Present Olympics Athletes >> Yao Ming
- Date of birth
Shangai Sharks (1997-2002), Houston Rockets (USA/since 2002)
- Basketball: 8th (2004)
Asian Championships (4 medals - 4 gold)
- Basketball: 1st (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005)
- 4 All-Star Game selections (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)
The Ming Dynasty
China's leading athlete the giant 2.26 metre tall Yao Ming broke into basketball's showpiece league the NBA to become an international megastar who earns untold dollars in the marketing arena.
He was his nation's flag bearer at the last Games and the emblematic athlete will now face the mouthwatering challenge of leading China, under intense scrutiny, to an unprecedented Olympic medal when the Games take place in Beijing in 2008.
It would be a significant achievement for the basketball mad nation, who recently finished way down the rankings at the 2006 world championships in Japan, where however Yao was the tournament's top scorer with an average of 25.3 points per game.
Born in 1980, he stands at a colossal 2.26 metres and enjoys such remarkable co-ordination he had US scouts scrambling for his signature following an impressive performance at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
In the 2002 draft he was picked first, something a foreigner had never experienced, and it was the Houston Rockets who were the lucky team to secure his services.
The Texan outfit had to haggle hard for his release from the Shanghai Sharks with the Chinese authorities, who gained guarantees of his release for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Yao missed out on the "rookie of the year" award largely on account of the fact the Rockets didn't make the play-offs, but he was picked for the All-Star team as first choice center for the Western Conference league ahead of Shaquille O'Neal.
Though most would agree that O'Neal is still Yao's superior, the internet votes from China for the All-star line-ups assured Asian fans of their hero's presence in the starting line-up in what is one of the showpiece events of the NBA season.
Yao had played in the all star team in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 and was reputed to be playing his best ever basketball when he broke a shin in December 2006 and was forced onto the sidelines until March.
US businesses have not been slow to catch on to Yao's massive marketing potential as a hook into Asian sales of their products.
The NBA audiences in China have increased because of him and the Rockets too enjoy a sizeable Asian following these days. Add to this Yao's polite, gentle and endearing personal manners, in contrast to some of his spoilt counterparts, he enjoys a widespread squeaky clean popularity.
In his first year in the US he is reported to have earned contracts upward of 10 million dollars for lending his name and frame to products ranging from milk and computors to footwear.
He was one of the star attractions at the Olympic basketball tournament in Athens and even threatened not to shave for six months if China didn't reach the quarter-finals.
He nearly lost his bet as China scraped into the last eight but were well beaten by Lithuania 95-75.
Perhaps the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing will provide better luck.
Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.