Home city anticipates return of the big guy

Updated: 2011-07-21 07:52

By Gao Changxin (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Yao Ming has retired, but his popularity won't wane, at least in Shanghai, his hometown.

"Retired or not, he is the greatest basketball player in Shanghai and China," said Huang Qin, a 22-year-old college student who describes himself as a diehard supporter of Yao and his NBA team, the Houston Rockets.

"I hope he comes to Shanghai after his retirement and blends in with us. Whatever he does, coaching or doing business, we will show our full support," Huang said.

Yao spent his school years and early basketball career in the city before going to the NBA. He is also a fluent speaker of the Shanghai dialect, which locals see as a sign of being a genuine Shanghai man.

Though Yao has settled in the United States, his fans here hope the iconic figure will now spend more time in Shanghai.

In a California Fitness gym in Shanghai, which was once called California Fitness-Yao Ming Sport Club but was rebranded in 2010, club member Wang Jun said he believes Yao could have a bright business future in the city. Featuring Yao, the gym quickly became one of the most popular in Shanghai after it opened in 2007.

"I am a big fan of Yao. In the eyes of Shanghai's sports fans, Yao Ming has always been No 1. I think he will be successful if he comes back to Shanghai and makes a presence in the sports industry here," said Wang, a 30-year-old bodybuilder.

"He's got money and a good and healthy image," said Wang. "If he opens a gym, I will definitely become a member. I think he will do well in this industry."

At Shanghai No 2 High School, Yao's alma mater, students want Yao to come back and pass on his knowledge to young basketball players.

"Yao should come back and cultivate more basketball talents like himself, and it would be better if he did that at our school," said 16-year-old Li Jun, who had just finished a 3-on-3 basketball game with her classmates.

"He can launch some basketball camps here in Shanghai. We would like to take part in them during summers."

At Madame Tussauds in Shanghai, where Yao's life-size wax figure is exhibited, fans were busy taking photos with the model.

"I just heard that Yao Ming is retiring. So I am taking photos here to commemorate the event. I fully understand his choice - if you can't play, you can't play. Basketball is not about your willpower, it's about you body, your physical condition," said Sun Yan, an office clerk in Shanghai.

"Now he can do something else. A lot of opportunities are waiting for him in Shanghai."

And the Shanghai Sharks, the Chinese Basketball Association team Yao bought in 2009 for 96 million yuan ($14.86 million), is also anticipating the return of Yao could revive its fortunes.

The team dropped to ninth last season after finishing fourth the year before. Its former head coach, Bob Donewald, who steered the team to the semifinals in 2009-10, relinquished his job last month and moved to Xinjiang Guanghui, the runner-up team last season.

In May, Yao returned to Shanghai in a bid to find a new venue for the team.

"Yao wants to please the fans and make sure that they enjoy some good games at home," said Qian Anke, marketing director of the Shanghai Sharks.

China Daily