China’s undisputed basketball icon, Yao Ming, 29, was born in Shanghai. Not particularly drawn to athletics, Yao spent most of his childhood reading books instead of playing basketball. But when he was nine, the country’s sports officials came calling, recruiting the unusually tall boy to play. Yao started his basketball career playing for the Shanghai Sharks, the Chinese Basketball Association team in his home city. He gained international fame with the Houston Rockets after joining them in 2002. But he didn’t forget the Sharks. Last July, Yao announced that he was going to buy the team, which has seen a major decline in its fortunes since his departure.
What is he famous for?
A seven-time NBA All-Star and pillar of the Chinese national team, Yao can be seen on everything in China from Nike billboards to Visa ads. He also carried the national flag into the Olympic stadium and led the Chinese team to the quarterfinals. But lately the basketball star has been on the bench because of injury. In July, he sustained a stress fracture to his left foot that means he is sitting out this NBA season.
Why is he in the news?
Yao, whose first child is due in July, recently became the topic of an internet controversy after news that his basketballer wife Ye Li travelled to the US. That quickly prompted speculation among his fans that the baby girl could be born an American citizen (Chinese law does not recognise dual citizenship). Yao’s fans – who make some hefty genetic assumptions – believe this act could deny China’s national team a future basketball star. Ergo, Yao is betraying his country.
Patriotic fans don’t think they’re overreacting – as a commentator for NetEase Sport puts it, “Yao Ming’s kid is public property.”
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