NBA stars to face Chinese team in Dongguan charity showdown
After arriving in Dongguan at 2 am on the day of the media conference for his charity basketball game, Yao Ming looked tired - but he perked up when asked about his charity work and ideas about Chinese basketball.
Before taking the red-eye to Dongguan, Yao had been coaching children in the Yao Foundation's Hope primary school basketball season in the Beichuan county of Mianyang, Sichuan province.
Yao Ming poses with organizers and young 'reporters' during the media launch on July 17 for his charity game, set for Aug 31 in Dongguan. Provided to China Daily
Launched in 2012, the project has benefited 151,500 students from 186 Hope primary schools across the country. It organizes tournaments and trains college students to serve as volunteer instructors.
"By organizing basketball events for Chinese kids and teenagers, we are cultivating their interest in basketball. We hope that they can learn teamwork, competitive spirit, persistence in the face of difficulty and leadership through playing basketball," Yao said.
Ticket sales and donations raised by the Aug 31 Yao Foundation charity game in Dongguan, Guangdong province, will go directly into the China Youth Development Foundation's account to support the Foundation's Hope primary school basketball program.
Yao first organized a charity game with fellow NBA All-Star Steve Nash in 2007 and since then the Yao Foundation, established in 2008, has held games in 2010 and 2013.
Tony Parker from the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, George Hill of the Indiana Pacers and Shane Battier of the Miami Heat will join Yao in this year's game against Chinese stars at the newly-built Dongguan Basketball Center.
Battier, who was Yao's teammate on the Houston Rockets, is expected to announce his retirement during the game.
The event will mark the first time Yao's charity game has been held outside Beijing. Dongguan is known as China's "city of basketball" and is the home of Guangdong Hongyuan, an eight-time CBA champion.
Yao is concerned about the sport's development in the country and pointed out that its biggest problem is a utilitarian approach.
"Utilitarian people want to concentrate resources to make something big efficiently, so all the resources are focused on the so-called key projects," he said.
The team representing China at the recent Asian Cup boasted the nation's top young players but performed disappointingly. After losing to India for the first time in 30 years, the Chinese squad dropped the third-place playoff game to the Philippines.
"The national team recruits talented players under 20 but such young players lack experience and will make mistakes. I also lost games when people thought it was 'unbelievable' when I was at that age," said the 34-year-old Yao, who made his international debut at 17.
"The national team should be made up of mature players. However, we are now caught in a vicious circle because the CBA teams rely on foreign players in order to quickly raise their standings, which greatly suppresses Chinese players' space to survive and grow," said the owner of the CBA's Shanghai Sharks.
"With insufficient playing time, the young Chinese players rely on playing games on the national team to mature. But when they go back to play with their CBA teams, they sit on the bench again."
Yao, father of a four-year-old daughter, compared Chinese basketball to characters in the popular cartoon series Big-head Son and Small-head Father to illustrate that kind of development strategy was "unsustainable".
"The national team is the big head while the training system under it is the small figure," he said. "This is unsustainable. We will face a temporary shortage of mature players again after the current team grows up if we don't change the development pattern.
"The key is to properly develop the CBA and NBL and, most importantly, the basketball tournaments on campuses and allocate more resources to them."
The Yao Foundation has been focusing on events for teenagers, but the founder stressed that scouting promising talent is not its mission.
"The Yao Foundation was initiated to popularize basketball in China and we will focus our limited energy and resources on that mission. I believe that something good will naturally happen if we do our jobs well," Yao said.
"I hope that sports can become a part of people's lives in the future. All our charity events center on the message that strong youth leads to a strong country. We hope to spread those ideas around the nation," he said.