|Thursday, August 22
U.S. team eager to test Yao's toughness
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Yao Ming was asked if he expects the U.S. team to test his toughness and manhood.
"That's their business," he replied.
It will be his business, too, tonight when Yao plays his first game in the United States, an exhibition between China and the U.S. national team that begins at 10 p.m. ET. The World Championships begin Aug. 29 in Indianapolis.
The American players are as curious as everyone else to find out more about the 7-foot-5 mystery man from China who was the No. 1 pick overall by the Houston Rockets in the NBA draft last June.
When they finally do line up against him, the Americans don't plan to take it easy on Yao. Far from it, in fact.
"We're going to beat him up," Ben Wallace said. "We're going to beat him up pretty bad. Welcome to the league, welcome to our country. This is our playground. This is how we play."
To say Yao resembles a 7-foot-5 target would be understating the situation.
Everyone on the U.S. team has heard a sketchy scouting report or two, with the common denominator being that Yao is not that strong in his upper body. All of the U.S. team's big men -- Wallace, Antonio Davis, Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand and Raef LaFrentz -- are eager to judge his sturdiness for themselves.
Yao traveled to Oakland with his team Wednesday morning and practiced for more than an hour late in the afternoon.
Yao said what has struck him so far about the United States was how hot it was -- quite a perplexing answer given the fact that the temperature was well below 70 degrees Wednesday in the Bay Area. Wait until he gets a taste of Houston's heat and humidity.
Yao also said he had not eaten Chinese food during the three days his team trained in Denver, and he said -- in English -- that steak is his favorite American food.
Yao also said "maybe it's fate" that he will eventually be playing in the same NBA city where Hakeem Olajuwon won two titles, and again he mentioned "car" as the one item he would most like to purchase.
Yao's translator ended the interview just as Yao was asked exactly which kind of car he would like to buy. That answer -- along with Yao's fate at the hands of the American centers -- will have to wait at least another day.
The U.S. team went through its sixth day of practice Wednesday, with the pace picking up to the point where several players hit the deck hard either from taking charges or battling under the boards. While other teams competing in next week's World Championships have already played several exhibitions, this will be the first for the Americans.
The U.S. big men play a physical brand of ball that will seem foreign to many of the Chinese. For Yao, it will be his first competition against a team of American players since China lost to the United States by 47 points at the 2000 Olympics.
Yao was plagued by foul trouble, getting whistled for his fifth and final personal just 1:10 into the second half.
At the time, Yao was a 19-year-old getting his first taste of the toughest competition international basketball has to offer. Now, two years later, he is the object of everyone's curiosity as he is about to embark on his NBA career.
"We know around the league what the hype is all about. The hype, you know, they're trying to sell tickets," Wallace said. "It's going to be a good challenge for him, and I'm pretty sure everybody in the league is going to step up and make him work for everything he gets. Nothing comes free in this league."