Yao Ming (姚明; born September 12, 1980) is a Chinese retired professional basketball player who played for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He was selected to start for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star Game eight times, and was named to the All-NBA Team five times. At the time of his final season, he was the tallest active player in the NBA, at 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in). He is the only player outside of the United States to lead the NBA in All-Star voting.

Yao, who was born in Shanghai, China, started playing for the Shanghai Sharks as a teenager, and played on their senior team for five years in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), winning a championship in his final year. After negotiating with the CBA and the Sharks to secure his release, Yao was selected by the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. He reached the NBA Playoffs four times, and the Rockets won a first-round series in the 2009 postseason, their first playoff series victory since 1997. In July 2011, Yao announced his retirement from professional basketball because of a series of foot and ankle injuries which forced him to miss 250 games in his last six seasons. In eight seasons with the Rockets, Yao ranks sixth among franchise leaders in total points and total rebounds, and second in total blocks.

Yao is one of China’s best-known athletes, with sponsorships with several major companies. His rookie year in the NBA was the subject of a documentary film, The Year of the Yao, and he co-wrote, along with NBA analyst Ric Bucher, an autobiography titled Yao: A Life in Two Worlds.

In April 2016, Yao was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson.

Personal life

Yao met Chinese female basketball player Ye Li when he was 17 years old. Ye was not fond of Yao at first, but finally accepted him after he gave her the team pins he had collected during the 2000 Summer Olympics. She is the only woman he has ever dated. Their relationship became public when they appeared together during the 2004 Olympics closing ceremony. On August 6, 2007, Yao and Ye married in a ceremony attended by close friends and family and closed to the media. On May 21, 2010, the couple’s daughter Yao Qinlei (whose English name is Amy) was born in Houston, Texas.

In 2004, Yao co-wrote an autobiography with ESPN sportswriter Ric Bucher, entitled Yao: A Life in Two Worlds. In the same year, he was also the subject of a documentary film, The Year of the Yao, which focuses on his NBA rookie year. The film is narrated by his friend and former interpreter, Colin Pine, who stayed with Yao during Yao’s rookie year, and interpreted for him for three years. In 2005, former Newsweek writer Brook Larmer published a book entitled Operation Yao Ming, in which he said that Yao’s parents were convinced to marry each other so that they would produce a dominant athlete, and that during Yao’s childhood, he was given special treatment to help him become a great basketball player. In a 2015 post on the website Reddit.com, Ming stated that this was not true and that he started playing basketball for fun at age 9. In 2009, Yao provided the voice for a character of a Chinese animated film The Magic Aster, released on June 19.

Yao enrolled at the Antai College of Economics & Management of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2011. He is taking a tailored degree program with mostly one-on-one lectures to avoid being a distraction on campus.

Public life

Yao is one of China’s most recognizable athletes, along with Liu Xiang. As of 2009, he had led Forbes’ Chinese celebrities list in income and popularity for six straight years, earning US$51 million (CN¥357 million) in 2008. A major part of his income comes from his sponsorship deals, as he is under contract with several major companies to endorse their products. He was signed by Nike until the end of his rookie season. When Nike decided not to renew his contract, he signed with Reebok. He also had a deal with Pepsi, and he successfully sued Coca-Cola in 2003 when they used his image on their bottles while promoting the national team. He eventually signed with Coca-Cola for the 2008 Olympics. His other deals include partnerships with Visa, Apple, Garmin, and McDonald’s.

Yao has also participated in many charity events during his career, including the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program. In the NBA’s offseason in 2003, Yao hosted a telethon, which raised 300,000 U.S. dollars to help stop the spread of SARS. In September 2007, he held an auction that raised 965,000 U.S. dollars (6.75 million yuan), and competed in a charity basketball match to raise money for underprivileged children in China. He was joined by fellow NBA stars Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, and Baron Davis, and movie star Jackie Chan. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Yao donated $2 million to relief work, and created a foundation to help rebuild schools destroyed in the earthquake.

Yao has also been a dedicated supporter of Special Olympics. He serves as Global Ambassador and member of the International Board of Directors.

On July 16, 2009, Yao bought his former club team, the Shanghai Sharks, which were on the verge of not being able to play the next season of the Chinese Basketball Association because of financial troubles.

In August 2012, Yao started filming a documentary about the northern white rhinoceros. He is also an ambassador for elephant conservation. Yao has filmed a number of public service announcements for elephant and rhino conservation for the “Say No” Campaign with partners African Wildlife Foundation and WildAid.

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