Yao Ming poses with the author (third from right) along with NBA.com Philippines writers
As much as I have had the pleasure of meeting quite a number of larger than life personalities, I could not help but stand in awe as the Moving Great Wall lumbered into the grand ballroom of the Solaire Resort and Casino for the early morning presser to kickoff their whirlwind tour. Yao Ming, along with his Shanghai Sharks, are in town for two exhibition games with the Gilas Pilipinas national team and a star-studded selection from the Philippine Basketball Association as part of their Friendship Games to be held on May 6 and 7 at the Mall of Asia Arena and Araneta Coliseum, respectively.
Reserved and looking every bit the dignified team owner that he is right now, the dress shirt has truly replaced the jersey. The playful aura that he exuded in pre game warm-ups during his heyday was a no-show. Now, he had the look and demeanor of a corporate, uhm, giant. He acquired the then cash-strapped Sharks back in 2009 on what many thought was a sentimental purchase, being that he was their star center for five years during his CBA days. He has steadily guided this team to respectability and to becoming a real force to be reckoned with, having two Chinese National team members in its roster. To make the sharks sizzle, a hibachi was brought in, NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas.
While on the subject of hiring former NBA talent, I asked Yao if there was a possibility of signing beleaguered former NBA great Allen Iverson to a contract. He diplomatically beat around the bush with a generic middle of the road answer, pun intended. Being one not to let something like that slide, I crash the board and go for a put back, “Is that a yes or a no?” “I’m open minded” was his sheepish reply, complimented by a semi-contorted grin that almost seemed like it was headed for his iconic “B*TCH PLEASE” internet meme.
Despite his apprehension on being a straight shooter on the previous topic, he did not mince words in sharing his two yuans on how the crumbling Laker dynasty should be handled in the offseason. “That team is in a very tough spot right now. With the loss of Jerry Buss, they have to rebuild not only on the court but off the court as well.” He also was candid enough to admit that if he was granted one wish by the basketball genie, he would not hesitate to slap a dorsal fin on LeBron James.
Fishing for some juicy morsels from his players on how it feels to have a future NBA Hall of Famer as a boss, nothing but high regard and respect was the general vibe in the shark tank. Starting center Zhang ZhaoXu snaps “He is a true inspiration, he always shares his knowledge and experience about the being a player and shows genuine support by being present in all of our games.”
Yao sees a lot of promise in Philippine basketball that part of his tight schedule is a skills clinic with underprivileged youth to be held at the Philsports Arena and a visit to the Coconut Palace for a face to waist…err sorry… face to face courtesy call with Vice President Jejomar Binay.