LBS- In a piece he wrote for The Players Tribune this week, Yao gave a glimpse into how he adjusted to life in a new country at age 22. One of the first things he had to adapt to was people calling him “Yao.”
“For example, everyone called me ‘Yao’ — they thought it was my first name,” he wrote. “In China, our surnames come first and our given names last. To my Chinese friends, I was Ming. Now I was just Yao. Once everyone started saying it that way, I never corrected them. I was too shy.”
Yao also wrote a lot about his relationship with former Rockets guard Steve Francis, who took the 7-foot-6 center under his wing almost immediately.
“In the Chinese tradition, when you meet someone for the first time you stay back a little bit,” Yao wrote. “You say hello, shake hands, but it is very formal. Over time, like a pot of water that slowly heats up, you get to know someone and get more comfortable. Steve wasn’t that way. Steve was boiling water right away. On the court or off the court, Steve was 200 degrees all the time. I instantly liked him.”
Whew, dodged that potentially prejudice bullet. Good thing Yao Ming came into the league as a wide eyed (< there's a joke there) introvert that didn't want to stir the point with his foreign customs and traditions or semi-marginialistic promotions would have been a foregone conclusion. Obviously 'Yao' isn't the most Americanized name in the world, but can you imagine the amount of nauseatingly stereotypical 'Ming' references we would have had to deal with if that's what one of the most physically imposing presences in the NBA wanted to go by? There probably would have been a 'Ming Dynasty' banner hanging out front of the Houston Toyota Center. The urge to include a gong in their marketing campaign probably would have been too much to suppress. I can think of three separate Chinese food restaurants that have 'Ming' in their name so I find it hard to believe that the Rockets wouldn't have ventured down a exploitive path in having one of Yao's countrymen bring his "Garden" to the second level food court. Did you see what happened with 'Linsanity'? We just can't help ourselves when obvious racially charged puns are sitting right under our nose. It's a good thing 'Yao' stuck because 'Ming' would have become the new 'Chang' or 'Chung' if it didn't, and insulting all of Asia would have all but certainly slowed the NBA's international growth.
P.S. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall during the first Steve Francis/Yao Ming heart-to-heart...