Yao Ming praises NBA’s popularity in China despite past conflicts

Yao Ming

The former NBA star and current president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Yao Ming has expressed his admiration for the NBA and its influence in China, despite the occasional tensions between the two sides over political and social issues.

Yao Ming

Yao Ming: NBA is “first class” in China

Yao Ming, who retired from the NBA in 2011 after playing eight seasons for the Houston Rockets, told Reuters that the NBA is still “first class” in his home country, where basketball is one of the most popular sports.

“I have to say, the NBA is in the first class… (because) you know the players being exposed in China for so long,” Yao said, when asked about the past issues between China and the NBA. “The players, the teams (are) all still very well welcome in China and (we had) a couple of players with (in) China just this past summer.”

Yao was referring to Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson, who competed with China at the FIBA World Cup, and Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler, who embarked on a tour of the country over the summer.

NBA and China: A history of turbulence

The relationship between the NBA and China has not always been smooth, as the two sides have clashed over various political and social matters over the years.

The most recent controversy erupted in 2019, when then-Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a message on Twitter in support of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The tweet sparked a backlash from Chinese authorities, media and fans, who accused Morey of interfering in China’s internal affairs and violating its sovereignty. The NBA also faced criticism from some U.S. politicians and human rights activists, who accused it of kowtowing to China’s censorship and economic pressure.

The fallout resulted in Chinese broadcasters suspending their coverage of Rockets games and some sponsors cutting ties with the team and the league. The NBA also canceled some events and media sessions during its preseason tour in China that year.

The tension eased somewhat in 2020, when Chinese state television resumed airing some NBA games after a year-long hiatus. However, another incident occurred earlier this year, when former NBA player Dwight Howard appeared in a promotional video for a Taiwanese bubble tea chain, in which he referred to Taiwan as a country.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island that Beijing considers a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary. Howard’s remark triggered another wave of anger from Chinese netizens, who called for a boycott of the NBA and Howard’s team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Howard later apologized for his mistake and said he respected China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Yao Ming: A bridge between NBA and China

Despite these conflicts, Yao Ming has remained a positive force in bridging the gap between the NBA and China. Yao, who was born in Shanghai and became a national hero after leading China to three Olympic appearances, has maintained close ties with both sides since his retirement.

As the president of the CBA since 2017, Yao has overseen the development of Chinese basketball and its cooperation with the NBA. He has also been involved in various charitable and cultural initiatives that promote mutual understanding and respect between the two countries.

Yao said he met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver this week in New York, where he was part of a roughly 30-person Chinese delegation that attended a U.N. meeting on sustainable development. He praised Silver’s leadership and vision for the league, which has seen an unprecedented level of international participation and diversity.

“Everything looks (like it is) running very well (under) his management,” he said of Silver, who took over from David Stern in 2014.

Yao also revealed that he had dinner with his longtime friend Peng Shuai, a former world number one doubles tennis player who disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks last year after accusing a former top Chinese official of sexual assault.

Peng reappeared in late November after international pressure and concern for her safety mounted. She denied that she was coerced or threatened by anyone and said she was fine and resting at home.

Yao said he was glad to see Peng doing well and hoped that she could resume her tennis career soon.

By Kane Wilson

Kane Wilson, founder of this news website, is a seasoned news editor renowned for his analytical skills and meticulous approach to storytelling. His journey in journalism began as a local reporter, and he quickly climbed the ranks due to his talent for unearthing compelling stories. Kane completed his Master’s degree in Media Studies from Northwestern University and spent several years in broadcast journalism prior to co-founding this platform. His dedication to delivering unbiased news and ability to present complex issues in an easily digestible format make him an influential voice in the industry.

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