The 7-foot-6 Yao, who retired from the NBA a year ago after eight seasons with the Houston Rockets, will collaborate with the league to start basketball and social-development programs for Chinese youth. The announcement comes three months after Yao’s foundation began a youth basketball program at 47 schools across Sichuan province.
“The passion for basketball in China has never been stronger and tapping into the NBA’s expertise and the support from Chinese fans will help me carry out my mission of giving back to communities in Shanghai and throughout China,” Yao said in a statement yesterday. “I look forward to working with the NBA to give more youth the opportunity to play basketball at an elite level and help more people in need.”
Yao, a 31-year-old Shanghai native and son of two professional basketball players, was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft. After he came to the U.S., Yao became a “transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said when Yao retired.
The NBA was the first U.S. professional sports league to play in China, with two games between Yao’s Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in 2004. The NBA said two days ago that LeBron James and the Miami Heat will play two exhibitions in China against the Los Angeles Clippers in October.
It marks the first time that a reigning NBA champion will participate in the six-year history of the NBA China Games.
The NBA’s partnership with Yao is an extension of the league’s commitment to basketball development in China, the most populous country in the world.
“Yao is in a truly unique position to help grow the game of basketball in China because he has a first-hand understanding of China’s sports system and the NBA,” said David Shoemaker, NBA China’s chief executive.
The NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) are in the third year of a program that has trained more than 200 coaches. The NBA opened a training center in China in 2011 for elite players ages 12-17 called the CBA Dongguan Basketball School, the first such league-operated facility in the world.
Yao officially retired from the NBA last year after foot and ankle fractures limited him to five games over the previous two seasons. In addition to his foundation, Yao works with the Shanghai Sharks, the team he led to a CBA title in 2002 and bought in 2009.
“The game of basketball has been so good to me and while I have left the court I will never leave the game,” Yao said. “I look forward to working with the NBA to give more youth the opportunity to play basketball at an elite level and help more people in need. I would love to see the next generation of Chinese players surpass the accomplishments of my generation.”
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