Too Big for Dorm Beds, Yao Ming Makes Good on Promise to Pursue College Degree

Joe FlynnContributor INovember 29, 2013

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 29:  Yao Ming,  Former Chinese basketball player, (centre) poses for a photograph next to (L-R) Dustin Johnson of the USA, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Luke Donald of England at the Welcome Reception prior to the WGC-HSBC Champions at the 1933 building on October 29, 2013 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Though his playing days are over, former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming isn't exactly spending his "retirement" lounging in a rocking chair. 

Not only is the 33-year-old former All-Star keeping busy as a husband, father and entrepreneur—he owns both the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association and his own Yao Ming wine label—but he is also making good on a promise he made to finish his education, according to China's Hexun News Agency.

"When I signed with the Shanghai Sharks at 17 years old, I promised my parents I would study in university after my playing career was finished," Ming said. 

Yao is currently a sophomore at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where he's majoring in economic management. He certainly isn't taking the easy path to a diploma—Shanghai Jiao Tong is one of the most prestigious schools in China, consistently ranked among the top 10 Chinese universities

Yao lives about an hour's drive from school, and he leaves the house every morning at 6 a.m. to beat the brutal Shanghai traffic. He returns home each night to his wife's cooking.

While the vast majority of Chinese university students live in on-campus dormitories, Yao has a legitimate excuse for commuting from home each day: The dorm beds are too small. Given the fact that anywhere from four to eight boys are usually assigned to one Chinese university dorm room, Yao's classmates might not enjoy the prospect of bunking with a 7'6" roommate, no matter how rich and famous he might be.

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 16:  NBA Legend and former player of the Houston Rockets Yao Ming watches the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 16, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
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According to Adam Century of the New York Times, the opportunity for a higher education is a rare gift for someone raised in the Chinese athlete development system, as Yao was.

Returning to the classroom is a common but seldom realized dream for Chinese athletes, many of whom are removed from regular schools in their preteens and placed in athletic institutes. The Chinese government maintains a separate Soviet-inspired network of sports schools that are almost entirely dedicated to increasing China’s Olympic medal count.

But perhaps no athlete in Chinese history has had the cachet of Yao Ming, and he is determined to fulfill his parents' dream, even if that means he's had to deal with the embarrassment of attending lectures from a professor who was his high school classmate.

According to Hexun, Yao was also asked if he would ever consider coaching. "I've considered it," he said, "but I still think I'm a little too young. Maybe I'll reconsider after I turn 50. If I ever coach, I think I'm better suited to coach in America than in China."

There's still a great deal of learning to be done in the Yao family. He clearly enjoys watching his three-year-old daughter as she rapidly picks up the English language. "Recently she's been having quite a few English conversations with her dolls," Yao said. "It's pretty funny."