“The NBA is a big family, and I think of all these rookies as my brothers. I still believe I am blue collar among the All-Stars.” - Yao Ming
From day one, Yao Ming had the makings of a basketball superstar in his blood. Born on September 12, 1980, Yao entered the world as the only son to mother Fang Feng Di, and father Yao Zhi Yuan. While growing up as an abnormally tall child in Shanghai, China, Yao was introduced to the sport of basketball at an early age.
His parents, both of whom stood over six feet tall, flourished as successful basketball stars in their own right. Fang Feng Di, who stood at 6'3", played at the center position on China's national women's team, while Yao Zhi Yuan made a mark for himself as a 6'7" sharpshooter while playing for a local team in Shanghai.
Due to his irregular height as a youngster and his parents' history in the sport, it seemed like Yao's destiny was a given. But before the age of 10, Yao displayed very little interest in the game of basketball. Although he towered above all his classmates and friends, he wasn't comfortable playing the sport due to poor physical conditioning and his weak, lanky frame. But with a little bit of patience, a touch of effort and a whole lot of encouragement from his parents, Yao began to develop his skills on the court and discovered a newfound appreciation for the game.
Hoop dreams 篮球之梦
Under the coaching and guidance of his adoring parents, Yao attended Shanghai's provincial sports academy at the age of 12. After hours upon hours of practice, tutoring and dedication, Yao developed his skills at the center position and finally earned himself a spot, playing center for the local Shanghai Youth Team, at the age of 14. His passion for the game was fueled by his determination to replicate the playing style of his idol, 7'3" Arvydas Sabonis, a Soviet star basketball player. Shortly thereafter, Yao discovered the NBA and his desire to one day play at a professional level reached a whole new level.
During the mid-1990s, China's appreciation of basketball began to grow at a rapid pace. Due to the rising popularity of the sport, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) was created, and Yao seized his next golden opportunity. He joined the Shanghai Sharks during the 1997-'98 season and the 17-year-old seven-footer (at least) shone as the team's man in the middle. The league's growing popularity attracted the attention of Nike; the sporting goods company eventually signed a deal as an official sponsor of the Shanghai Sharks. This opened up many doors for Ming.
Nike invited Ming to play at a summer basketball camp in Paris during the summer of 1997. Upon impressing many of his peers at this time, he received an invitation to attend the Nike All-American camp in Indianapolis along with 200 of America's top basketball prospects. It was at this time that Yao Ming was ranked as one of the camp's top players at the center slot.