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Yao Ming

Yao Ming (姚明), (born September 12, 1980) in China, is a popular and talented basketball player.

Among basketball's tallest players at a listed high of 7 feet, 5 inches, Yao debuted in the Chinese Basketball Association as a presumably shorter 17-year old. He put together a solid year for a young player, scoring 10 points and grabbing 9 rebounds a game in 1997-98. Missing a lot of the following season to injury, he returned in 1999-2000 with 21 points per game and a league best 14 rebounds per game, adding 5+ blocks per to boot. The 2000-01 season proved highly fruitful for Ming, as the 20-year old was MVP of the league with a fantastic year, scoring 27 a game, and grabbing an exceptional 19 rebounds per.

He had experience in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics and was a veteran of international competition for a few years prior but the 2001 season definitively put him in the minds of NBA scouts. However, he chose not to enter the NBA draft in 2001 as an international player, with the CBA assuring him he would not get released from their league if he went. His choice not to go may have elevated his stock, as he scored 32 points a game in 2001-02, doing so with a 72% field goal percentage, with 19 more rebounds a game, second in the league in both. He won a sportsmanship award and more importantly led his team, the Shanghai Sharks, to a CBA title. He was even more dominant in the playoffs and had a game where he made all 21 shots he attempted.

Yao was draft eligible in 2002, with international players being eligible if they were 22 at the start of the NBA season. Widely considered a hot prospect, he allegedly wowed scouts with a terrific exhibition at a draft camp. It would catch the eyes of the team with the #1 pick, the Houston Rockets. The Rockets had needed a center after the departure of Hakeem Olajuwon a year prior, so Houston drafted Yao with the first selection, the team seeing him as the perfect guy to replace him.

Ming's preseason performances, however, were questionable, and left many wondering why he was the 1st pick. He started the regular season on the bench, and still left a lot to be desired. He began to prove critics wrong in mid-November in a game against Shaquille O'Neal[?] and the Los Angeles Lakers by scoring 20 points in a game where he made all 9 of his field goal attempts. This performance led to a memorable televised incident where TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley, having lost a bet in which he stated Ming would never score 20 in a game for the season, was forced to literally kiss ass, notably fellow analyst Kenny Smith[?]'s. Two games later, against the state rival Dallas Mavericks, he deposited 30 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a game that truly showed what was expected of him. By the end of the month, Ming was firmly entrenched in the starting lineup.

By December and January, Ming was proving to be a highly consistent starter. He put up few big games, largely because he didn't play lots of minutes in games, but was exceptional when he did take the court. He was becoming a marquee name, and eventually he was percieved as a rival of Shaquille's, turning Rockets/Lakers games into Yao vs. Shaq. Shaquille would be criticized for comments he made before one of these matchups, as he told a reporter to leave Yao a message, a "message" which mimicked the Chinese language. Ming took it in stride, and defended the situation by stating that "Chinese is a hard language to learn."

That sort of good humour and light heartedness off the court, plus his reputation for being very personable, made him extreme popular among fans. His likability inspired a catchy song in the Houston area (based on the popular "Olé" chants you would hear at a european football game), and, despite being just a rookie, quickly became one of the league's most marketable players. Featured in advertisements Apple, Gatorade, and a popular Super Bowl ad for Visa, it did not take long for Ming to be a household name. This popularity got Ming voted as a starter in the 2003 NBA all-star game over Shaq, even though he was helped by the voting being expanded to his native China.

Following the all-star break, Yao continued the consistency he showed in the first half of the year, as he helped the Rockets battle for the playoffs, although in the end they missed out. Ming had still proved to be very productive, and his first year was still a qualified success. Despite his success, he merely finished 2nd in rookie of the year voting, with high schooler Amare Stoudemire proving as, if not more, impressive in his first season in the league.

During the NBA's offseason in 2003, Ming has spent a lot of time helping the prevention of SARS in his home country. Among his efforts was hosting a telethon, which would raise US$300,000 to help stop the disease.

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