WASHINGTON – Though regretting Yao Ming’s decision to retire, Chinese fans across America are adamant they will continue their support for the all-star center and support his charity foundation and Yao Restaurant in Houston.
Yao, 30, spent nine years playing for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association. The Shanghai-born center is one of China’s best-known athletes and his arrival in the NBA attracted millions of Chinese fans to the game.
“We will still support Yao’s charity activities, organize our fans to watch the Rockets’ games and go to Yao Restaurant,” Yao Ming Fan Club president Peter Huang told China Daily.
The Houston-based fan club was set up in 2002 after Yao was selected by the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the draft. Over the past nine years, the club organized thousands of local Chinese, most of whom had never been to a basketball game, to cheer for the Chinese star player.
Huang is not worried about the possible declining number of fans with Yao’s departure. He said Yao will keep his home in Houston and his two family-run restaurants there.
“Yao is bonded to the city,” he said. “He has got friends and family here. His daughter is a Houstonian.”
In addition, the Chinese community leader has found out that sports is a great way for Chinese-Americans to fit into the mainstream culture.
“The Chinese community can raise its public profile through continuous support for the Rockets – our home team,” Huang said.
The fans have also come up with the idea of asking the Rockets to build a bronze statue of Yao.
Inspired by a monument to retired NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon in front of the main entrance to the Toyota Center, home arena of the Rockets, Yao’s fans will suggest the Rockets give the same treatment to the Chinese player.
“We will collect signatures among Chinese fans and write a petition letter to the Rockets,” Huang said. “Probably we will do fundraising events for a Yao statue.”
Haipei Shue, president of National Council of Chinese Americans (NCCA), said Yao can still play a unique role as a cultural ambassador for China, thanks to his personality and understanding of the two cultures.
“Chinese-Americans, even the Chinese across the globe, are proud to have Yao to represent Chinese culture and image,” Shue told China Daily.
In 2005, three years after Yao arrived in the country, Shue helped arrange an interview for a local media outlet with the player. And he was deeply impressed by Yao’s English language skills and humor.
“I was supposed to be his interpreter, but during the 30-minute interview in English, I only helped him translate one sentence,” he said.
Some Chinese fans in the US are upset about Yao’s retirement and say they will never support the Rockets, nor watch the game again.
“I have followed every game of the Rockets since Yao joined the team,” Liu Xiaojing, 32, an IT engineer in Virginia, told China Daily.
“Without Yao, the Rockets suck.”
The player’s impact on Houston, the fourth largest city in the US, was huge. “We are saddened by the announcement of Yao Ming’s retirement, but thankful for the contributions he has made to our city and the Rockets organization,” said Mayor Annise Parker.
“He was a powerhouse of strength and stature that has been a pure delight to watch on the court. He also has a big heart that has helped many charities in Houston and around the world. We know China is his home, but he is Houston’s adopted son. We send thanks to China for sharing a true sports legend with us,” Parker said.
David Lariviere contributing from New York.
Source: China Daily