Yao Ming praises NBA’s popularity in China despite past conflicts

The former NBA star and current president of the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao Ming, has expressed his admiration for the league’s status in his home country, despite some recent controversies that have strained the relations between the two sides.

Yao Ming

Yao Ming meets with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in New York

Yao Ming, who retired from the NBA in 2011 after a stellar career with the Houston Rockets, traveled to New York this week for the first time in nearly four years as part of a roughly 30-person Chinese delegation. He met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at a time when international participation in the league is at an all-time high.

“Everything looks (like it is) running very, very well (under) his management,” he said of Silver, who took the reins in 2014.

Yao Ming also attended a reception hosted by the Chinese Consulate General in New York, where he mingled with other prominent figures from the sports, business and cultural sectors.

NBA and China have faced turbulence over political issues

The NBA and China have enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership, dating back to the 1980s when the league first broadcast its games in the country. Yao Ming’s arrival in the NBA in 2002 boosted the popularity of the sport even further, as millions of Chinese fans followed his exploits on the court.

However, the relations between the two sides have not always been smooth. In 2019, Chinese broadcasters stopped airing Rockets games after general manager Daryl Morey posted a message in support of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The incident sparked a backlash from Chinese authorities and fans, who accused the NBA of interfering in China’s internal affairs.

Earlier this year, another controversy erupted when former NBA player Dwight Howard appeared in a promotional video in which he referred to Taiwan as a country. Taiwan is considered by China as a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland. Howard’s remark triggered criticism from Chinese netizens and media outlets, who demanded an apology from him and the NBA.

Yao Ming says NBA is still “first class” in China

Despite these conflicts, Yao Ming said that the NBA is still “first class” in China and that the players and teams are “very well welcome” there. He cited the examples of Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Kyle Anderson, who competed with China at the FIBA World Cup, and Miami Heat’s six-times All-Star Jimmy Butler, who embarked on a tour of the country over the summer.

“I have to say, the NBA is in the first class… (because) you know the players being exposed in China for so long,” Yao Ming said. “The players, the teams (are) all still very well welcome in China and (we had) a couple of players with (in) China just this past summer.”

Yao Ming also said that he hopes to see more cooperation and exchange between the NBA and China in the future, especially in developing young talent and promoting basketball culture.

“I think there’s always room to improve,” he said. “We always look forward to working together with them.”

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