With Yao Ming set to announce his retirement from the NBA tomorrow, China is set to lose its largest (and tallest) international sports star. The New York Times reports:
For nearly a decade, China has been enthralled by the cult of Yao spun by Communist Party propagandists and corporate sponsors: the winner, the gentle giant, the favorite son. His image was ubiquitous here, and the public basked in his glow even as other Chinese players in the N.B.A. sputtered.
Yet his retirement is forcing many Chinese to acknowledge that their country has relied on Yao alone for victory and national pride, ignoring shortcomings in the state sports system that leave China facing a future bereft of N.B.A. and Olympic basketball glory.
“We can either choose to blame the gods and whine about our misfortune or we can step up to the plate and train the next generation of basketball talent,” Zhang Weiping, a basketball commentator and former national team member, wrote in an editorial last week.
CBS Sports recommends that, in searching for a replacement, China should focus on training smaller, faster players. ESPN holds a 5-on-5 roundtable to size up Yao Ming’s career and impact.
Meanwhile, fellow NBA star Kobe Bryant, currently in China, praised Yao on the eve of his retirement:
Bryant, in Yao’s home city of Shanghai as part of an Asian tour, said the Houston Rockets centre had inspired Chinese youngsters to dream about playing basketball at the highest level.
“He opened doors for young people in China to believe it’s possible to become an NBA player. That all started with Yao,” the Los Angeles Lakers guard told reporters.
Bryant was speaking one day before 2.29-metre (7ft 6in) Yao is widely expected to announce his retirement in Shanghai after battling a series of injuries.
The five-time NBA title-winner, 32, said Yao’s impact was far greater than that of the previous wave of European imports to the NBA.