NBA Legend Yao Ming Says He Was 'Chatting Happily' with Peng Shuai Last Month

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 17, 2022

Yao Ming, head of the Chinese Basketball Association and Ice Snow Sports Promotion Ambassador speaks during a Linjia 7 Salon afternoon tea with journalists at Beijing International Club in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Former NBA great Yao Ming said Monday he and others had a pleasant talk when they met last month with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, whose disappearance after making a sexual assault allegation against a former government official raised international concern. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
AP Photo/Andy Wong

Former NBA player and current Chinese Basketball Association President Yao Ming told reporters Monday that he spoke with tennis player Peng Shuai last month when they attended a winter sports exhibition together.

"She was in pretty good condition that day," he said. "We were all chatting happily and asking a lot of questions about the sport since we weren't familiar with it."

Peng had disappeared from the public eye after she accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a social media post in November, causing concern for her safety and well-being. The Chinese government removed her post, and Peng has since denied making those comments.

"I have never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulting me," she told Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in December.

After Peng disappeared from the public eye, a number of tennis players spoke out:

Serena Williams @serenawilliams

I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/whereispengshuai?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#whereispengshuai</a> <a href="https://t.co/GZG3zLTSC6">pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6</a>

NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ @naomiosaka

. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WhereIsPengShuai?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WhereIsPengShuai</a> <a href="https://t.co/51qcyDtzLq">pic.twitter.com/51qcyDtzLq</a>

In response, social media posts from state-sponsored journalists showed Peng in public.

Hu Xijin 胡锡进 @HuXijin_GT

I acquired two video clips, which show Peng Shuai was having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time. <a href="https://t.co/HxuwB5TfBk">pic.twitter.com/HxuwB5TfBk</a>

Hu Xijin 胡锡进 @HuXijin_GT

Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. <a href="https://t.co/7wlBcTMgGy">pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy</a>

As well, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said he spoke to Peng on a video call and scheduled a dinner with her in January. 

"I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern," said IOC Athletes' Commission Chair Emma Terho, who also took part in the call. "She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated."

Human Rights Watch accused the IOC of "sportswashing" human rights violations against Peng.

"In 2008 we were hopeful that they [the IOC] would show some spine and oblige Chinese authorities to live up to some basic promises," said Sophie Richardson, the China Director for Human Rights Watch. "I almost think fondly back to those days because, if nothing else, the IOC has shown in the last few days just how desperate it is to keep a Games on the rails no matter the human cost."

China is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February. 

The WTA has called for a full investigation into the situation and has suspended events in China.

As for Yao, the former NBA great, who became president of the state-affiliated CBA in 2017, said he has known Peng for "almost 20 years" and talked about the winter competition they attended together.

"We are both from the South ... and very intrigued by a winter sport competition in Shanghai—we felt like kids again," he said.