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ESPN The Magazine: American Idol

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by weibzhou, Feb 4, 2003.

  1. weibzhou

    weibzhou New Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    American Idol

    By Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine

    Monday, February 3 Updated 12:27 PM EST

    As harbingers go, this is a doozy. Yao Ming is enjoying his new
    favorite getaway from the swirl that has engulfed him since he landed
    in Houston four months ago: slowly circling the Westside Tennis Club's
    parking lot in his week-old silver Toyota Sequoia. This is the
    Rockets' practice site. It's also Yao's training ground as a driver,
    since he has yet to earn his license.

    As Yao rolls past the crowd of reporters and onlookers that gathers
    wherever he appears, he does a look-no-hands maneuver and smiles a
    smile that needs no translation before pulling into a space and
    carefully shifting into park. That's when a female Chinese reporter
    leans in the window. "You can't really drive," she taunts in English.
    "You just go around in circles."

    Yao motions for her to climb into the passenger seat. Then he throws
    it into reverse and backs out—into another SUV.

    As he pulls forward again, then inspects the damage, all sorts of
    nagging questions run through his head. Whose car has he just hit?
    What will his advisers say? Will he get in trouble for driving without
    a license? How much will this cost?

    One saving grace: For the first time in weeks, the questions have
    nothing to do with backing into Shaquille O'Neal. That battle, hyped
    for weeks, is 24 hours away.

    "Congratulations!" says Yao's marketing director, Bill Sanders of BDA
    Sports, arriving a few minutes later to take Yao across town for a
    commercial shoot. "Welcome to America!"

    And America, welcome to Yao's World, where a crunched fender is
    actually more troubling than facing the strongest center on the
    planet, if only because Yao is 22 and has never owned a car before, or
    crashed into one, or dealt with the repercussions. It's a world where
    talk of hitting a rookie wall is so simplistic Yao can't help but
    smirk when the subject is raised. Try dealing with a completely
    foreign culture, or answering questions posed in a language that you
    understand just well enough to know how easily one wrong word can
    create a misunderstanding. Or being the first
    foreign-born-and-developed No.1 pick who can challenge just about
    every opponent's basketball manhood and birthright. Or enduring the
    endless media and commercial requests, inspired in part by a humble,
    team-first attitude that blows through the NBA like a blast of fresh
    air into a collapsed mine shaft.

    Then try playing basketball while knowing that everything you do not
    only is big news in this country but is closely scrutinized in your
    own, a land of 1.3 billion that has all but staked its honor on you
    being the best basketball center in the world. And knowing that all
    this is only the first four months of what your life could be like for
    the next 15 years. Oh, and while you're at it, could you provide a few
    clever lines for the media every day, too?

    So ask Yao how he's doing, as we did before a Nov. 27 game at Golden
    State, before a Dec. 29 game against New Orleans and once again before
    a Jan. 14 TV interview, and his answer is always the same: "I'm

    "I don't know how he's done it," says Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

    Neither do we. That's why The Magazine decided to find out,
    bird-dogging him for a week through a head-to-head Rookie of the Year
    tussle with the Suns' Amare Stoudemire, his first battle royale with
    Shaq, a 10-hour commercial shoot (not his first) and then back-to-back
    road games against two divisional rivals, the Spurs and Mavericks.

    Not to mention his first fender bender.


    WEDNESDAY, 1.15.03

    The Compaq Center, Houston, 11:03 a.m. The second Yao walks onto the
    floor for the morning shootaround, he is practicing 18-footers from
    his favorite spots—left wing, left baseline. Tonight's game against
    the Suns is important, matching two of last season's lottery teams
    shooting for this season's playoffs behind prize rookies. Yao stops
    only to ask his interpreter, Colin Pine, about his request for three
    extra tickets. They are for the director, producer and manager
    shooting him in a commercial for China Unicom, a Chinese phone
    company, the next day.

    Pine, 29, is a former translator for the State Department. Blond and
    bespectacled and about 5'10", he met Yao four months ago, and
    accompanying him through this crucible of a season has forged a
    friendship that might otherwise have taken years.

    "Relax," Pine says.

    "What is relax?" Yao asks.

    Pine doesn't have a word for it in Mandarin. By now the rest of the
    Rockets have arrived, including Moochie Norris, who also has a special
    bond with Yao. Norris is perched on the scorer's table, his shoes
    sitting beside him. Yao picks one up, pretending to admire its
    construction, and then lopes to the far basket and places the shoe on
    the back iron. "Yao's a bully!" Norris shouts. "Give me my shoe! I
    haven't dunked since Oreos."

    An hour later, Yao is checking out Moochie's Mercedes two-seater on
    his way out of the building. He decides to sit in it, something that
    requires several attempts. With the passenger seat cranked all the way
    back, knees tucked into his chest and head bowed so he's staring into
    his lap, he's able to fit. Norris, laughing, changes his assessment:
    "That Yao is a comedian."

    Rockets vs. Suns at the Compaq Center, 7:37 P.M. If the assistant
    coaches aren't careful, Yao will run full-court sprints before games
    to warm up. Tonight, it's just baseline jump hooks and high-post jump

    When the Rockets go to Yao on their second possession, he scores on
    Scott Williams with a fake-to-the-paint, spin-to-the-baseline,
    underhand scoop off the glass. Next possession he sets up on the other
    block and loses Williams with another spin to the baseline and a
    stagger step-through for a dunk. Only Stoudemire meets him at the rim
    and forces a miss. Later, at the other end, the Rockets' Kelvin Cato
    and Eddie Griffin both get a hand on one of Stoudemire's dunks, but he
    simply hammers it through them and draws the foul.

    Yao and Stoudemire are a startling contrast—an encyclopedia of moves
    vs. brute, ferocious strength. While Yao is setting up on both blocks
    and lofting jump hooks with either hand, dropping 18-foot jumpers from
    everywhere and spinning to either baseline, Stoudemire is simply
    turning right and dunking over anyone in his path. Amare's 24 points
    and 13 rebounds this night will earn him a few Rookie of the Year
    votes compared to Yao's 11 points and seven rebounds, but there's
    really no comparison. Yao has four blocked shots to Stoudemire's zero,
    two assists to Stoudemire's zero and—more important—zero turnovers to
    Stoudemire's three. Houston wins, 102-96.

    Afterward, a media crowd of 15—including the two reporters on
    permanent assignment from China—engulfs Yao as he sits in a recliner
    in front of his locker. Yao leans so far back he's nearly supine,
    which still only brings him to eye level with his inquisitors. Yao's
    grasp of English is good, but he doesn't like speaking on camera
    without Pine, for fear he won't understand the question or will
    misspeak. The questions have already switched to his upcoming matchup
    with Shaq.

    "I think I need a suit of armor," he says via Pine.


    THURSDAY, 1.16.03

    The WestSide Tennis Club, 11:36 a.m. Anthony Falsone, the Rockets'
    strength and conditioning coach, bangs through the weight-room door
    onto an empty practice court. "I'm looking for a big Chinese guy," he
    says. "He's got a date tomorrow."

    A few minutes later Yao follows Falsone into the weight room. "Get
    ready. Shaq's comin' to town," Norris says, throwing fake blows at
    Yao's midsection as Yao does an ab routine. Maurice Taylor joins in,
    and the two pretend-wrestle Yao the way they suggest Shaq will.

    Once practice starts, the Rockets work on a play to get Yao either a
    backdoor dunk or a high-post jumper. "Dream's favorite play,"
    Tomjanovich says, referring to the former Rockets center and
    soon-to-be Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon. Steve Francis believes
    they'll run it once all season.

    Assistants usually handle one-on-one drills and teaching, but not
    today. Yao has missed eight of his last 16 free throw attempts after
    shooting 87% (78-for-90) in December. Rudy T has noticed that Yao's
    head is too far back, causing him to fade rather than follow through.
    After a quick tutorial, Tomjanovich shifts subjects to defending Shaq.
    "If he gets here," Tomjanovich says, standing in front of the basket,
    "you're dead. Now you can let him get here, but he's going to dunk on
    your head."

    No translation needed.

    The post-practice media throng has swelled to 50, 10 times the normal
    size. Yao is pinned against a mural of Pete Sampras. In order to
    communicate with Yao and have everyone else hear his translation, Pine
    perches on a ladder a few feet away. As impressive as Yao's touch and
    technique are, nothing tops his ability to handle no-win questions.
    Earlier in the week, when faced with either chastising Shaq for
    speaking mock Chinese in a TV interview or alienating the
    Asian-Americans offended by Shaq's attempt at humor, Yao said he
    didn't feel Shaq meant it as an insult but that he could understand
    why some Asian-Americans might be offended. His capper: "Chinese is
    hard to learn. I had trouble with it when I was little."

    Not as much trouble, of course, as he has with the Sequoia. Practice
    is over and everyone heads for their cars. Teammate Juaquin Hawkins
    leans out of his Navigator and jokes, "I'm calling the police to
    report a 7'10" man on the loose." Yao studies the Sequoia's crumpled
    left rear fender and the dented left corner of a black Expedition that
    belongs to Houston Comet Kelley Gibson. His first call is to Erik
    Zhang, a second cousin, U. of Chicago business student and perhaps the
    most influential member of Team Yao. Yao wants to assure Zhang that
    Pine, who also serves as Yao's chauffeur, is not to blame. Then he
    hurries back inside the building to find the car's owner and to
    promise to pay for the damages.

    With the Sequoia only cosmetically damaged, Pine takes the wheel. Yao
    rides shotgun and Sanders, the marketing director, squeezes into the
    backseat for the ride to the commercial shoot. As Pine and Yao discuss
    in Mandarin how to have the car repaired, Sanders gets a call from one
    of Shaq's representatives telling him that, with genuine regrets, Shaq
    can't accept the invitation to dinner at Yao's house. Yao lives in a
    Houston subdivision with his father, Yao Zhi Yuan, and mother, Fang
    Feng Di, both former players in China, and Pine. Shaq misses out on a
    multicourse meal cooked by Mom, featuring Shanghai chicken, her
    specialty and Yao's favorite. Turns out, Shaq had plans to see his
    6-year-old daughter, who lives in Houston with her mother.

    A CD by Singapore singer Xu Meijing is playing on the car stereo. Yao
    nods out. "Hey!" Colin says, but Yao doesn't budge.

    The Houston Independent School District Sports Complex, 4:42 p.m. The
    Sequoia pulls into the massive high school lot and parks behind the

    "Traffic in Houston sucks," says Pine.

    "Traffic in Houston," says the more philosophical (and worldly) Yao,
    "is normal."

    Yao is here to shoot the China Unicom commercial. A junk food
    buffet—soft drinks, subs, potato chips, cookies, doughnuts—sits
    courtside as a Chinese director huddles with Yao and Sanders, with
    Pine translating for Sanders this time. Yao surgically removes the
    sliced black olives from a sub sandwich with a toothpick. TV
    commercials may come off as 30 seconds of whiz-bang graphics and
    action, but hours of drudgery go into their making.

    At one point, a stagehand stands on a ladder and checks Yao's height
    with a tape measure, then for some reason asks: "How tall are you?"

    Yao: "Without shoes, 7'5''."

    Stagehand: "What about your hair?"

    Yao: "What do you mean?"

    This is Yao's third commercial shoot in three weeks. The first was the
    Apple Computer ad with Vern Troyer (a.k.a. Mini-Me). He flew to LA on
    New Year's Eve for that one. The second, a Visa Super Bowl commercial
    that included Yogi Berra, was shot in New York. Team Yao—Zhang,
    Sanders, agent Bill Duffy and U. of Chicago business professor John
    Huizinga—has turned down five endorsement offers for every one it has
    accepted, and scheduled commercial shoots only for two-day gaps in the
    Rockets' schedule, so Yao's never on a set the day before a game. Both
    David Letterman and Jay Leno have been turned down, as have all the
    national morning talk shows and 60 Minutes.

    The rules are being stretched a little for this shoot. Yao is supposed
    to put in a couple of hours today but his practice gear isn't what the
    director had in mind. After 90 minutes of watching a sound crew record
    the sneaker squeaks and dribbling of a local stand-in, Yao heads home.
    "Saturday will be hard work—seven, eight hours," the director warns.

    Before they leave, Sanders gives Yao's wish list for Saturday's shoot:
    a PlayStation with action/adventure games, Gatorade, a New York-style
    cheese and mushroom pizza, a place to rest.

    "And frappuccino with cream," Yao adds.
  2. weibzhou

    weibzhou New Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Likes Received:

    FRIDAY, 1.17.03

    The Compaq Center, 11:25 a.m. The usual shootaround crowd of five has
    swelled to 150, solely in anticipation of the first Shaq-Yao showdown,
    now nine hours away. The Rockets are already warming up when a stocky
    man in a 2002 NBA All-Star jacket, white Disney terry-cloth shirt,
    bright yellow Lakers fishing hat and glossy black Shaq shoes marches
    up to the baseline and introduces himself to Pine. It's Philip "Sarge"
    Harrison, Shaq's stepfather. Unbeknownst to Shaq, Sarge has driven all
    night from Florida for two reasons: to watch tonight's game and to
    determine if the Christmas card in his hand really came from Yao. The
    personal note inside reads, "Thanks for the encouragement. You're the
    only one I look up to—be like Shaq!"

    Yao and Sarge talk briefly, and Sarge walks away, smiling. "Be like
    Shaq!" Sarge says. "Isn't that something? I'm going to frame this."

    Yao also sent cards to every center he faced before Christmas, to
    every GM who attended his predraft workout in Chicago last May and to
    Michael Jordan. He personally handed cards to the Rockets'
    front-office staff and bought gifts for Tomjanovich, GM Carroll Dawson
    and Michael Goldberg, the team counsel who helped negotiate clearance
    with the Chinese Basketball Association and the Shanghai Sharks for
    Yao to play here.

    "First and only Christmas card I'll ever get from an NBA player," says
    one team official.

    Yao starts for the locker room when Houston Texans quarterback David
    Carr appears and Rudy T pulls Yao back onto the floor for a photo op.
    With cameras rolling, Carr presents Yao with a Texans helmet and
    conducts an impromptu interview.

    "Do you follow football?" Carr asks.

    Yao looks around uncomfortably. "A little bit," he says.

    Yao finally heads for the door, carrying his Texans helmet in one hand
    and a Yao Celebriduck in the other. The Rockets have had some wildly
    popular players before, but for the first time the organization limits
    pregame access to the morning shootaround. "It's been like this since
    I got here," Yao says of the crush. "Some days I don't think there
    will ever be an end."

    Lakers vs. Rockets at the Compaq Center, 6:47 p.m. As Yao warms up,
    Pine is on his cell phone with a friend in Shanghai. The friend tells
    him about a line of 300 kids there who have been waiting for three
    hours to get into a viewing party to watch the game on TV. The buzz in
    the building rivals that for the Finals: capacity crowd, overflow
    media, national and international television audience. Officials
    arranged a pregame summit of four legendary centers—Olajuwon, Moses
    Malone, Shaq and Yao—who are photographed together just outside the
    Rockets' locker room. Signs in the stands read "Hey, Shaq, Who's Yao
    Daddy?" and "Yao Ming Will Chop Suey Shaq Fu!" and "Shaquille O'Kneel
    Down to Yao!"

    Yao has played well this season, especially during one eight-game
    stretch in December when he had seven double-doubles and 25 blocked
    shots. But the Rockets know he's been fading under the weight of all
    his demands for nearly two weeks now. Shaq and the Lakers, meanwhile,
    come in on a roll, winning five in a row and looking like they may
    have finally regained their championship stride.

    The reaction to Shaq's TV interview comments has been a constant
    drumbeat in this game's buildup, and Shaq let it be known he planned
    to tell Yao "I am sorry" in Mandarin right before tip-off. Now, as the
    game is about to start, Shaq whispers in English, "I love you, we're
    friends." The greeting strikes Yao as so affectionate he later jokes,
    "I thought of reminding him he just got married."

    The opening minutes fast-forward the Rockets' dreams of being the
    league's next dynasty. Shaq easily wins the tip-off, gets the ball on
    the left side, turns and drives straight for the basket. Yao swats the
    ball the instant it leaves Shaq's hand. Bedlam. The roar doubles when
    Yao then scores over Shaq on a jump hook in the paint. Then he snuffs
    another Shaq attempt and scores again on fastbreak layup. In the first
    three minutes, he has three blocked shots and six points. Shaq is

    But after the initial burst of adrenaline, the fatigue returns. Yao
    airballs the same baseline turnaround jumper that was automatic a few
    weeks earlier and front-rims a top-of-the-key J he drains easily in
    practice. When he gets his first rest, he sits between Hawkins and
    Bostjan Nachbar.

    Yao: "He's 350 pounds."

    Hawkins: "That's all right, stay aggressive. Make him guard you."

    Yao: "He's 350 pounds."

    The Rockets haven't played such a high-profile game in years. The
    Lakers take advantage, leading by as many as 11 before taking a
    six-point lead into the second quarter. After the opening burst, Yao
    won't score again until late in the fourth period. Mom and Dad sit 20
    rows behind the Rockets' bench with quiet, concerned looks as Shaq
    begins to manhandle their son on his way to 31 points and 13 rebounds.

    But thanks to the heroics of Stevie Francis, the game goes into
    overtime. And when Yao dunks to seal the Rockets' 108-104 victory, his
    mother smiles for the first time, waves her fist, and as the arena PA
    plays "Mony, Mony," even gets a little jiggy. Francis is the game's
    star with a career-high 44 points. Yao's final line: 10 points, 10
    rebounds, 6 blocked shots. Houston has the game's two most important
    positions—point guard, center—filled for years to come. "What I
    liked," assistant coach Jim Boylen says, "is that he showed no fear."

    Pine translates for Yao at the postgame press conference, but in the
    locker room Yao uses his own English to describe Shaq to Team Yao.

    "Like a meat wall," he says.


    SATURDAY, 1.18.03

    The Westside Tennis Club, 1:22 p.m. The Rockets have the day off. Not
    Yao. Ever been too tired to sleep? That was Yao after facing Shaq. "He
    tossed and turned all night," Pine says. The last time Yao felt this
    tired was after his first game against China's Army Team. He remembers
    the day: Dec.11, 1997. The Sharks lost by 40. "Four-zero," he says for

    "Normally after a game, I'm like this," he says, snapping his hand up
    and down as if it's a mouth. "Last night, like this," he says,
    clamping the mouth shut.

    The day's agenda: his weekly Mandarin radio interview from the
    Rockets' locker room, a magazine cover photo shoot and the commercial.
    He's dressed in his standard off-court gear—black sweat pants, black
    fleece zippered top, black socks, black Jordan casual kicks—and is
    rubbing the first knuckle on his left hand, which he injured on one of
    those early blocked shots the night before.

    By 2 p.m. he's posing for the cover shoot in front of a Houston office
    building five minutes from the tennis club on an eight-lane boulevard.
    Within minutes, cars are screeching to a stop, honking their horns, or
    both. Within 10 minutes, a crowd has gathered for autographs.

    Twenty minutes later he's back in the Sequoia, contorting himself as
    he changes from his Rockets uniform into his black ensemble in the
    front seat as Pine drives. "Locker room," Yao says, grinning.

    Pine suddenly realizes the Sequoia's tank is nearly empty. "Where's
    the gas lever?" he asks after pulling into a station.

    "Left," Yao says. "Under your seat." Rather proudly, he adds: "That's
    my car. I know it."

    Before Pine can shut the engine off, a middle-aged black woman nearly
    drives into Yao's SUV, pulls to a stop, then motions a request for
    Yao's autograph. Yao motions back that he needs a pen and paper. Then
    he turns to the back seat and asks if LeBron James will get in trouble
    because of the Hummer H2 his mother bought him. Probably not, he is

    "But what about his school?" Yao asks. "His team?" Possibly, he is
    told. Yao nods, and climbs out of the car in search of a bathroom. He
    has ducked through the gas station's door frame before Pine realizes
    he's gone. Pine rushes in after him—he doesn't need a mob scene. The
    woman is still sitting in her car, evidently waiting for Yao to find
    his own pen and paper, sign an autograph and hand it to her. As Yao
    walks back to his car, he tells her, "Sorry, I have no more time."

    The Houston Independent School District Sports Complex, 6:36 p.m.
    After three hours on the set of the commercial shoot, action shots of
    Yao spin-dribbling begin. After 20 minutes of that, he heads for the
    complex's training room to wait for his next call. He'll spend more
    time here than on the floor, though the wish list has come up short.
    There's no PlayStation, so Yao makes do with a Mandarin version of The
    Emperor and the Assassin, a movie about China's first emperor, which
    he watches from a ceiling-mounted, 18-inch TV.

    He's seen the movie countless times and points out the actors he likes
    most. He watches while holding an ice bag on his right wrist, shaking
    his head when asked how he hurt it. Two pizzas and a big plate of
    chicken wings—the staples of Yao's diet when he's out of range of
    Mom's cooking—are delivered, and he digs in right away. Even while he
    relaxes, a photographer with the film crew snaps away.

    By 7:30, Sanders and the production manager are arguing over how long
    the shoot will take. The production manager says they'll need until at
    least midnight. Sanders doesn't want to go past 10. A compromise is
    struck, but it won't matter.

    Yao is back on the floor, leaning against a wall, hands on knees.
    "What time is it?" he asks. It's 9:20. A group of semipro players,
    including a 7'4" center named Johnathon Pete who is looking to play in
    China, are instructed to crowd around Yao. The director wants Yao to
    spin-dribble past them and dunk. At 10 p.m., Yao's phone rings in
    Sanders' pocket. (Yao had handed him the phone earlier, along with
    about $200. "I'll want this back," he said, adding dryly, "there's
    10,000 there.") Now Sanders reads the phone's display and tells Yao
    it's his mom.

    "Mom?" Yao says. "I call her later."

    At 10:40 p.m., the director says they have only one more scene to
    shoot. A separate crew shooting a documentary about Yao asks if it can
    do a segment with him on the fieldhouse concourse while he waits. The
    frappuccinos with cream finally arrive, and he sucks one down
    immediately after the interview.

    "This is a bad day," he says, his face in his hands. "Last night I
    only had to play Shaq for 38 minutes."

    At 12:51 a.m., it's finally a wrap. Before leaving, Yao autographs
    balls for all the semipro players and shakes hands with everyone on
    the crew. "We've promised Yao that he won't have anything off the
    court between the All-Star Game and the end of the season," Sanders


    SUNDAY, 1.19.03

    The Westside Tennis Club, 1:20 p.m. The Rockets have been practicing
    for an hour when Yao ducks into the training room to get the
    mysteriously injured right wrist taped. Francis, still worn out from
    his 48 minutes against the Lakers, has been given the day off. Yao is
    matched up in a half-court scrimmage with 11th man Jason Collier, but
    he can't hold onto the ball, and Collier even gets past him several
    times. GM Dawson sits in his office upstairs, well aware that Yao is
    flatlining. "I've been in this long enough to know when a player is
    half a beat slow," he says. "He missed four layups the other night
    against Phoenix. We've really had to work with him about getting his
    rest and eating enough. He just has a hard time saying no to anybody.
    This is a regular week for him, and it wore me out."

    Before heading to the airport to catch the Rockets' charter flight to
    San Antonio, Yao mows through three plates of chicken wings and
    watches the start of the Eagles-Buccaneers game.

    "You like football?" a photographer asks.

    "To watch," Yao says. "Not play."

    La Mansión del Rio, San Antonio, 5:52 p.m. When he arrives at the team
    hotel in San Antonio, he does a 20-minute interview with the NBA's
    in-house magazine, Inside Stuff. Then it's over to the house of Spurs
    center and national teammate Mengke Bateer for an authentic
    home-cooked Chinese meal that includes lamb—goat is too hard to
    find—and spicy noodles. He's back in his hotel room by 10.

    "The only bad thing about having dinner with Mengke," Yao says, "is he
    can tell the Spurs how to play me."


    MONDAY, 1.20.03

    Rockets vs. Spurs at the SBC Center, San Antonio, 4:13 p.m. It's two
    minutes into the game, and Yao is struggling to catch his breath as he
    runs back on defense. On one possession he never crosses halfcourt.
    He's shooting only lefthanded jump hooks at first; when he does try a
    righthanded shot, it's short. "Ayyyy!" he yells after being called for
    goaltending on a layup by Spurs guard Stephen Jackson. It's a rare
    vocal display of frustration.

    The Spurs are ahead by 13 after three quarters, and Tomjanovich
    decides to save Francis and Yao for the next night's game in Dallas.
    Francis finishes 1-for-12 with four points. Yao has 11 points and
    eight rebounds. Both sit the entire fourth quarter as the reserves tie
    the score three times before losing, 87-82.

    In the postgame interviews, an Asian reporter asks Yao about
    speculation that if his games are televised regularly in China, kids
    will skip class to watch them. He sighs and rolls his eyes—the most
    exasperation he's expressed at a question all season. "They should put
    a TV in the classroom," he says.


    TUESDAY, 1.21.03

    The Adolphus Hotel, Dallas, 9:32 a.m. The Rockets roll out for a rare
    shootaround before the second of back-to-back games. They are
    concerned with the Mavericks' zone defense and potent offense. Yao
    declines a golf-cart ride from the bus to the locker room. Francis
    doesn't. "Tendinitis," he says, whizzing by.

    Ten minutes before the shootaround ends, Tomjanovich pulls aside Pine.
    "CP, how's the big guy doing?" he asks as they walk to the tunnel.

    After a catered breakfast of eggs, muffins and pasta in the locker
    room, the team returns to the hotel. "Now, no pizza and hot dogs,"
    Francis says to Yao in the hotel lobby. "Get some protein. Some meat.

    Yao orders a bowl of chocolate ice cream from room service. There's a
    second knock on the door. It's a bellhop with a 5XL black jacket and
    pants made by We R One, the clothing line Francis owns along with Sam
    Cassell and Nick Van Exel. Steve is hoping Yao will wear the suit
    during All-Star Weekend. The pants are two inches too short. Yao gives
    the suit back to the bellhop. Moments later, the phone rings. It's
    Francis. He wants to know what Yao is eating—and what's wrong with the

    Rockets vs. Mavericks at the American Airlines Center, Dallas, 6:09
    p.m. Assistant coach Dean Cooper puts Yao through his pregame shooting
    drill. The jump shots that fell so easily a month ago are all short
    and flat. "Get it up!" Cooper yells. "You're shooting as you turn.
    Turn, then shoot."

    Yao dominated Shawn Bradley in late November, so Mavs coach Don Nelson
    starts Raef LaFrentz. He's no match either, but after an early putback
    dunk, Yao fades quickly again and logs only 22 minutes, finishing with
    six points and as many turnovers as rebounds (five) as Houston loses
    again. Three times during the postgame press conference he's asked
    whether he's tired. "No," he says each time.

    Outside the locker room, the same question is posed to Tomjanovich.
    "I'm sure he is tired," Rudy T says. "He's done a lot, on and off the
    court. He just needs to get his battery recharged."

    Francis, who went through similar demands as a rookie, promises to
    talk to Yao about cutting back off the court. "I did everything too,"
    Francis says. "He just has to learn what his body can take. But we
    can't just go away from him. If he's done, we're finished."

    On the flight back to Houston, Pine is trying to figure out what he
    might be able to squeeze in socially at the upcoming All-Star Weekend
    in Atlanta, then finally concedes that escorting Yao won't leave any
    time. The Rockets' plane lands 10 minutes after midnight. Yao and Pine
    trudge to the still-dented Sequoia. They had hoped to have it repaired
    while they were out of town, but as always, there simply wasn't time.
    They climb into the SUV and wait for the windshield to defog. A
    45-minute drive home is still ahead of them. Along with half a season.

    This article appears in the February 17 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
  3. LiTtLeY1521

    LiTtLeY1521 Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Likes Received:
    "Traffic in Houston sucks," says Pine.

    People are really following Yao.
  4. finalsbound

    finalsbound Contributing Member

    Aug 31, 2000
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    It's very interesting to find out what happens behind the scenes with the Rockets.

    Man, we've got some funny guys on this team - Yao, Moochie, Steve...
  5. RocketfanfromLA

    Nov 25, 2002
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    I guess it much better than Shanghai.

    :D :D :D :D :D
  6. Elliott03

    Elliott03 Member

    Apr 26, 2000
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    Very interesting! it was a fun read
  7. windandsea

    windandsea Contributing Member

    May 19, 2002
    Likes Received:

    How many cards did Ming send?
  8. Vengeance

    Vengeance Contributing Member

    Nov 29, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Thanks so much for posting this!! Well, there's my last half-hour :) Very fantastic article!!
  9. Dr of Dunk

    Dr of Dunk Clutch Crew

    Aug 27, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Hmm... no kiddng. Maybe this is why his shot's off and he's so tired... he probably started signing the cards back in October.
  10. leebigez

    leebigez Contributing Member

    Jun 24, 2001
    Likes Received:
    To think some of the players think they have no time. The only guy to have half that attention entering the league was probably Shaq, but he was in Orlando and not the 4th largest city in America. I just hope he gets a personal trainer who will have him eating right and training right to keep his body up. The fast food he sometimes eat adds calories but not the good solid weight he will ned later. I read a while back that Croce used to try to get Bradley to eat right so he could gain functional weight, but instead Bradley used toeat mcdonalds all the time. I hope Ming does it the right way which I'm sure he will.
  11. KnoxRocketsFan

    Oct 24, 2002
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    Thanks a lot weibzhou!
    Is this the cover story of this week's ESPN mag?
    I saw the magazine on on newstand today, something like Yao laying on his bed..
  12. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

    Feb 14, 1999
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    You think Ric Bucher is getting paid by the word??? :)
  13. PhiSlammaJamma

    Aug 29, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Good read. Glad to see the Comets get in there. Ric should follow Sheryl swoopes next time.
  14. Visagial

    Visagial Contributing Member

    Nov 16, 2002
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    It's no wonder Yao sucked during those weeks. Reading it made me tired.
  15. Free Agent

    Free Agent Member

    Oct 19, 2002
    Likes Received:
    You think this is going to be a cover story?

    Sports Illustrated's Jackie McMullen was also in town last week. I noticed her at one of the games.
  16. Free Agent

    Free Agent Member

    Oct 19, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I guess this answers my question:

  17. carayip

    carayip Member

    Dec 22, 2002
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    Great read.
  18. carayip

    carayip Member

    Dec 22, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Shaq- 1
    Every center he faced before Christmas- about 20
    Every GM who attended his workout- 20 to 25
    MJ- 1
    Rockets players- 13
    Rockets coaching staff- 7
    Rockets front office staff- Not sure, at least 20 I guess

    So he sent at least 80 Christmas cards. And he wrote personal notes on them too. :eek:

    ROXTXIA Contributing Member

    Apr 25, 2000
    Likes Received:
    I posted a scenario that I invented, I think last summer, in which I imagined Steve and T-Mo giving Yao his "first driving lesson" in a Wal-Mart parking lot, late at night. If I could just do a search (still disabled I guess), I'd put it here. 'T'was funny.
  20. Axerod

    Axerod Member

    Jul 30, 2002
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    How can anybody not like Yao? I really enjoyed reading about how Moochie, Stevie and some of the other guys treat Yao, it looks like they really like him. :D ...Whats up with that lady in her car expecting Yao to find a pen and paper and then hand deliever his autograph!!!! :mad: What a knuclehead!!!!!

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