Yao-za! What a meal!
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

    "Proper credit is also due to the members of media. The game of cat 'n mouse is stressful, but your resourcefulness and work ethic are something I think we players should emulate. Journalism is a profession I respect a great deal. Just give me some time to warm up. I look forward to taking each and every one of you to dinner sometime in the future. But the check is on you if your reporting makes me look bad."
    --from Yao Ming's official statement at his workout Wednesday in Chicago

Our dinner with Yao Ming

PAGE 2: Nice to meet you, Yao man. And I'm impressed by your selection in restaurants. Charlie Trotter's. Very nice. I was afraid I'd be trying to eat rice with chop sticks all night.

TRANSLATOR: (The ESPN.com representative says he is honored to meet with the great Yao Ming and thanks him for your gracious dinner invitation.)

MING: (What is this dot.com nonsense? I was told this was to be with someone from the TV side, or at the very least, the magazine. Besides, my Nike rep merely inserted that line about taking a reporter to dinner as a joke. I had no intention of ever taking any reporter to dinner and am only reluctantly doing this under orders from David Stern, Bill Knight and the Chinese Army.

(And where is Dick Vitale?)

TRANSLATOR: Yao Ming most humbly thanks you for providing the opportunity to dine with an esteemed member of the widely admired and respected American media.

WAITER: Hello, my name is Erik, and I'll be your server. Our specials tonight include a nice risotto with arugola and basil, plus a Chilean sea bass in a wild fennel sauce and fresh spinach greens in a light raspberry balsamic vinegar sauce. But first, could I start you three off with a drink?

PAGE 2: Hmmmm, that sounds good. How about a nice glass of Scotch? And since Ming is paying for it, The Macallan. Eighteen-year. And make it a double. What will you have, big man?

TRANSLATOR: (He wishes to know if you will share a drink with him.)

MING: (At these prices? Are you kidding?)

Yao Ming
For Yao Ming, sucking up to the American media is as easy as a slam dunk.
TRANSLATOR: Yao Ming respectfully declines. He is in training to make the very best possible impression in the NBA and therefore is abstaining from alcoholic beverages.

PAGE 2: So, Mingie, what are you looking forward to most about playing in the NBA? The competition? The money? The Laker Girls?

TRANSLATOR: (He wishes to know how difficult it is for you to leave your native land in your quest to show that our system is the equal of the greedy capitalists.)

MING: (The United States and China are both great countries yet too often in the past we have misunderstood each other due to the differences in culture, language and government. I realize that I am but an athlete, but I would like to serve as a bridge between our two lands, using basketball as a conduit for understanding, much as the late American president Richard Nixon used ping-pong diplomacy to open relations between the two countries in the early '70s. Sports is truly the universal language that binds us together, allowing us to put aside our differences, meet on a mutual court and see ourselves for what we all are: human beings with the same hopes and dreams for freedom and peace.

(But really, if I can get a $100 million contract and a recording deal like Shaq, I'll be happy.)

TRANSLATOR: Yao Ming looks forward to playing against Michael Jordan.

WAITER: So gentlemen, have you made up your minds?

PAGE 2: Just about. What is the market price for the lobster? No -- what am I thinking? This is on Ming's tab. Make it the surf and turf, lobster and filet mignon. With the crab cake appetizer and the turtle soup. And I'll have the Death by Chocolate soufflé for dessert. And could you get me another glass of Scotch? A double.

How about you, Emperor Ming? What are you having?

TRANSLATOR: (He wishes to know --)

MING: (I heard him, I heard him. I understand some English, you know.)

Lamb loin.

WAITER: Very good, sir.

Yao Ming
Yao hopes to follow the example of Richard Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy.
PAGE 2: I gotta say, Ming-ster, you're a breath of fresh air for the NBA. I mean, I'm already thinking of the lines I can write. Yao-za! Emperor Ming! Ming Dynasty! Gang of One! Chairman Yao's Little Red Sky Hook! And tell me the truth, would you consider it in bad taste to write, "The problem with Ming Yao is that if he scores 30 with 15 boards, an hour later he wants another double-double"? Or "Confucious say, 'Go to the hole'?

TRANSLATOR: (He says the American media will try to write more objectively about you than it did about the U.S. spy plane that recklessly violated our country's sovereign air space.)

MING: (Whatever. As long as I don't have to read any clichéd tabloid headlines like: Yao-Za! Emperor Ming! Ming Dynasty! Gang of One! and Chairman Yao! Or hear any lame punchlines based on American stereotypes of Chinese cuisine and traditions. Why, this morning I read one columnist who wrote, "Confucious say, 'Show me the money!' " Honestly, what is wrong with these people?)

TRANSLATOR: Yao Ming thanks you for the compliment and very humbly hopes that he can only play well enough to warrant such lavish and creative praise as you described.

WAITER: Here is your surf and turf special, sir. And your lamb, sir. I hope you enjoy your meals.

PAGE 2: Wow. This is superb. You sure can pick a restaurant. Your lamb might be good, but this lobster is unbelievable.

MING: (Look at him stuff his face. I've never seen anyone eat so much so quickly. Is there an American famine I haven't heard about? Or is this just an example of the American gluttony and decadence our government tells us so much about?)

TRANSLATOR: (No. He's just a sportswriter.)

PAGE 2: Waiter? Could we get some more bread here? And another Scotch? A double?

MING: (Disgusting.)

TRANSLATOR: (Wait until you see Charles Barkley eat.)

PAGE 2: What are you guys talking about?

TRANSLATOR: Yao Ming was merely expressing admiration for the American agricultural system that provides such a bounty for its hard-working and deserving citizens.

PAGE 2: That's real nice of you to say, Yao-ie. I can't tell you how great this dinner has been. I know I've learned a lot, and you've given me a lot to write about. I can't wait until we can do this again. Especially if you're picking up the tab.

TRANSLATOR: (He wishes to thank you for the dinner and humbly extends an invitation to reciprocate. On him.)

MING: (Forget it. This is the last dinner with a reporter I ever have. Just wait until I talk to my agent. He has some explaining to do.)

TRANSLATOR: Yao Ming says he, too, eagerly wishes another meal if the winds of fate allow it.

MING: Good night.

PAGE 2: Good night and thank you. And hey, can I have that receipt? I need it for my expense reports.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.



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