I think it’s fair to suggest that no other seven foot, six inch man (2.25m) weighing 310 lb. (140.6 kg) has played as much basketball as Yao Ming has played over the last six years. In addition to his paid obligations as a starting center on an NBA team which plays 82 games, a handful of exhibition games and (alas) only a handful of playoff games, as well as daily practices and a grueling training camp – Yao’s leisure time is dominated by his patriotic obligation to practice and play with the Chinese National team, which maintains a similarly grueling schedule of exhibitions and international tournaments. From the standpoint of physical workload, it comes down to this: Yao Ming hasn’t had a summer off in ten years – a situation pretty much unparalleled in professional basketball.
Yao has never indicated which of his obligations – the national team, or the Rockets – is more important to him. But, there are fleeting hints that his body, if not his mind, is starting to rebel against the national team’s demands. Last summer, according to various media reports, he arrived late to national team practices so as to allow his body some extra rest after the grueling 2006-07 NBA season (he also needed time for his wedding, and Special Olympics promotions). China’s national sports authorities were not sympathetic. As the AP reported the story:
The Houston Rockets‘ star was faulted for taking too much time off to recover from his last NBA season. The government’s All-China Sports Federation also said he spent too much time planning his wedding and making appearances for the Special Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
“No matter how lofty public welfare activities are, they can’t be allowed to take first place in a player’s life,” the China Sports Daily, a federation-owned newspaper, said in an article appearing Tuesday.
“No matter how sweet personal life is, it can’t be compared to the exultation of capturing glory for one’s nation,” the article said.
[I blogged about this dust-up here.]
There’s more than ample evidence that Yao needed the rest (not to mention the wedding). Indeed, anybody who has followed the Houston Rockets and Yao over the last half-decade knows that – by the end of the season, and by the end of most games – Yao is fatigued. Coaches and rivals have noticed, too: In 2006, Flip Saunders, coach of the Detroit Pistons publicly stated that his strategy for beating Houston was to wear down Yao because “Yao gets tired in the fourth quarter.” Continue reading