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Yao’s whirlwind Friday in Houston [lots of pics]

February 17th, 2013
by John

I didn’t think that Yao’s busy Thursday schedule could be topped on Friday, but it did. So much happened, it took me a day to go through all of the photos (after my machine crashed and took me all day to fix). Below is my report from Yao’s activities in Houston on Friday.

Yao first started the day by making an appearance at the Asia Society Texas Center in Houston where he participated in a luncheon limited to about 40 guests (to keep it very intimate) who purchased premium tickets to benefit the Asia Society to have a great lunch, and hear Yao be interviewed by Jay Williams. Williams was the player chosen #2 in the 2002 NBA Draft right after Yao was selected #1 by the Rockets. Williams is now an analyst for ESPN.

Below are some photos from the event. Also served was Yao Ming’s Cabernet Sauvignon from his Yao Family Wines winery.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming has lunch with Jay Williams before their interview starts at The Asia Society of Texas in Houston

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming has some laughs with Jay Williams at The Asia Society of Texas in Houston

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming has a conversation with Jay Williams in front of a small gathering at The Asia Society of Texas in Houston

If you want to get a good idea of some of what Yao discussed with Jay, you can check out this video of Yao that was filmed a few days before the luncheon.

There were many funny moments as Yao shared his dry wit with the audience. But one of the most touching moments of the discussion happened at the end when Williams corrected an earlier statement of Yao’s when Yao said that every NBA player is unique. Williams begged to differ, telling the audience that Yao is not only unique because of his talent, but because of his character as well.

Immediately after the luncheon, Yao went to the 5th Ward in Houston where the NBA was holding one of two events where NBA players in town for the All-Star game could help out in the community.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming paints a bench at the NBA Day of Service in Houston

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming helps put together a slide at the NBA Day of Service in Houston

One of the funniest moments occurred when Dikembe Mutombo walked up and told some of the organizers and pointed to a project nearby that Yao should be working on because it was more difficult than the “easy” one he was working on.

February 15th, 2013 - Dikembe Mutombo tells some volunteers that Yao needs to do something more difficult than what he's currently doing

Yao then moved over to help some other volunteers move a Jungle Jim that had just been assembled to a spot where it would be permanently placed. On his way over, he physically bumped into Tim Duncan (not pictured) from behind, which kind of surprised him, but was funny.

A few minutes later, Yao ran into Kobe Bryant and they exchanged a few pleasantries. Bryant seemed really happy to see Yao. That says a ton about how loved Yao is among his former competitors. It’s also refreshing to see a serious superstar like Bryant get a big smile on his face like this one that you rarely see from him.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant meet briefly at the NBA Day of Service in Houston

It was at this event where I witnessed that people in Houston still go crazy when they see Yao. It’s really interesting to see how they react when they see him. The looks of awe on their faces when they see how big he is in person — or the smiles he brings to their faces — is amazing.

But unlike just a few years ago, it seems like just about everyone has a camera in their cellphone now. As a result, Yao is crowded by even more people because they all want a photo of him, and he was getting requests from tons of people (non NBA players) to have their photo taken with him.

To make things worse, many times the requestors would hand their camera phone to someone else to take their photo, but then that person has trouble understanding what button they needed to push on the phone to take the picture, thus making things very awkward and frustrating for people like me who want Yao to be able to move about freely in his life without being a walking tourist attraction.

Poor Yao. He handles it so well, but I just wish more people would respect his space, just wave hello to him, and not get so enamored taking a photo with him using their camera phones. I also wish some of the media wouldn’t keep asking him the same dumb questions that he’s probably answered a million times, like the question he was asked, “How does it feel to give back to the community?’

Yao obliged as much as he could with all of these requests, but it really was too much since it slowed him from moving more than a few feet without getting hit up for another request.

Finally, Yao’s final stop for the day was at Houston’s City Hall where he was officially proclaimed a Goodwill Ambassador for the City of Houston by the mayor. I was able to get some cool photos of Yao walking in downtown Houston and in front of City Hall in the city that has embraced him since 2002.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming walks along the streets of downtown Houston

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming walks along the streets of downtown Houston and stops at City Hall

Yao then went inside City Hall where a throng of reporters, photographers and videographers were waiting for him to cover the ceremonial event. Check out the dozen or so cameraman in the back of the room that were there to cover it. You would think that this photo was taken in Shanghai or Beijing with all the media that was there!

February 15th, 2013 - the Houston media covers the mayor proclaiming that Yao is a goodwill ambassador for the City of Houston, and receiving a key to the city

Below Yao and the mayor talk as Rockets’ TV commentator Bill Worrell is about to start his opening remarks.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming speaks with Houston Mayor Annise Parker before being presented a proclamation as well as a key to the city

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming is presented a key to the city with his mother and father standing by his side

This presentation was a much bigger deal than you would first think since the mayor, Annise Parker, said she purposely has never given a key to the city to anyone since she has been mayor over the past 3 years! She takes it very seriously, but she knew Yao was a worthy recipient since she knows he will represent the city well.

Check out some video here of the mayor’s remarks.

A sweet impromptu moment occurred when a little girl of Asian descent (not pictured) in a Houston Rockets jersey brought a bouquet of flowers up to Yao while he was on stage. Yao holds the bouquet in the photo below.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming holds a bouquet of flowers given to him by a little girl at the City of Houston ceremony honoring him

Yao and his parents later signed a large poster of Yao.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming and his parents sign a poster of Yao in a Rockets uniform

Afterwards, the media surrounds Yao as you would expect.

February 15th, 2013 - Yao Ming is mobbed by the Houston media after he gets a key to the city

February 15th, 2013 - The City of Houston Proclamation for Yao Ming