At 2.26 meters, or as we old folk like to say – 7 foot, 5 inches, Yao Ming must have some trouble getting through most doors; but he sure as heck opened up a lot for the National Basketball Association (NBA).
As I once previously wrote, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson revived a moribund league in the ’80s, Michael Jordan made it soar to new heights in the ’90s, but it was the tall (OK, extremely tall) center from Shanghai, Yao Ming, who led the NBA into the massive Chinese, and by extension Asian, market.
His numbers during his injury-plagued career with the Houston Rockets were good, perhaps very good – 19 points per game and 9.2 rebounds – in what should, for now, be regarded as a borderline Hall of Fame career.
However, Yao’s legacy won’t be measured by his length or his numbers, but by his ground-breaking influence on the NBA and the sport in China.
China’s Wang Zhizhi and Menk Bateer may have preceded him into the NBA, but they didn’t have anywhere near the influence Yao had on the sport.
The arrival of the colossus in Houston in 2002 opened up a whole new marketing world to the NBA, which its stars continue to cash in on, while also slowly but surely drawing sponsorship dollars from China.
You could say the “arrangement” was semi-reciprocal as the NBA was exposed to more Chinese youngsters who now teem courts throughout the land, trying to be the next Yao.
Simply put, his touchdown in the NBA opened the league’s eyes to China and China’s eyes to the league a kind of sporting kismet, if you like.
But where do we go from here now that the 30-year-old, who should be enjoying the prime of his career, has hung up his massive boots?
Yi Jianlian is the only Chinese player plying his trade in the NBA and, with all due respect, he lacks the star power and charisma of Yao.
NBA stars and wannabe stars will continue to make their sponsored visits to China, but will the country still be all that interested in the league now that its face has disappeared?
Does it really want to watch 40 games on TV played by the mediocre Houston Rockets next season – if there is one?
Will Chinese sponsors continue to endorse a product that has no strong Asian element?
Yao opened the door, but maybe it’s closing again now.
Tym Glaser is a sports copy editor who swears he did dunk the ball once. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: China Daily