Unfortunately, Yao Ming and his decrepit body have run into a major stumbling block.
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chinese basketball star Yao Ming's foot surgery will keep him out next season, but the National Basketball Association will not feel the pain in China because the U.S. sports league has grown beyond any one player there, analysts said on Friday.Yao Ming is a great player. I really like him. I've heard a lot of Chinese people, frustrated at this point in his career, say that they don't think he's any good. I always argue that Yao is a great player who plays with such finesse and smoothness for such a tall player. But I do concede that he can't stay healthy.
Yao's NBA team, the Houston Rockets, said the towering center would undergo surgery next week after fracturing his foot during the playoffs in May, and would miss the 2009-2010 season.
For a league that has focused on building its fan base in China and making money through its TV contracts and sales of its branded-merchandise, the news was not a total shock as the injury to China's most famous sports personality had previously been called "career threatening."
However, the sport's popularity in China should allow the NBA to shake off the loss.
"Yao was a catalyst for the NBA's growth in China but now shares the stage with so many other players and league-sponsored initiatives," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.
"Yao's absence, while disappointing, will not damage the NBA China effort," he added. "Rather, it will demonstrate how diversified the business has already become."
And at this point, it's safe to say that Yao Ming cannot stay healthy. Yao has missed significant playing time each of the past four seasons. And in this coming year, he will miss the entire season.
The guy is just too tall for his own good. Whether it's the rigorous routine he endured as a child in China or simply a product of being a genetic freak, Yao's body has broken down at the age of twenty-eight.
While Yao Ming missing next season will obviously have some effect on how Chinese people watch the NBA, I agree with the main premise of the Reuters article that the NBA will remain strong in China.
As the article goes on to say, Yao Ming jerseys are the tenth best-selling in the country. While Yao helped the NBA get on a better footing in China, China's love of the NBA goes much deeper than its country's most successful player.
The NBA began being broadcast on China's CCTV in 1987. Chinese people are well aware of Michael Jordan and everything he did in the 90s.
A few weeks ago, Qian and I were talking about Michael Jordan and she brought up Scottie Pippen and the guy who Jordan was a huge rival against late in his career. She couldn't remember his name. I threw out a couple possibilities and then said "Karl Malone." She responded, "Yeah, that's it!" Qian is not much of a sports fan at all. So the fact that she knows who Karl Malone is says a great deal about the roots that the NBA has already seeded in China.
The NBA is stronger than it's been since Jordan left the game in 1998. The league is full of young stars like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, and many, many more. The success or failure of Yao Ming and his compatriot, Yi Jianlian, are not going to determine how well the NBA does in China.
I hope that Yao Ming can recover from his injury. He's a great athlete and seems like a genuinely good guy. But if he doesn't, China is still going to be crazy about the NBA.