Yao Ming Retires as a Symbol

Nine years ago, Yao Ming entered the NBA as a promising young man, who was seen as an all-star player that had the potential to take a championship like the Rocket’s retired player Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon. But now, due to his fragile ankle, Yao has to say goodbye to the NBA. His retirement is big news around the world and has left his legions of fans downhearted. But to me, as a fan of the game, though his retirement is sad, it is appropriate for him to begin his new life.

He’s spent his life living up to what others wanted him to be. Growing up, he was the Great Athletic Hope of China. After he entered NBA, he was a Great Ambassador for the game and the Great Diplomat for China. And now, at the end of his playing career, he is the Great Experiment.

Once upon a time, Nowitzki was a symbol of something else. Now, he is an icon, authentic, unique and not subject to any comparison. It’s a process that happens with many great players over time. The sad truth is that Yao, due to his fragile ankle, will not have the chance to go from “symbol” to “concept” as a basketball player.

As a symbol, Yao was willing to work hard to be a pro, but there’s certainly a feeling of relief washing over him knowing that he doesn’t have to carry such a heavy burden anymore. He specified it one day, “I’m going to still try hard to get back, but I know if one day is the day, then that’s the day. It’s just a matter of time.” Now, that day has arrived, Yao is probably happier about it than we are.

On the court, he was one of the most iconic figures in the sport. Off the court, he still carries the heavy burden of his country’s expectations.

Now he can lead a normal life, like normal people, he now has time to play with his little girl.

But to many people, Yao Ming still represents a lot. After the announcement of his retirement, many people started wandering about what Yao Ming will do in the future. An opinion poll was posted on Sina Weibo, one of the largest twitter-like communities in China, and more than 4,000 people voted. The result showed that nearly 50 percent thought that he would become a businessman, running a basketball team like Michael Jordan did when he retired. The second largest group of people held that he would be a coach of a basketball team. Still, there are many others think that he will be content with being a good father.

We’ll soon know the answer ─Yao has scheduled a July 20 press conference in Shanghai to reveal his future plans. Whatever he does in the future, he will still attract people’s attention, because he is still a symbol. He retires as an ambassador of the game and a cultural figure greater than most of his peers. But sooner or later, when he gradually change his role, people will accept the real Yao Ming, a more authentic and unique Yao Ming.

Peng Bo is now an editor and author of m4.cn. Write to him at pb.bloomberg@gmail.com.

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