No one word can truly describe Yao Ming's impact on the world. "Unite" would be a good word to start with.
Being a successful Asian basketball player seemed ridiculous before the emergence of Yao Ming, yet he changed the perspective on Asian athletes. Yes, race should not play a factor in sports, but deep down, it does. That is why Asian Americans like myself love players like Yao Ming or Yi Jianlin. But now, with Yao Ming's retirement, there is a void to be filled.
When Yao Ming was drafted in 2002 by the Rockets, I was too young to realize what would result from it. What Yao did was to connect two countries an ocean apart, and he did it through basketball, which is a truly remarkable thing.
His play resonated with American and Chinese fans all the same, and the consensus was that Yao Ming was a great player. Not a Chinese player, but a great player. He found a way to achieve great things by simply putting on a uniform every night. He inspired a generation of Asian Americans to go out and do great things through his play.
When Yao Ming sat out the 2009-10 season with a hairline fracture, we were all worried that he might not come back. Unfortunately, we were right.
When he announced his retirement in July, I was devastated, as were many others. In August, the Georgetown basketball team was involved in a brawl with a Chinese team. Yao Ming had bridged the gap between the two countries, and it seemed like the bridge would soon collapse.
Flash forward to today. Yao Ming enrolled at the Shanghai Jiaotong University to study journalism and finance. Just like a normal student.
My father's friend, who lives in Shanghai, saw Yao Ming in the elevator after his first day, as they live in the same apartment complex. He couldn't help but say, "Wow, it's Yao Ming!"
Yao Ming simply looked over and said (in Chinese), "Hm? A guy who knows how to speak English?" As the elevator went up, they mostly stood in silence, without Yao ever acknowledging his fame, just trying to be a normal guy.
Even with that, Yao Ming's effect can't be undone. He still found a way to unite two countries located across the Pacific Ocean simply through playing basketball. He inspired a generation to go out and achieve their dreams. He taught us that race has no effect on an individual's abilities.
And today, although he is living as a "normal" student, he is anything but normal. He was and still is a force that unites the East and West, if only through basketball. And that, my friend, is not ordinary.