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Friday, February 14
Updated: April 15, 5:22 PM ET
 
Translating for Yao only part of the job

By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine

If Colin Pine put his résumé to music, nothing would be more appropriate than Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Flight of the Bumblebee." An English major who went from a trading company in Taipei to the U.S. State Department translating Chinese newspaper articles to briefly considering and dismissing a career in law. Latest, greatest stop? Live-in translator for Yao Ming. All before his 30th birthday.

Colin Pine and Yao Ming
No one has a better view of Yao Ming's rookie season than Colin Pine, top.
"I adapt to new circumstances pretty well," he said.

The job entails more than just translating reporter's questions for Yao and translating his answers for reporters. He drives Yao around, runs his errands, helps sort his bills, tutors him in driving, English and American culture, and serves as a go-between for Yao and his advisory group, Team Yao.

In return -- aside from his salary -- he sits behind the Rockets' bench for every game, is part of every team huddle, attends every practice and travels on the team plane. That would be a treat for anyone with a basketball jones but is particularly sweet for a diehard Maryland Terrapins fan who grew up in Baltimore.

"Steve Francis is my favorite player," Pine said. "That was actually part of my cover letter."

That isn't what made Pine stand out from the nearly 60 candidates interviewed by Yao adviser and second cousin Erik Zhang. Team Yao anticipated that their client would be a huge attraction and how that might impact his interpreter. Zhang placed ads on several Web sites, including one in Shanghai frequented by Westerners and another connected with John Hopkins University's graduate Chinese program.

"I was looking for personality, technical skill, a firsthand knowledge of China, someone who wouldn't melt under public scrutiny or go to a bar every night and someone whose age gap wasn't too great from Yao's," Zhang said.

Initially, we had a little concern because he can be a nervous person. But then we realized part of that is because of his desire to perform on the job.
Erik Zhang on Colin Pine, Yao Ming's interpreter
Similar looks clearly weren't a prerequisite, since Pine, a James Madison University alumnus, is approximately 5-foot-10, blond with bespectacled blue eyes. The clincher, Zhang said, was when Colin did an English-to-Chinese translation of an ESPN report on Yao and a Chinese-to-English translation of a non-sports Chinese news article. After Pine accomplished that over the phone, professor John Huizinga, another member of Team Yao, flew to Washington, D.C., and met with Pine directly.

"Initially, we had a little concern because he can be a nervous person," Zhang said. "But then we realized part of that is because of his desire to perform on the job."

Another part, of course, could be that "Bumblebee" theme running through his head.

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ric.bucher@espnmag.com. Also, send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.





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