The season is right around the corner! Tomorrow is Rockets’ Media Day in Houston, then training camp starts on Saturday!
I had a chance to catch up with the Big Man recently over the phone. Things had obviously quieted down for him, at least from a visibility perspective, since his intensive activities during his Foundation’s Charity Tour in late July, but here’s a summary of what he’s been up to since that time.
* He’s mainly been working out at Toyota Center where he has seen Chuck Hayes, Aaron Brooks, and Chase Budinger (who is sidelined with an ankle injury). You probably had a chance to see Yao’s workout video against Hayes a couple of weeks ago. Although it looked intense, Yao said he is getting better every week, and he’s looking forward to training camp in a couple of weeks where he’ll get his conditioning up to an even higher level from the 50-60% where he is right now.
* Yao was beaming when I asked him about Chuck’s progress. He said Hayes has really improved, his shooting is “so good” right now, and his defense has always been there. So I take that to mean Rocket fans can expect an even further boost to the backup center position this coming season.
* Yao was proud of Luis Scola‘s dominating performances at the World Championships in Turkey. Yao had spoken to some of the Rockets’ staff who had either been to some of the games or had spoken to NBA personnel who were over there, and it sounded like Scola was making the Spurs regret even further they traded him to Houston after his domination in that tournament.
* You might have seen last week how Yao greeted the FIBA World Cup Federation delegation in Houston since the U.S. is vying for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup games. If the U.S. wins it, then Houston is a candidate to host some of the games. I asked Yao if promoting Houston for the World Cup would produce any conflicts with the Chinese, and he said it doesn’t because China will probably make a run at hosting the 2026 World Cup.
* On the home front, his baby daughter is doing well, who now sleeps all through the night. So things are much easier with her, especially since Yao has admitted in the past that his wife is taking on most of the caretaking.
* Finally, and most poignantly, I asked Yao before he gets into the fray of the NBA season, to reflect back on the trip he took back to China in July and August and summarize his thoughts. Yao paused and really wanted to take the time to tell me about a story of a trip he took to a poor village in a remote area in the northwest part of China, three hours from the city of Chengdu. They visited a school in the morning until noon, then had to take a 4-hour drive back to the airport, and then took a 3-hour flight back to Shanghai.
When he got back home to Shanghai that evening and took in the view of the city from his condo, one of the most modern cities in the work, it struck Yao that within a matter of hours he had traveled from the Third World to the First World in his own country, and it really hit home. This experience gives him even more motivation to try to help the people in the developing parts of his country, especially the children in the schools there, get a better opportunity in life.
So even though Yao won’t be going back to China after their pre-season games in China in October, all the way through the time the Rockets’ NBA season ends, he continues to be in touch with his initiatives in China to help improve conditions in his home country. And we’ve all seen what he has done for children in his adopted city of Houston (here’s just one example).
* I will be in Austin for the Rockets training camp starting September 27th, so expect more reports on YaoMingMania next week!