One from the archives: The Tragedy of Yao’s Left Foot

This weekend, not long after Yao Ming’s season-ending fracture in his left foot became the hottest topic in the Chinese sports world, a friend reminded me of a post that I did regarding Yao’s left foot back in February 2008. Now, I’m not real big on bloggers who quote themselves, but I’m tied up with other projects for the next couple of days, and this post seems sadly relevant, again.

One sentence backgrounder: Then, as now, Yao’s durability was being challenged by his commitments to the Chinese national team (and the Olympics) and the NBA. At the time, I wrote:

I have no idea what would bring Yao greater satisfaction: an Olympic gold medal, or an NBA championship ring. But so long as he pursues both, it’s likely that he’ll possess neither. Compare him, for example, to Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA player who most closely approximates Yao’s girth and game. Like Yao, O’Neal is an oft-injured giant. But, unlike Yao, O’Neal has benefited from coaches and a schedule that allows his body to recover from the NBA season and playoffs (during his years with the Lakers, O’Neal always managed to get a mid-season, ahem, injury providing his beat-up body with some extra rest in advance of the playoffs). Among other reasons, this is one factor in why O’Neal has four NBA championship rings. It is also why he won his only Olympic gold medal at the age of 24; after the 96 Olympics he has spent his summers recuperating, and only now – at age 36 – is he showing true signs of decline and chronic injury. Without similar rest, Yao Ming can expect to decline much earlier.

Over the weekend, Xinhua reported that the Chinese national sports authorities are still hoping to have Yao in uniform for the Asian Championships in September. As a Yao Ming fan, I hope that he’s not – or, better yet, that he’s able to escape the commitment, heal up, rest up, and come back next year in shape to go deeper into the playoffs.

For further reading: In today’s New York Times, Harvey Araton has an excellent column that explores the cost of Yao’s national-team committments.

Anyway, back with fresh posts in a couple of days.


  1. This is pretty good but I don’t think it’s right that Yao and Shaq have similar bodies. Shaq is much wider.

  2. One thing Americans fail to understand is that national team play in China trumps everything. Its a different sport culture than the US. Individual goals don’t matter as much. This is a big gap in cultural understanding.

  3. China will never let Yao quit the national team until he quit basketball. Yao was train by the government for his career so they feel he owe them the play in return. I think most Chinese don’t care if he quit but there too much money for the government to make if he play. That is the problem.

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