Basketball hero Yao must share his wealth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 January, 2003, 12:00am

Yao Ming is the richest and most successful basketball player in Chinese history - but the 226cm Shanghai giant has to share his wealth with his home-town club and the country's basketball association.

Sports industry sources said that of the US$17.8 million (HK$138.4 million) Yao will make under the four-year contract he signed last year with the Houston Rockets, US$8 million will be shared between the Shanghai Sharks, his former club, and the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

They are also entitled to a portion of his advertising revenue, up to a maximum of US$10 million.

Yao is one of a small but growing number of Chinese athletes competing in the rich professional leagues of the West, giving them access to a lucrative world of high wages, television appearances and commercial deals.

There are also three mainlanders playing in the English Premier League, two for Everton, a team sponsored this season by Shenzhen mobile telephone manufacturer Ke Jian.

But Yao is the most famous, playing in the National Basketball Association in the US, with most games screened live on mainland television to an audience of millions.

He is not entitled to all his wages because he is a product of the state system. Spotted at a Shanghai primary school, he was transferred for 30 yuan (HK$28) to the city's sports college, which trained him until he was 14, when he joined the city's youth team and, at 17, the national team.

An employee of Nike, Yao's sponsor, said in most countries the sports company signed a contract with the individual athlete, but in China it signed with the team or association to which they belonged. The athlete is the third or fourth party to the contract.

So when Yao went to Houston, the CBA and the Sharks owned a substantial part of him. A spokesman for the Sharks declined to reveal how much it was receiving.

The CBA confirmed the association and the Sharks were receiving a portion of Yao's income but a spokeswoman refused to divulge details.

'He is the first to go abroad to earn so much money. We have no specific regulations on this. Later, more will go abroad and we will have to draw up regulations to cover this,' she said.

Whether out of patriotism or good business sense, Yao has maintained good relations with his motherland.

When President Jiang Zemin visited Houston in October, Yao joined him and former US president George Bush for a memorable photograph - a contrast in height and girth.

As a polite and well-regarded player in one of America's most loved sports, Yao represents the best kind of advertisement the mainland could have in the US and, as a result, he gets blanket coverage in the Chinese media.