Yao Ming eager to mix it up in NBA

Saturday, April 27, 2002

SHANGHAI, China -- He's 7-foot-5, blocks shots as agilely as he dunks and tops every talent scout's wish list.

But Chinese star center Yao Ming said Friday he's faced a surprisingly difficult road to the NBA -- and new obstacles keep appearing.

While he cooled his heels back home, other less sought-after Chinese players got there ahead of him.

"Yeah, I was a bit disappointed. All of us wanted to be first in the NBA, of course. But what could I do?" Yao said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The soft-spoken but articulate 22-year-old said he's been studying English for two years in anticipation of going to the NBA. His favorite movie is American -- "Star Wars" -- but he dislikes rap music because it's "too noisy."

Yao's wanted to play in the NBA since he saw his first televised game eight years ago.

"The game looked more exciting" than in China. "I want to play in the most exciting games," he said.

His way finally appeared cleared last week, when his team, the Shanghai Sharks, reversed two years of refusals and said he could enter the NBA draft -- and possibly be the No. 1 pick.

But a few days later, state media said China's professional basketball league had issued complicated new procedures for players to get permission to go overseas.

"People tell me the timing is just a coincidence. I don't think the regulations are aimed at me. But they do create obstacles," Yao said.

Rare qualities

Yao can shoot, pass, block and hustle down court -- rare agility for a player so tall. He is widely viewed as more talented than the NBA's two other Chinese players -- Dallas Mavericks forward Wang Zhizhi and Denver Nuggets center Menk Bateer.

"There aren't many 7-foot-plus players out there, and fewer still with the talent and agility of Yao Ming," said Tony Barone, the Memphis Grizzlies' personnel director.

Barone was in Shanghai last month, one of more than a dozen NBA officials who made the long journey this season to see Yao play.

The Sharks plan to ask the NBA team that drafts Yao to send players to Shanghai twice a year to help train their Chinese counterparts, said Li Yaoming, the team's deputy executive manager.

Li said the U.S. team will also be asked to send one of their top 12 players to the Sharks as a replacement for Yao, and to donate money to a fund to help Chinese basketball.

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