Yahoo Sports yesterday released a series of videos that is an in-depth interview of Yao Ming in Shanghai, the first interview he has given since his retirement.
Below is the main interview that has been edited for brevity. Although it’s good (and long at 23 minutes, with a couple of commercials inserted), if you really want to get into all of the details, you should watch every clip below the first one because the description “full episode” is a misnomer — there is more detail in each of the 16 videos that follow. Yes, 16 videos. Wow!
This by far is the best interview I’ve ever seen of Yao on video. I give alot of credit to interviewer Graham Bensinger for living up to the name of his show — “In Depth.” For long-time Yao fans, many of Bensinger’s questions might seem basic that you already know the answers to, but I did learn a few things, which made them worth watching.
I put some notes under each video as an indicator of what’s discussed in the clip, but it’s not an all-inclusive list.
Yao on his retirement decision (8:20)
– The first people he told about retiring was his parents and his wife. He was tired of the rehab and the injuries. He decided to retire near the end of February for his long-term health.
– He said his left foot is obviously weaker than his right foot, and it would never have gotten back to how it was originally.
– He will still workout on the basketball court at the Shanghai Sharks’ facility.
– He obviously didn’t achieve his basketball goals, with one being not winning an NBA championship, but he can still build his Sharks.
– He said his doctors say he could probably play another two or three years, but there is no guarantee he wouldn’t get injured again, so he chooses to protect his health.
His new life after retirement (7:50)
– He said he is “getting fat” (has added about 20-30 pounds) but because he is so large, it doesn’t show very much. He hasn’t worked out much since his retirement, but is thinking of working out hard again.
– He has been focusing on his team (the Sharks), some businesses, and his Foundation. He spent about 15-16 hours over a two-day period with his Foundation team, who are businessmen. He isn’t accustomed to long meetings like that, but his business people didn’t think it was that long.
– Houston was the right team for him. He feels “very warm” to them.
– He worked very hard in Houston because he felt his coaches and teammates had his “back” and were willing to protect him.
– He retired in Shanghai because he played 5 years there, and grew up there.
– He needs to give himself a “new target to pursue,” which is his Foundation and the Sharks. He’s also thinking of going back to college since he left school at 17, and didn’t have a chance to finish high school. He thinks that “going back to training my brain is very important.”
Fears of playing in the NBA (16:58)
– “I’m scared when I was coming over to the United States.” He had heard how physical the league was, it sounded like it was “wrestling on the court,” and that he might have gotten hurt in a very short time.
– When he was at the Shanghai airport about to leave for Houston, he was strongly tempted to turn around and go back to the Sharks. “I’m not going to lie and say I liked the challenge” but “I know when I put myself in that position, I would like to do that job.”
– Kelvin Cato, his former teammate, was a very physical player to practice against, both physically and mentally.
– The Rockets had a Chinese professor from the University of Houston help him transition to life in the U.S. “I think she did well…after awhile, I become like one of them. It didn’t take long.” (laughing)
– He talks about when he first met Colin Pine, his translator, at the airport.
– He started learning English around the 10th grade, so he had studied it for 10 years before coming to the U.S. But it wasn’t normal, everyday English that you would use in the U.S. He did learn “basketball English” though, like ‘pick-and-roll,’ etc.
– He wanted an interpreter the first two years since he was afraid he wouldn’t understand reporters’ questions and he didn’t want to give the wrong answer back to them.
– It was embarrassing when he scored no points in his NBA debut.
– Even backup players in the NBA can be good teachers.
– Before his breakout game against the Lakers when he scored 20 points, he had scrimmaged with his Rocket teammates at the UCLA facility and scored the last few baskets to help the 2nd team (the team he was on) beat the first team. He knew then that he was on the verge of breaking out (which he did shortly thereafter).
– He doesn’t like the “Yao Ming” song at all. It was too repetitive, and he tries to keep himself low-key. When he heard the song while he was playing, he just told himself to focus.
– His favorite commercial he did was the Apple one with Mini-Me.
– When things got hectic with off-the-court responsibilities, he ultimately found his peace on the basketball court.
Yao Ming on Shaq: He makes you lose sleep (3:03)
– He wasn’t nervous the first time he played Shaq because he didn’t know what to expect, and he wasn’t going to stress out about it. But he got nervous before he played him the second time because he knew how strong and powerful he was.
– He has a photo of himself and 5’5″ Earl Boykins trying to block each other out after a free throw attempt, and both of them are wearing #11 on their jersey. He thought that had to mean something.
21 and Frustrated (3:43)
– When he learned he couldn’t come over to the U.S. and play in the NBA in 2001, he was pretty frustrated (he had to wait until 2002).
– He knew the CBA (China Basketball Association) wouldn’t stop him from going to the NBA in 2002.
The Pressure Playing for Chinese Pride (4:15)
– Yao talks about the pressure he faced representing China on the basketball court, but he didn’t let it get to him, but it did motivate him.
– The movie theater is only 300 meters from his house, but he can’t go to it because he would be swarmed by fans When he does go out, he tries to go out at night.
– If he could be anonymous for one day, he would just want to walk the streets of Shanghai with his daughter and wife and do normal stuff like go get ice cream.
Inside Yao Ming’s China (5:49)
– They show video of Yao’s first home, school, and basketball playground. Yao recounts his memories of those places. He talks about missing his first shot when he was a kid, which was unexpected from his friends because they knew he was the child of two parents who had played basketball professionally in China. He went back to that same playground in 2004 when the Rockets were playing a preseason game there. He took his coach Jeff Van Gundy with him, and the first time he tried to shoot the ball (child-size), he missed again! Van Gundy made fun of him, telling him “Some things never change.”
– They show a video and talk about the facility where he practiced as a young professional and a Shanghai Shark for 8 years starting in March 1994 when he was only 14 years old. They also show the Internet cafe he used to visit, one of the few places where he could go and relax after practicing, and the arena where the Sharks played.
Racial slur mix-up (7:25)
– You’ll have to watch this one to hear what it’s all about!
– His favorite American slang word is “Yo,” and his favorite American food is Philly cheese steak.
– In China, when you say “cheers” with a drink, you’re supposed to drink it all right there. That gets you drunk pretty fast.
– He likes video games because the person you’re playing doesn’t know who you are. He still plays World of Warcraft. But he doesn’t really have much time to play those games any more.
– They talk about his experience with cars in the U.S.
Moving in with my parents at age 22 (3:45)
– Living with his parents his first few years in the NBA wasn’t difficult. He wanted a safe place and someone he could talk to.
– He laughs about he bought his first home in Houston before he even got his first paycheck. Kind of risky. The only thing he didn’t plan on was how it took an hour drive to get to the arena.
– He likes his house to be next to water since it’s more peaceful.
Is he injury prone? (5:13)
– He thought in 2009 if they had been able to beat the Lakers (he got injured during this series), he thinks they had a pretty good chance to win the championship.
– He thinks his weight (which he couldn’t change) and the high arch in his foot put alot of stress on his navicular bone because there is not much blood supply to it if he gets injured.
– Yao describes the surgery he had to reconstruct his foot. They had to break his big toe so his foot could better take the stress. The surgery took about 5 hours. He didn’t want to use painkillers too much, but he did a couple of times.
– He said if he had gotten more free time to rest, it probably would have helped him. But his Chinese national team commitment is not something he could have “gotten rid of.” When he wore the Chinese jersey, he felt like it was a shield and that it made you invincible.
Yao Ming’s favorite basketball moments (5:25)
– The game against Slovenia in 2006 in the World Championships was one of his most memorable games when China won on a buzzer-beating shot. Also, the game that got the Rockets into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in years, and the victory that got the Chinese National Team in the Olympics.
– When he was carrying the Chinese flag into the Beijing Olympic stadium, he could feel the 1.3 billion Chinese people he was representing.
I’m deaf in one ear (12:32)
– When he was 8 years old, he had a fever for about a week, and they found out there was a problem with his kidneys. He had some allergic reactions to penicillin.
– They talk about the attention he got after he was born because his parents played basketball, as well as the decision his parents had to make in sending him to a sports academy versus an academically focused one. His parents let him go to the sports academy because he wanted to go there.
– He would never go back to the schedule he had where he had to train 8-10 hours per day. He goes into detail about the schedule he had in the academy.
– Playing basketball wasn’t as much fun at first, but started getting more fun as time went by. He thought of quitting because it was so time-consuming and he had other interests, but his mother told him if he quit, he would have to come back home, and he didn’t want to do that.
– It used to be about how big you were, but the Chinese are aware they need to find smaller players who can handle the ball, shoot the ball with a quick release, etc.
– He thought 1997 was his breakout moment in a national game in Shanghai.
Training in the NBA is a science (6:40)
– In the CBA, their training program is not that great. It’s just very basic.
– In his first year under Jeff Van Gundy, he tried to get Yao to become more physical. Not get around something, but go through them.
– He didn’t mind the drudgery of repetition. He actually enjoyed it because every time he did it, it would help him, and he enjoyed the sound of the ball going through the net and the squeak of his shoes on the floor.
– If he went more than a couple of days without playing basketball, he got a little itchy.
– He learned to shoot from a chair in China to improve the arch on his shot.
Yao Ming’s mission to educate children in China (6:02)
– You can do little things every day to make a difference instead of doing one big thing, and then taking the rest of the year off.
– Over the past three years his Foundation has helped build 7 schools in rural western China. Each school has about 200 kids. Five more schools should be completed this year.
– It’s easier to work on his Foundation in China than it is from the U.S.
Yao Ming on his new baby (3:02)
– It’s very exciting to have a new baby. It’s so different.
– We want her to let her choose her own future.
– His wife has always been someone he could lean on.
“China is changing” (4:05)
– 30 years ago it was unheard of for someone to be able to make a million dollars per year, or per month. It used to be that everyone needed to make the same.
– The biggest area of improvement needed is with inflation. China has limited resources.