctors, lawyers and scientists," Hugh said. "But I think a professional athlete who is the first choice in the NBA draft, that's not a small accomplishment. And there is a lot of pride countrywide that that took place. . . .

    "You have all these homegrown U.S. players growing up playing ball in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, and he beat them out. . . . That's no small accomplishment."

    Through 24 games, Yao is averaging nearly 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. With each game, his numbers get better and the excitement among followers grows.

    "We expected him to do very well, and in the first several games, he didn't do very well. But he's improved a lot," said Peng Zhao, 29, who was born in China and is working on a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Minnesota.

    Peng, who lives in a student housing complex off Como Avenue in St. Paul, said he and his friends watch Yao every chance they get, either by watching Rockets games on cable TV or checking highlights on ESPN.

    Three heads taller

    Yao's appeal is such that even those in the Chinese community who aren't sports fans are paying attention.

    Hugh, the newspaper publisher, isn't a big basketball fan. He's never been to a Timberwolves game, or even the Target Center.

    Said Si Shen, 38, a University of Minnesota student from China who works part time at the Shanghai Market in St. Paul: "That game belongs to America, and Americans play it very well. He's Chinese and I'm Chinese, too. And I'm just proud for China."

    Yao's appeal goes well beyond the Chinese community.

    Louy Phou, a graphic designer for the Asian American Press in St. Paul who came to the United States from Cambodia, bought four tickets for tonight's game and plans to attend when Houston returns to Target Center in February.

    "This is an amazing thing," Phou said. "Finally there is an Asian dude in the NBA who can compete against Shaq and Kobe," referring to Los Angeles Lakers superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. "We finally have someone out there who represents the Asian community and he's doing so well.

    "I've never seen a 7-6 Asian guy before -- he's just amazing. Most Asians are pretty short. We work so hard to be competitive out there."

    Phou has become such a fan in recent weeks that he's tried without success to find a Yao jersey on the Internet. "It's just a matter of time before you see a lot of kids wearing Yao Ming jerseys and playing in the park," he said.

    Already, the kids are catching on.

    Richard He, 37, a computer software developer from Plymouth who came to the United States from China more than a decade ago, plans to take his daughter, Megan, 7, to tonight's game.

    "My daughter, she watches the games and says 'Oh, that's a Chinese guy,' " He said. "At 7, she has some sense of what he represents."

    Said Megan of Yao, "I guess he's pretty much a good player. I know that he's strong and he's very tall, and I guess that's about it."

    Another young fan is Harry Ullmann, a 12-year-old forward and point guard on a traveling team in St. Louis Park, whose mother was born in Taiwan.

    "He's going to be a future star for them. He'll help a ton," he said. "And it will show the Chinese people they will have an opportunity to play in the NBA. It kind of shows I'm Chinese and I can go to the NBA, too."

    At Breck School in Golden Valley, Chinese language teacher Decheng (Derek) Yang has been promoting Yao to students for more than a year. Yang grew up in Shanghai, the same city in China where Yao trained and played basketball.

    "Every day I go online and I see the stories and see how the Chinese people react to how he's playing here," Yang said. "They know it's tough to play in the NBA, but this kid is very good."

    Last year, Yang would boast of Yao's exploits to students, some of whom are NBA fans.

    "I told them there was a very good player in my hometown, and he'll come to the NBA soon," Yang said.

    At tonight's game, two of Yang's students -- Miles Marmo and Marcus Dormanen, both ninth-graders -- will be sitting two rows behind the Rockets bench wearing homemade T-shirts with Yao's name and number printed on the back and "I love Yao Ming" written in Chinese on the front.

    Marmo said the two hope to arrive early enough to strike up a conversation with Yao.

    "We could stumble through a small conversation with the education we've had," Marmo said. "But I'm pretty sure we'll try and get there early and stay after the game. We're going to try to get Yao Ming's autograph and try and get his jersey."

    -- Richard Meryhew is at

    >richm@startribune.com.
     
  2. njsun

    njsun Contributing Member

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    Good read. Thanks freeagent!
     
  3. micah1j

    micah1j Member

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    7-foot-5, 296-pound Houston Rockets player who can dunk a ball standing flat-footed

    The legend grows...
     
  4. danjojo

    danjojo Member

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    Good article.

    For all the people here who were saying that not everyone liked Yao in china, take that. He is extremely popular in the states and in china. He is a role model for billions now...and that's why people will vote him into a starting center at the all star game this year...
     
  5. Rocketsss

    Rocketsss Member

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    I will give a two thumbs up for this article.....:)
     
  6. aaaccchhhooo

    aaaccchhhooo Member

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    he still down by 9000 votes!!! you guys go and vote for every 24 hours..ok? !!! that's what i'm doing..ha ha ha...but i think that thing is a hoax..i think the nba SELECT who gonna start..cuz obviously Shaq..sucks...and he still ahead...
     
  7. cas

    cas Member

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    Great article. Thumbs up to Free Agent for his resourcefulness yet again.

    :)
     
  8. ucansee2020

    ucansee2020 Contributing Member

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    I heard Yao Ming's China votes were not counted.
     
  9. cas

    cas Member

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    off topic.

    anyway, i actually feel better if yao's china votes weren't counted. to think that nearly as many americans voted for a chinese rookie as they did shaq makes me happy already.
     
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