Chinese center Yao Ming was picked up by the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the draft in New York Wednesday evening, becoming the first international to be honored with the overall first-place pick this year.
At the New York Theatre in the Madison Square Garden, NBA Commissioner David Stern told Xinhua that "it's a great and marvelous moment for the Rockets, for the NBA and for the whole world, and especially for China. Yao Ming is a skilled player, and he becomes the first international to be picked up with the overall first pick, but he will not be the last Chinese player to join in the NBA. "The earlier highest pick for an international was third place when Pau Gasol of Spain was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2001.
The 2.25-meter Chinese, who will have a guaranteed three-year contract worth of US$10.40 million, thus will join ranks in the NBA with his Chinese national teammates Wang Zhizhi of the Dallas Mavericks and Mengke Bateer of the Denver Nuggets, members of the Walking Great Wall.
"It's a very excited moment for us to draft Yao Ming with the overall first pick," said Carroll Dawson, general manager of the Houston Rockets, "We made the decision because of his size, because of his athletic abilities, and because of his understanding of the game. With his size of 7-5, he has the great skills of passing and scoring. "When Stern made the official announcement that Chinese Yao Ming was drafted by the Rockets with the overall first pick, the American fans at the theatre were caught off a little bit as they were expecting Jay Williams to be in the spotlight.
However, more and more NBA officials recognize the fact that the influx of international players has made the NBA games more exciting and competitive in the world as 52 foreigners played in the 2002 season, attracting fans from 210 countries and regions globally.
"Yao Ming will face enormous expectations in the NBA, and it will be tough for the kid," said NBA retired veteran Charles Barkley, member of the NBA Greatest 50, "I have the best wishes for him as he has overcome so much obstacles for the moment." "The language barrier will be the first challenge for Yao," said NBA TV commentator Kenny Smith, "The sooner he overcomes the barrier, the better he will be in the NBA." Although Yao Ming has made his impact in the basketball world after the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, "he still has to show his ability to adapt to the quicker pace and more competitive NBA style. Whether he can achieve success will depends on whether he can stay out of foul trouble and whether he can defend (his opponents) in the NBA," said another veteran NBA commentator Hube Brown.
Yao, who led his Shanghai Sharks for their first title in the Chinese Basketball League this year, was delayed for two years from joining in the NBA and was only cleared of all restrictions 15 hours before the draft by all parties concerned.
As a key member for the Chinese national team, Yao Ming is being officially requested by the Chinese Basketball Administration Center to represent China in future international competitions, which were honored in written form eventually by the Houston Rockets.
"I received a letter early this morning from CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) chief executive Xin Lancheng confirming that all of his concerns had been addressed," said Michael Goldberg, general counsel of the Rockets.
"The fact that we arrived at such a mutually beneficial understanding in such a short period of time illustrates the spirit of cooperation and trust that existed throughout these discussions. There are many rounds of congratulations exchanged this morning with chief executive Xin, Yao Ming's representatives and officials from the Shanghai Sharks," he said.
"The assurance we gave each other was that it's a win-win situation. They know with training in the US, Yao Ming will become a much better player and help their national team," said Goldberg, "They want what is necessary for the Rockets to win championships here and for China to win championships there." Tipped as the best cager in China against his future NBA compatriots Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer, Yao can still have some matchup problems going against more muscular frontcourt types in NBA. However, his height and perimeter abilities will give opponents headaches.
"I think he will be a force eventually, but he will take time to develop," said Indian Pacers president Donnie Walsh, "He does remind me of (longtime Pacers center) Rik Smits (of the Netherlands). He is bigger and probably more skilled than Rik was when he came into the league." "The things that impress you are that he has very solid post moves and a soft touch around the basket," said Miami Heat president and general manager of basketball operations Randy Pfund.
The NBA drafted was televised by the Turner Network Television (TNT) nationwide in the United States. As Yao Ming stays in Beijing at the moment, TNT sent its TV crew two weeks ago to China and sent back live feedback after Yao was drafted by the Rockets with the first overall pick.
"It's a great moment for me to realize my dream. To join in the NBA, I'm sure that my overall skills will be improved, and it will be great for both the Rockets and for the Chinese national team. I'm expecting the challenges ahead and I'm confident of my skills." Tay Williams was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the second overall pick, and Mike Dunlevey landed in third place for the Golden State Warriors.
(eastday.com June 27, 2002)