Yao wows fans in search of Asian role model

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 12:00am

Chinese basketball sensation Yao Ming is providing an Asian role model for Hong Kong fans who previously looked up to Americans like Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan, the Hong Kong Basketball Association said yesterday.

According to Raymond Leung Wai-man, development director of the association, most of its members admire the Houston Rockets' new 2.26m centre.

Mr Leung said Yao had stolen the hearts of many young people who were once fans of established NBA stars such as O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers or Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.

'On an emotional level, about 60 per cent of our members support Yao Ming. We all want him to do well . . . because he is Asian and Chinese,' he said.

'A lot of tall kids think of Yao Ming as their role model. I would say that about 10 per cent of our members aspire to become like him.'

Yao's performance over the weekend in his first game against O'Neal's Lakers earned him worldwide attention and praise.

Gaylord Tsui Ka-nok, sports commentator and presenter of ATV's NBA Basketball, said that the 22-year-old Shanghai native has become the talking point of Hong Kong.

'He has increased public interest in basketball greatly. Even people who are not basketball fans are talking about Yao Ming,' he said. 'I believe his personality and good temperament will take him far.'

Mr Tsui, who had once represented Hong Kong in both basketball and volleyball at the Asian Games, said that a 'Yao Ming craze' will emerge in one or two years as the young star develops his skills.

He said that Yao - who won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month title last month - is currently having to retrain both his offence and defence skills as he adapts to the NBA, the world's premier league. 'Attendance at Rockets games have increased by close to 30 per cent since Yao Ming joined,' he said.

'In China the craze is even greater. The number of basketball games being broadcast has increased six-fold - all of them Rockets games.'

Hong Kong basketball team player Chung Ming-tat said although he was proud that Yao Ming was Chinese, he liked the player because of his talent. 'He is a well-rounded player who has all the skills that a basketball player should have. He is more than just a tall guy.'

Samson Yeung Hing-sum, executive director of Sportlink said Yao Ming was easy to identify with.

Called the 'Little Giant' and the 'Great Wall' by the mainland media, Yao Ming joined the NBA only three months ago. His four-year contract is worth US$17.8 million (HK$138 million).