What more can be said about Yao Ming? The greatest basketball player China has ever produced has been an ambassador for the nation for over a decade, he keeps giving back with the opening of the NBA Yao School. We caught up with him to discuss the program’s goals, the growth of the game and its future in the country.
Congratulations on the opening of the NBA Yao School. How would you describe the program?
We are looking for basketball lovers ranging from elementary school to high school, boys and girls alike from different training backgrounds. The academy builds tailored after-school basketball training and fitness plans based on the needs of different students. The goal is to train students in an entertaining atmosphere, while paying attention to their skills in coordination, leadership and communication. Currently, we have two training spots in Beijing, but are expecting to open more in other cities in the future.
You’ve been very clear that this program isn’t designed to produce the next great Chinese NBA player. However, during the Nanjing Youth Olympics, you expressed concern for the next generation of Chinese basketball players. What are some things that need to be improved for the Mainland to produce another NBA star?
Our school is to help you find the fun in basketball and build yourself through exercising. With more basketball lovers and a better chance for them to get trained professionally, it’s far more likely for us to spot excellent players.
How do you think youth basketball development has changed compared to your teenage days?
Now, the sport has turned into an international event. Teenagers have more chances and opportunities to get involved in high-quality basketball events, for instance, taking part in professional training offered by schools like ours. It’s a positive phenomenon that more and more teenagers are fond of this sport in China.
Throughout your NBA career, you were praised in North America for your class and credited in China for making the NBA so popular...
I am honored to play a role in the communication between China and America. What I want to say though is basketball is a perfect group sport, which benefits teens in many ways. As a team sport, there’s a high demand on trust and support from each team member. Not only will you improve your own ability, you also have to get along with others. This is exactly what’s great about this sport and why more and more people are drawn to it.
The first time you came back to Shanghai after entering the NBA, were you surprised by how popular and the NBA had become?
I was aware that the NBA has been extremely popular in China. Chinese fans now are not only quite knowledgeable about the NBA and its top stars, but about every team, which is quiet surprising to me.
How would you compare the NBA’s presence in China now compared to when you were younger?
It has become easier and more beneficial with more communication channels now. Fans can watch games on TV and online. They can also interact with star players on Weibo. We’ve invited Rajon Rondo, the legendary shooter Glen Rice and several NBA coaches to meet our students and give lessons. Of course, we are honored to have Adam Silver visit. It was a very educational experience for both students and their parents.
The NBA has started to hold annual preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing. What impact do you think this has?
I was honored to participate in the first NBA preseason game in China. It’s a great opportunity for Chinese fans to enjoy an authentic NBA game and, more importantly, get a better and closer understanding of the NBA and their favorite players.