When Yao Ming came onto the NBA scene as the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, he was immediately challenged by two things in the business world: The Chinese government was getting a cut of what he made, and his English wasn't great. Still, Ming -- a soft-spoken guy -- came off really well in these four commercials.
1. Apple: Ming meets Mini-Me
You know there's going to be a spot where one of the tallest guys in the world interacts with one of the smallest. Apple obliged in this ad with Ming and Verne Troyer, famous for his role as Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies. Of course, Troyer, sitting next to Ming on a plane, has the bigger model of Apple's laptop. Ming doesn't get enough credit here. He says nothing, yet his body language and emotion tell the story. A perfectly executed ad as the giant comes off as gentle. Not only smart for Apple, but smart for Ming, as it humanizes him.
2. Visa: Just say Yo
Great writing from the folks employed by Visa in this "Yo" commercial. Ming has to do little more than say his name, and the spot works. Nice touch at the end to have "Yo-gi" appear. This ad took the largest stage as it debuted on the Super Bowl broadcast in 2003. Although it's admittedly a bit corny, it was well received.
3. Gatorade: Co-starring with Jeter, Manning
Ming leads off a commercial that also features two of Gatorade's biggest names, Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning, in "Let Jimmy Play." Jimmy, the luckiest kid on the block, gets asked to play by the three superstars. Ming might not have the greatest English, but he takes direction well and in many ways is a natural. Not many centers have performed in roles like this, save, of course, for Shaquille O'Neal, who joined Ming on Monday as a member of the 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class.
4. Oreo: Dunking cookies
It's a commercial you might have never seen. This spot for Oreo aired in China only. Ming is good at playing the game, dunking it and hitting a jump shot with the cookie, but it's the kid who is playing the real game -- he gets to eat it. Let's call it the modern day version of Mean Joe Greene and Coca-Cola. Wish the Oreo brand guys had the foresight to make this work in America.