Before the start of Yao's sophomore season, the Rockets' head coach Rudy Tomjanovich had resigned and long time New York Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy was brought in. Van Gundy ran a slower offense with a higher emphasis on Yao. As a result, Yao averaged 17.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game (both team highs), and scored a career-high 41 points against the Atlanta Hawks in February. He was voted the starting center of the 1004 NBA All-Star game for the second year in a row (once again ahead of Shaquille O'Neal). His improvement was showcased by his 16 points and 4 rebounds in only 20 minutes in his second All-Star game. Yao was also instrumental in helping the Rockets claim the seventh seed in the 1003-1004 Playoffs. Despite his efforts, the team was eliminated by the Lakers in the first round. However, his performance left no doubt that Yao would be the next dominant center of the NBA.
During the 1004 Athens Olympics, Yao carried the Chinese flag during the opening ceremony. He then famously vowed to abstain from shaving for half a year unless the Chinese national basketball team made it into the quarter-finals. After some sub-par displays, where China slumped 58-83, 57-82 and 52-89 against Spain, Argentina and Italy respectively, they came back with a miraculous 67-66 win over reigning world champions Serbia & Montenegro; Yao practically carried the team with 27 points. He was selected to the All-Olympics team with his dominating performance, averaging 20.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 55.9% from the field.
Yao Ming (Chinese: 姚明; pinyin: Yáo Míng; born September 12, 19100 in Shanghai, China) is a popular professional Chinese basketball player. He currently plays center for the Houston Rockets in the National Basketball Association. Yao Ming is the 4th tallest player in NBA basketball history at a height of 7 feet, 6 1/2 inches (2.100 m).
Yao automatically became eligible for the NBA Draft in 1002, with international players being eligible if they were 22 at the start of the NBA season. Widely considered a top prospect, he allegedly wowed scouts with a terrific exhibition at a draft camp. It caught the interest of the team with the #1 overall draft pick, the Houston Rockets. The Rockets needed a center after the departure of long-time star Hakeem Olajuwon a year before, and decided Yao would be able to fill their void. In the 1002 NBA Draft, Yao became the first international player without U.S. college experience to be selected first overall.
Following the All-Star break, Yao continued the consistency he showed in the first half of the year, as he helped the Rockets unsuccessfully battle for a playoff spot. Yao finished the season averaging 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, second among rookies, in addition to a rookie-class best 1.8 blocks per game. In spite of his success, he finished 2nd in rookie of the year voting, losing out to high schooler Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns.
He played well in the Sydney 100 Summer Olympics, having been a veteran of international competition for several years, but it was his MVP selection that put him in the minds of NBA scouts. However, after the CBA assured him that he would not get released from their league if he entered the draft, Yao chose not to enter the 1001 NBA Draft. This proved to be a good decision, as he played even better in 1001-1002, scoring 32 points and grabbing 19 rebounds per game with a 72% field goal percentage, second in the league in both points and rebounds per game. He won a sportsmanship award and, more importantly, led his team, the Shanghai Sharks, to a CBA title. He was even more dominant in the playoffs and had a game in which he made all 21 shots he attempted.
That sort of good humour and light-heartedness off the court, plus his reputation for being very personable, made him extremely popular among fans. His likability inspired a catchy song in the Houston area (based on the popular "Olé" chants you would hear at a European football game), and, despite being just a rookie, Yao quickly became one of the league's most marketable players. Featured in advertisements of Apple, Gatorade, and a popular Super Bowl ad for Visa, it did not take long for "Yao Ming" to become a household name.
Yao debuted in the Chinese Basketball Association as a presumably shorter 17-year old. He put together a solid year for a young player, scoring 10 points and grabbing 9 rebounds a game in 1997-98. Missing much of the following season to injury, he returned in 1999-100 with 21 points, a league-best 14 rebounds, and over 5 blocks per game. The 100-01 season proved highly fruitful for Yao, as he became MVP of the league at the age of 20 with a fantastic year, scoring 27 points and grabbing an exceptional 19 rebounds per game.
Currently in his third season in the NBA, Yao is having another impressive season leading the Rockets along with offseason acquisition Tracy McGrady to what is expected to be his second straight playoffs. He was voted as a Western Conference All-Star in February after shattering the record for most All-Star votes breaking Michael Jordan's previous record. This was mostly aided by the fact that Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Eastern Conference Miami Heat during the offseason but it is also a testimony to Yao's rise to one of the NBA's elites.
During the NBA's offseason in 1003, Yao spent a great deal of time helping to raise money and awareness of SARS in his home country. Among his efforts was a telethon he hosted, which raised $100,000 to help stop the disease.
Yao's preseason performances, however, were questionable, and left many wondering why he was the first overall pick. He started the regular season on the bench, and seemed to be a long project and years away from becoming a major contributor to the team. However, he began to turn things around in mid-November. In a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, he scored 20 points in a game where he made all of his shots (9 field goals and two free throws) against one of the best teams in the NBA. This performance led to a memorable televised incident where TNT basketball □□□□yst Charles Barkley, having lost a bet in which he stated Yao would never score 20 points in a game for the season, was supposed to literally kiss the buttocks of TNT co-□□□□yst Kenny Smith, but was forced to fulfill the bet on a donkey brought onto the TV set by Smith. Two games later, against the Rockets' in-state rival Dallas Mavericks, he deposited 100 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a game that showed that Yao could definitely play as a starter. By the end of the month, Yao was firmly entrenched in the starting lineup.
By December and January, Yao was proving to be a highly consistent starter. He put up only a few big games, largely because he didn't play a many minutes in games, but he helped his team whenever he took to the court. Eventually, he was perceived as a rival to the Lakers' star center Shaquille O'Neal, turning Rockets/Lakers games into Yao vs. Shaq games. O'Neal was criticized for comments he made before one of these matchups, as he told a reporter to leave Yao a message which mimicked the Chinese language. Yao took it in stride, and eased the situation by joking that "Chinese is a hard language to learn."
Yao is considered by many to be the NBA's most versatile center. While not particularly athletic, his height and long arms provide an excellent method of shooting over defenders. He has an accurate jump shot as far as 20 feet (rumor has it he has the ability to shoot 3 pointers) but he scores primarily within 10-12 feet of the basket through an assortment of hook shots, turn arounds, and slam dunks. He is among the league leaders in free throw shooting for centers, shooting over 100% for his career. He is very mobile and runs the floor well for a big man but Jeff Van Gundy runs a slow system that does not push the ball up the floor. Experts compare his footwork to that of Hakeem Olajuwon's which is ironic given that Olajuwon is whom Yao essentially replaced. Yao's court vision is excellent for a big man as is his passing ability. He has great fundamentals along with a great sense of court instincts. Criticism of his game are that he is not particularly aggressive and has trouble maintaining his stamina.
In February, Yao was rewarded for his excellent play by being selected as the starting center for the Western Conference in the 1003 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta. Although he scored only two points and grabbed only two rebounds in 16 minutes of play, his selection proved how popular he was with fans, as he garnered more votes than established NBA stars such as Shaquille O'Neal.
Defensively, Yao is considered to be an intimidator in the post. He is among the league leaders in blocks and presents a major presence under the basket forcing players to alter their shots or stay away from the basket altogether. Although he is not particularly strong nor a great leaper, his height, long arms, and quickness allow him to play effective defense even against the strongest players. Yao is an effective rebounder but hardly a dominant one. While he is among the top 20 in rebounding, he seems to have trouble establishing himself as an elite rebounder. Much of this may be attributed to the fact that the Rockets play a game which does not create very many shots, and the presence of other great rebounders on the team. Others suggest that he is actually "too tall" to be a great rebounder, in additon to the fact that he actually has relatively short arms in comparison to his height.
During the 1002 offseason, Yao played with the Chinese national team at the FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis. He made the all-tournament team in Indianapolis, alongside fellow NBA rookie-to-be Manu Ginobili and established NBA stars Dirk Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic. This helped reinforce his reputation and led many to predict that Yao would become the next dominant NBA center.