Editor's Note: NBA superstar center Yao Ming made it official yesterday in Shanghai, China that he was retiring from basketball, leaving behind giant footprints on the NBA court. This documentary, produced by the B/R's contributing columnist Zhenyu Li, highlights the Chinese basketball legend's illustrious career.
He's the first ever No. 1 pick in the NBA draft from overseas.
He's among the NBA's best centers.
He was, as of the 2010-11 season, the tallest player in the NBA and the most recognized face hailing from the world's most populous nation.
His name — Yao Ming.
From day one, Yao Ming had the makings of a basketball superstar in his blood. Born on September 12, 1980 in Shanghai, one of the most developed cities in China, Yao entered the world as the only child of two accomplished former Chinese basketball players who stand 6'7" and 6'3", respectively.
According to the book Operation Yao Ming, Yao's parents were convinced to marry each other so that they would produce a dominant athlete and, during Yao's childhood, he was given special treatment to help him become a great basketball player.
While growing up as an abnormally tall child, Yao started playing basketball at age nine. By the time he reached 13, he started playing for the Shanghai Sharks junior team, and four years later, joined the senior team and played for five years in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
In his final year with the Shanghai Sharks, he led the team to a championship, averaging 38.9 points and 20.2 rebounds a game while shooting 76.6 percent from the field during the playoffs.
In 2002, after negotiating with the CBA and the Sharks to secure his release, Yao was selected by the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. Since then, he had emerged as one of the Houston Rocket's most valuable players.
Before Yao's initial NBA season, several noted commentators predicted that Yao would fail in the NBA, and Charles Barkley even promised that he would kiss Kenny Smith's behind if Yao scored more than 19 points in any of his rookie-season games.
Only after seven games, Yao began to dazzle fans with brilliant performances. On November 17, 2002, he scored 20 points, on perfect nine-of-nine from the field and two-of-two shooting from the free-throw line, against the Los Angeles Lakers. Barkley made good on his bet by kissing the rear end of a donkey purchased by Smith for the occasion.
In his confrontation against the Dallas Mavericks ten days later, he scored an amazing 30 points.
Yao soon became a marquee name and, eventually, he was perceived as a rival of the NBA superstar center Shaquille O'Neal.
O'Neal would be criticized for comments he made before his first clash with Yao, as he told a reporter to leave Yao a message: "Tell Yao Ming, Ching chong-yang-wah-ah-soh," a "message" which mimicked the Chinese language.
Yao took it in stride, and eased the situation by joking that "Chinese is a hard language to learn."
In the game, Yao scored six points, blocked O'Neal twice in the opening minutes and made a game-sealing dunk with 10 seconds left in overtime. Yao finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, while O'Neal ended up with 31 points, 13 rebounds and no blocks.
After nine seasons in the league and enjoying an illustrious career with 8 All-Star selections and a career average of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, on a rainy day on July 20, 2011, Yao Ming, the Chinese Giant, the tallest man in the NBA, hung up his No. 11 jersey for good, leaving behind giant footprints on this prestigious basketball court.
But the book of Yao is yet to be folded...
(This is a reprint from People's Daily Online of the July 21, 2011 edition.)